Drought relief measures announced

President Festus Mogae declared Botswana "drought stricken" after poor rainfall resulted in widespread crop failure, and has announced relief measures that will run until June next year.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture only 72,500 ha - a quarter of the cultivable 325,000 ha - was planted. "This year's cereal production is now estimated at about 19,000 mt, about 10 percent of the national requirement and less than half of the 46,000 mt produced during 2003/04", said Mogae.

"While livestock conditions are generally fair in most - though certainly not all - parts of our country, deterioration can be expected in the coming months", he warned.

The livestock industry is the second largest foreign currency earner after diamonds.

However, Mogae said it was encouraging that the nutritional status of children younger than five years had improved, and cited statistics by UNICEF, the UN Children's Fund, pointing to a 25 percent decline in malnutrition between 2002 and 2004.

"But unless remedial action is taken the envisaged crop failure could lead to a reversal of these gains, at a time when we seek to ensure the nutrition security of all Batswana [people]", said Mogae.

To mitigate the effects of drought, Mogae said the government would provide income support to needy families for the next 12 months through a labour-intensive public works programme.

The programme is to include the construction of new classrooms, administrative offices and homes for teachers and nurses; the strengthening of ... international borders; repair and maintenance of animal disease cordon fences; maintenance of firebreaks and the formation of standby fire-fighting teams; and the desilting of small dams.

Children aged under five attending welfare clinics would be provided with supplementary feeding, as well as those not covered by a feeding scheme.

According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 78,000 orphaned children below the age of 15 years in Botswana, which has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world. Less than 30,000 orphans are registered and about 25,000 receive food baskets and other material support from the government.

Mogae also announced that the children of San Bushmen, who are classified as Remote Area Dwellers, would be provided with a second meal at their schools.

Free distribution of seeds to a maximum of five ha per farmer in the communal sector, and a 25 percent price subsidy on selected cattle feeds, including dicalcium phosphate, winterlick, beef finisher, drought pellets and course salt was also announced as part of the relief package.

The government was also concerned about the water quality in 20 percent of the country's villages. Mogae said although augmentation measures had been instituted, 63 villages were currently being provided with bowsed water, and the situation needed monitoring "to ensure a timely response to any adverse developments".

The capital, Gaborone, has been affected by water shortages and has less than three months' supply in its main reservoir. The city council has announced advanced plans to recycle sewerage water.