The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), battling a funding shortfall, has been forced to cut rations for vulnerable Namibian children.
A timely donation of about US$1.2 million from Ireland and another $322,000 from Luxembourg will help the food aid agency to provide only maizemeal to more than 90,000 orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the country's six northern regions until April, said John Prout, WFP Country Director for Namibia.
Besides maizemeal, the normal monthly take-home ration for each child registered with the programme includes corn-soya blend, cooking oil and pulses, but the food aid agency is facing a shortfall of $4 million for its operations in Namibia, and needs a total of $9 million until the end of 2007.
According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), around 120,000 Namibian children under the age of 17 have lost one or both parents, of which about 57,000 have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
"Generally speaking, it is difficult to raise funds for the southern African region. Donors prefer to concentrate on the Horn of Africa and other critical emergencies across the world - the focus has moved away from Southern Africa," said Prout.
Since reopening its Namibia office in 2005, specifically to provide support to OVC in the north, where HIV/AIDS prevalence reaches 40 percent, the agency has struggled to raise funds.
The WFP programme hopes to identify and support at least 180,000 OVC, who will be "absorbed by the government's social welfare grant programme", said Khin-Sandi Lwin, UNICEF's country representative in Namibia. The government programme currently provides grants to 35,000 children.
"The children who are outside the grant system have no other alternative source of support [besides the WFP] and will have to fall back on the informal family system," said Lwin. "Some children might have access to school feeding programmes but they will be a very small number."
"It is extremely hard for the children - they are orphans struggling to get by. Now they have got used to the rations, and then you tell them 'we don't have enough'," said Naemi Heita, head of programme of the Namibia Red Cross Society.