Digging to survive - How people are facing drought in Angola
The province of Cunene, in Southern Angola, is struggling for water amid what many consider the worst drought in history
Ondjiva, Angola - Southern Angola is experiencing a rapidly worsening emergency crisis. An estimated 2.3 million people are affected by drought in the provinces of Namibe, Huila, Bie and Cunene - nearly half a million of which are children under 5 years of age.
The last rainy season, which was supposed to ensure the harvest and grazing of animals - and thus the survival of the majority of the population - was scarce or almost nonexistent in the first three months of the year. Result: in Cunene alone, food insecurity more than tripled to affect over 857,000 people in March, compared to nearly 250,000 in January.
Of Cunene's 887 primary schools, 614 are affected by the drought in some way, which is causing a serious disruption to no less than 70% of the province's 214,311 students.
UNICEF is running against time to support the Government in responding to the crisis, which has had a severe impact on the population, particularly children - most are involved in the long and exhausting journeys to fetch water. Meet some of the faces that are fighting to survive every day.
For 10-year-old Ndahambela Simon, finding water underground is a daily activity shared with her mother and seven brothers in Oluveia, Naulila commune, municipality of Ombadja. But the girl's mother, Helena Mwambangue, is even more concerned about food. There has been no harvest this year, and 2018 stocks are running very low. At different locations in Cunene province, the amount of rainfall registered between January and March - traditionally part of the rainy season – was under 50 milliliters per square meter, which characterizes extreme drought, according to the National Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics (INAMET).
Where many see only a black field surrounded by desert, the over 4,000 inhabitants of Oliafiluwa, also in the municipality of Ombadja, see survival. It is from the bed of this old water reservoir, which dried up in May – a month when it should have been full had it rained – that they collect the water they drink and use for cooking. Here each family has their own well, which is usually not over 3 meters deep.
“Here, you have to keep fighting for water or you don’t drink or eat,” says Ana Leonilde, 24. On the day of the picture, after spending more than three hours digging this well, the clay walls collapsed. This forced her to start digging again on her own to collect water for herself and her two children, including a one-year-old baby. “The water is bad and salty,” she says.
In most cases, it is up to children, women and the elderly to fetch water for the family and take care of the house and smaller animals such as goats and chickens. During the dry season, men leave homes in the phenomenon known as transhumance, the migration of shepherds with cattle in search of water and good pastures for the survival of the herd, most families’ main source of wealth.
A woman drinks water after finishing the excavation work, which took her all morning in Oliafiluwa.
Observing the dexterity and good humor of young Tchirinho Vataleni, 18, it is impossible to believe that he spends 4 hours every day in a deep, dark and cold hole. His family shares an over 15-meter deep well with five other families near the commune of Ombala-Yo-Mungo, in the municipality of Ombadja. Tchirinho's task is to remove countless buckets of soil from the bottom, which are pulled by two colleagues (see video below) until there is enough water to fill a bucket. To get down, the young man uses only his hands - there is no safety equipment. And for him, there is no school either. He completed the seventh grade, but in the face of the drought that began early this year and imposes on him an intense burden, the young man dropped out.
While young Tchirinho is at the bottom, Jackson Dinihambo, 32, and Verdiana Amalia Satona, 23, support the removal of buckets. The video shows the amount of soil that has been removed since excavation began four months ago. Every day, the demanding work lasts over 7 hours, but it doesn't always pay off: on bad days, each of the six families that share the well carries only one 20-liter bucket for all its members. One household alone, however, has up to 12 people under the same roof.
Elementary school teacher Lino Adelino is living proof of the dangers Tchirinho and many others face while digging. A landslide one morning in May left him with a fractured arm. After more than two months of hospitalization, the teacher of Ondobodhola Elementary School, in Naulila commune, returned home, but is uncertain whether he will be able to once again work in farming. Nor is there much to do: of the seven pigs the family once possessed, only one remains. This year's harvest, expected to June, did not occur. “It is the worst drought that has ever affected the province,” says his wife, Solastica Timoteo.
