NAMIBIA - NAMIBIE
His Excellency Sam Nujoma, President of the Republic of Namibia
Hunger and the relative lack of food have plagued humankind for many years. Equally, many efforts have been made to ensure global food security, the latest such effort being the 1974 World Food Conference. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has played, and continues to play, an important role in such efforts.
In our country, FAO is supporting several important projects that are aimed at improving the food situation in the country. This support has been both financial, with a total budget of more than US$ 4.5 million, as well as technical. I therefore wish to express our gratitude and appreciation for the invaluable support FAO has rendered to our country over the years, especially after independence.
At Namibia's independence six years ago, we inherited a small economy which was highly integrated with that of apartheid in South Africa. The structure of such an economy is characterized by inequality, poverty and unemployment, resulting in a higher level of household food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition, as well as dangerously skewed income distribution.
Although Namibia has what appears to be a relatively healthy overall national income, as reflected in our per capita GDP, we nevertheless experience a high level of hunger and malnutrition. As you may probably be aware, at independence about 5 percent of the population accounted for 71 percent of the nation's income, while a 55 percent share had less than 3.5 percent of the national economic pie. This means that the majority of our people live in dire poverty, which is clearly a very explosive situation with far-reaching consequences.
We, as a government, have been striving hard to establish the structures and the framework to bring economic independence to our people. In doing so, we have placed great hope in our policies and investment promotion packages to attract direct foreign investment in both regional economic groupings as well as from international investors. At home, we have already created an environment which would enable our people to participate equitably in the national economy.
Unfortunately, however, we remain vulnerable to our harsh local environmental conditions and the effects of global climatic change. It is vital to note that, in the Southern African region, only Namibia continues to suffer from a crippling and persistent drought. Other countries have, in the past few years, received above-average rainfall.
In this regard, I would like to make a special appeal to the international community to assist and support our efforts to develop a water system from the Okavango River on our northern border in order to supply the central regions, including Windhoek, the capital, that have been severely hit by drought. Water conservation measures, including rationing and increased use of borehole water have been introduced. However, these are but short-term solutions.
As I speak today, the future of our agricultural sector, upon which most of our people depend for their livelihood, hangs in the balance. As we wait for the rains, we are conscious of the fact that another year of drought will spell major disaster for our country. Similarly, despite our resource management efforts, our fish resources are experiencing unprecedented low stocks, mainly due to unfavourable oceanic conditions.
We believe that strengthening our economy is vital for building a fair and just society. To this end, we have established a solid platform for clear-cut government policies in all major sectors of the economy. The process of implementation is already underway. We intend to stick to the tasks we have set ourselves in achieving our short- and long-term goals.
We are also fully aware of the fact that overcoming the legacies of the past will definitely be an enormous task to accomplish. One case in point is that the development of our human resources capacity out of the previously unequal apartheid education system cannot occur overnight. Likewise, despite our commitment to reduce public expenditure and the size of the public service, the fact remains that dealing with the backlog of agricultural and rural development needs will require increased allocations of public resources in order to be able to provide adequate infrastructure and support services.
Until such time as improvements in these areas begin to take effect, the socio-economic inequalities, combined with the crippling drought, will effectively lower the standard of living of the majority of our people. In such an event, Namibia's much-lauded democracy and political stability will remain fragile.
It is for this very reason that Namibia continues to plead with the United Nations and the rest of the international community for the country to be granted "Least Developed Country" status. We are grateful that, through the support of the United Nations Member States, as well as the specialized agencies of the United Nations, we have received the "as if Least Developed Country" status, which has helped us in some constructive ways despite donor fatigue.
We submit that denying Namibia the "Least Developed Country" status is tantamount to punishing the very communities who have suffered under the apartheid system and whom the Government wishes to target with development assistance.
As a young country with deep-rooted problems that require patience and continuous attention, we need to increase international support in the fields of both trade and investment if our country's reconstruction efforts are to succeed.
We are strong advocates of liberalizing global trade arrangements. But as a small country, we must use every means at our disposal to demand fair and responsible trade and to persuade the major trading powers not to ride roughshod over such apparently insignificant economies as our own. Such a free-for-all will result in nothing less than disaster for many countries and regions.
We feel strongly, for instance, that the Lomé IV Agreement between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States, which is due to expire in the year 2000, is of vital importance for the future of developing countries. We urge the European Union to understand the importance of this agreement and strongly support its renewal.
The World Food Summit has come at an opportune moment for us in Namibia. It has intensified our focus and our attention on our nation's problems of poverty, household food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition. It has also encouraged us to re-dedicate ourselves to the cause of overcoming these scourges. We feel confident that we have adopted appropriate policies to create an environment conducive to the attainment of food security goals.
My Government has every intention of following up the commitments to be made at this Summit. We have already established cross-sectoral coordinating structures involving all our key social partners, which are tasked to deal with food security and nutritional issues. These structures are in the process of being extended and decentralized from national to regional level, at which point we believe real progress can be made so that the vulnerable groups in our rural areas can be assisted to work towards full food security.
Our political independence has moved us to a new phase: that of economic reconstruction and nation-building. We are determined that overcoming household food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition, will be one of the foundation stones of our new nation.