Taking steps to counter drought

A senior official in Botswana on Monday said the government would step up assistance to households in two districts affected by drought conditions.

Rural development coordinator Mtshabele Manamela told IRIN that although the overall food security situation in the country had improved over the past year, there were a "few scattered pockets" where poor rainfall had led to insufficient maize production.

President Festus Mogae declared 2004/05 a drought recovery year last week.

The two most affected areas were Bobirwa and Kgalagadi South sub-districts in southwestern Botswana, which had recorded below normal rainfall.

"Over the next five months we will continue to monitor the situation in those districts: this is to ensure that we can provide our early warning department with up-to-date information, should the situation in deteriorate," Manamela noted.

It was still unclear how many households would need government assistance.

"The Drought Relief Labour-Based Public Works Programme will continue for the next six months. We will be taking a good look at the number of people who turn up for this temporary employment, as an indication of just how severe the stress is on households," he added.

The government has also decided to maintain the feeding programme for all children up to the age of six at child-welfare clinics, and the provision of a second meal for disadvantaged rural children.

Meanwhile, the ministry of agriculture has been urged to take steps in collaboration with the private sector to ensure the availability and distribution of free seeds at local outlets.

"What we found in some instances is that because of either the unavailability or late delivery of government-sponsored inputs, many farming households were unable to plant in time, so even when the rains did come they were ill prepared," Manamela said. "Greater efforts are now expected from the officials in the agricultural department to ensure that these seeds are available for the next planting season."