Boys like Lourenço Inadudi, 12, are a common sight across the province: young men who leave home to accompany their fathers during the transhumance. In normal years, this would mean staying away from mom and siblings – and school – for two to three months. But with this year's extreme drought, Lourenço and his father had to leave much earlier to ensure the survival of the livestock. The current forecast is returning home at the end of the year, meaning a total of 7 months without seeing the family. But even this is uncertain: it depends on the rain, expected for November. At the time of the photo, the young man was living temporarily near the municipality of Cuvelai. Enrolled in the second grade, he is five years behind in school.
In several locations where wells are used for long periods and shared by more than one family, it is common to have a secure cover and padlock to protect the most precious possession in the province.
At 14, Naime Cekupe, the girl with the orange sweater, is in the sixth grade and wants to be a teacher. But her dream and that of thousands more children are threatened by the prolonged drought: now, their presence in the classroom is dictated by the thirst of animals. Every other day, Naime and her sister Launa Hambelezeni (left in the picture), take the family’s goats to drink water. They walk an hour and a half in the dark until they reach the family’s well, with the sun still rising, and spend at least 5 hours collecting water before facing the way back. In these days, they don't go to school.
For the director of Ondobodhola Primary School, Rogério Kakoi, there is no doubt that the children's performance has declined. “At school they no longer have energy or learn the content,” says the principal. “I have students who get up at one in the morning to bring the animals to drink water, and come back home at 5 am.” The school has already lost 20% of students enrolled at the beginning of the year. Physical education classes have been canceled because it made children thirsty – and there is no water unless the kids bring it from home.
Near Ombala-Yo-Mungo commune, drought means additional challenges for families beyond the effort to dig wells. Most often, water sources are far from home. This obliges girls like Onyevetu Laitia, 11, and Marta Ndimaoshitya, 12, to walk for over an hour with 20-liter buckets on their heads to help their families.
In places where surface water is still available, such as in Tyipelongo, Cahama municipality, the small ponds are quickly being consumed by families and animals, which represents an additional health threat to children and adults.
For the skeptical, Mr. Pedro Henrique Kassesso does not hesitate: he simply takes his ID out and shows his date of birth: 1907. The 112-year-old man is recognized by the Ombadja Municipal Administration as the oldest person in the municipality. His neighborhood coordinator, Alexandrina Cândida, 58, confirms his age. The history and hands of Mr. Pedro mixes with those of the city where he lives. His good memory allows him to say, with certainty, that "this is the worst drought I have ever seen." And based on the experience gained over decades in the region, he adds: "water is the world’s boss".
UNICEF is supporting the Government of Angola in the crisis response by through the concept child-centered hubs called "safe havens": an emphasis on targeting the most vulnerable communities through the convergence of integrated health, nutrition, water, sanitation and protection services in the same area.
The supply of 30 5,000-liter water tanks is underway. These will be placed at strategic locations in drought-affected communities in Cunene province to reduce the distances communities travel to fetch water, which in turn will be provided by water trucks as part of the response of the Provincial Governments of Cunene and Huila.
The nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene component of interventions funded by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) are being led by UNICEF, with an estimated 341,565 children to be assisted, including 96,000 women in all four provinces affected by the emergency and about 135,000 people assisted by interventions in the water and sanitation sector.
A first shipment of about 12 tonnes of therapeutic milk for cases of Severe acute malnutrition in children, among other supplies, was also delivered to the Cunene and Huila Provincial Governments in July, including tablets for water purification.
In April, the Government of Angola announced that it would set aside US$ 200 million for the construction of major hydraulic engineering works, including two dams and water channels. These long-term works must be accompanied by an urgent strengthening of the response on the ground. With no water, no agricultural production and livestock under danger - the number of cattle dead due to the drought surpassed 26,000 - people's survival is threatened, with the prospect of the crisis intensifying in the upcoming months.