Social Protection Policy a disappointment
Rising food prices will have a devastating effect on the already poor Namibians who will be pushed further into poverty. This poses a serious threat to food security, health and education of many Namibians. It will make life even more difficult for struggling Namibians to afford the very basics that sustain life.
People will have to spend more money on food which takes away spending on healthcare, education and transport. This means that people will increasingly struggle to access health services and there won’t be transport money with which for instance to send children to school. Many Namibians will also not be able to pay for their children’s education-related expenditures as having food to stay alive will be a priority.
The increase in food prices is attributed to the current war between Ukraine and Russia which led to shortages of wheat and sunflower products and an increase in global fuel prices. During the past five years, Namibia has been importing most of its wheat requirements from Russia.
Overall, Namibia imports 60% of the total domestic consumption needs with most of the imports originating from South Africa. This leaves Namibia exposed to a high risk of food insecurity, especially among the unemployed and those that live below the poverty line. Therefore, serious efforts must be made to improve food security in Namibia by localising food production to reduce the dependence on other countries. Increased localised food production around existing dams and rivers has to be a key focus as it will also increase agricultural employment, for example in the form of agricultural cooperatives.
The current food price increments are accompanied by rising utility bills such as electricity, water and other municipal services which will lead to Namibians not being able to pay their utility bills. This will lead to people losing their homes due to repossession by the municipality, thereby forcing them into squatter camps which presents hazards to their safety and health. This will lead to more land-related conflicts whereby land grabbing out of desperation will increase.
The situation of increasing costs of living will push more people into extreme poverty. This in turn will lead to more crimes, homicides, GBV and suicides which have already been rising over the last 5 years. Namibia’s suicide rate is estimated to be double that of the global average and is mainly driven by financial stress. These are ingredients that can lead to widespread discontent and civil unrest.
Against this background, the recently launched Social Protection Policy 2021-2030 was expected to outline comprehensive interventions to achieve the eradication of poverty as stated by the president when he took office in 2015. The policy states that social protection must help people to “cope with the risks, vulnerabilities and shocks throughout their life cycle”. This includes poverty, illness, hunger, lack of income, inability to access education, health sanitation, housing etc.
No new, bold steps
The policy documents have played a big role in reducing the poverty gap, especially the universal old age pension. However, when it comes to the actual interventions, the document does not propose any new or bold steps. It does not even introduce a universal child grant which was still envisaged in the draft policy of 2019. Instead, the policy merely proposes to sustain the current children’s grants, old age grants, disability grants and veterans’ grants. This is clearly not enough to deal with the current crisis faced by most Namibian households.
On 9 February 2022, the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Poverty Eradication’s Chief Economist, Marta Kanyama, promised during the Namibian Sun’s Evening Review interview that government would in 2025 implement a Basic Income Grant (BIG) scheme of N$500/person/month for all Namibians aged 19-59. But that does not feature in the recently launched Social Protection Policy. Does that mean that the government made empty promises?
The Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition of Namibia and many experts have repeatedly pointed to the threat that poverty and inequality pose to Namibia's peace, security and stability. Namibia is among the countries with the highest levels of inequality.
A recent report by the World Bank reveals that 64% (1.6 million) of Namibians live in poverty and are unable to afford basic needs and live a minimally decent life. Namibia has a youth unemployment rate of around 50% and the country faces a “double burden” of persistent malnutrition, and rising rates of diet-related non-communicable diseases.
According to the 2020 UN Global Report on Food Crises, 859 898 Namibians are constantly stressed about where they will get their next meal, of which 447 577 need humanitarian aid. Malnutrition remains the leading cause of death among children under the age of five in Namibia.
Addressing the crisis
Implementation of redistributive cash transfer programmes such as a universal BIG have proven, through their poverty and inequality reduction effects, to play an important role in addressing the crisis.
We call on our government to take urgent steps to address the needs and discontent of the ever-increasing hungry Namibians. That is why we repeat our call for the government to urgently implement a universal/unconditional BIG scheme of at least N$500 per month.
This will be a comprehensive intervention unlike the proposed conversion of the Harambee Food Bank and the Marginalised People’s Feeding Programme which only target 45 000 and thus leave out most of those in need.
We need to ensure that we address poverty holistically without putting the poor through tiresome and cumbersome processes and penalties by making the grant means-tested. That is why a universal BIG for all Namibians alongside the universal child grant and the social pensions is the best option through which to address hunger and poverty head-on. We are calling on our political leaders to hear the cries of those who are poor and left out and to take decisive action to end poverty.