Exit strategies in OVC programming in Namibia

By Marie McGrath, ENN

ENN recently visited several collaborative FAO-WFP programmes in Swaziland and the Caprivi region of north-eastern Namibia - both share some of the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS (42.6% in Swaziland, 40% in Namibia). In both countries, FAO and WFP became involved through emergency operations (EMOPs). In recognition of the longer-term food security problems in both countries, these emergency programmes evolved into protracted relief and rehabilitation operations (PRRO)s. One of the main challenges facing agencies like FAO and WFP in the region is to address the ever-increasing numbers of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). The following field articles cover a range of interventions from targeted food distribution and welfare grants in Namibia to experiences with JFFLS in Namibia and Swaziland (Eds)

Carers queue for food at an OVC food distribution.

This article is based on interviews and in consultation with Joyce Nakuta, Control Social Worker and Lucia Eises, Control Social Worker, Ministry of Gender, Equality and Child Welfare, Windhoek; Baton Osmani, WFP, Windhoek; Jefitta Chikwanda, WFP Field Monitor, Caprivi; Lillian Mutinta Buiswatelo, Senior Chief Record Clerk with the Ministry of Gender, Equality and Child Welfare, Caprivi, and Christine Namushi Matomola, Namibian Red Cross (previously held Record Clerk position with the Ministry), both Caprivi.

ENN would like to thank WFP for their hospitality and support during this field trip, in particular Jefitta Chikwanda in Caprivi, Baton Osmani and John Prout in Windhoek and Patricia Lucas in WFP Jo'burg, South Africa. Thanks also to the Ministry staff, Joyce, Lucia, and Lillian, for being so accommodating in meeting with me at short notice.

Background

Namibia is located in Southern Africa, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean, between Angola and South Africa. Although considered a 'lower middle income country', the majority of the people (more than 1 million) live in the north on communal land and are asset poor, dependent upon subsistence farming and small stock rearing. They are also vulnerable to natural disasters such as recurrent droughts, locusts, floods and animal diseases1.

Namibia has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world (21.3% of all adults, 2003). Caprivi is a region of Namibia located in the far north of the country, a narrow strip of land at the confluence of four countries - Angola, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. This position as a key thoroughfare (the Trans-Caprivi highway links Namibia with its landlocked Southern African neighbours) is one of the main contributing factors to the second highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world in this region - 43% at antenatal screening (20022). A considerable proportion of the region is flooded during the rainy season (December-March) greatly restricting access.

In response to the Namibian government drought appeal in November 2003, WFP initiated a six month emergency operation (EMOP 10334) targeting food assistance to 111,000 Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) in six of the most affected northern regions of the country. This EMOP was subsequently extended to August 2005 following which programming was redesigned and integrated into the Regional PRRO for Southern Africa. The primary objectives of the regional PRRO were to address the triple threat of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and weakened governance, with particular attention to OVCs. The current PRRO (10310) operation in Namibia is a two year programme, from Jan 2006 to Dec 2007. In 2005, WFP re-established a country office in Namibia to strengthen support to the OVC focused programming.

Child Welfare Grants
There are four grant types available for children (0-17 years):
1. Maintenance grants - N$200 for the first child plus $N100 for every additional child, for a maximum of 3 children per applicant, per family, per month.
2. Special maintenance grants - Social maintenance grants for children with disabilities under 16 years of age. N$200 monthly.
3. Foster care grants - N$200 for the first foster child plus $N100 for every additional foster child per apllicant, monthly.
4. Place of safety allowance - N$10 per child per day.

National OVC strategy

Above and below: Children help to collect food at two of the distribution sites for OVCs in Caprivi

Since 2003, responsibility for OVCs has come under the remit of the Ministry of Gender, Equality and Child Welfare (Ministry GECW). All of the Namibian governments' activities on OVC are guided by the National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS Medium Term Plan III (2004-2009) (MTP III). Food aid is just one of the activities to support OVC and is considered an interim measure to deal with the chronically food insecure. The ultimate objective is to have these children integrated into other government safety nets, particularly the Child Welfare Grants that were established in 2000 and have been administered by the Ministry GECW since 2003 (see box).

The target number of OVCs in the national programme was estimated from the national census in 2001 and does not give a clear working figure since the census only covered 0-14y, so that the 15-18 year old age group are not included. However, based on the available figures, the target group is estimated at 156,000 of the most needy OVCs. The National Plan aims to target 80% of this group by 2008. By the end of July 2006, 51,993 OVCs were registered in the government grant scheme. This represents a considerable increase since the Ministry took over the grant system from the MOH in 2004, when there were only 9000 OVCs registered in the scheme.

Below: At one of the OVC food distribution points. All the girls have lost one parent.

WFP programming

Under the PRRO, WFP's activities comprise targeted food distribution to OVCs and the development of a number of microprojects3. Individual vulnerability is assessed using a simple one page screening tool developed by WFP that is easily administered and also allows gradation of level of vulnerability (see figure 1). During assessment, the screener is blinded to the outcome to make the assessment as objective as possible. OVCs who qualify receive a monthly ration of maizemeal, Corn Soya Blend (CSB), oil and beans. In practice, it is often female headed households who receive the food as extended families who have taken on the children of their relatives.

Implementing partners (IP) are Catholic Aids Action (CAA), the Namibian Red Cross, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN). The choice of implementing partner in the region was based upon a consultative process with the Regional Councils and the Ministry GECW. By the end of September 2006, 62,000 OVCs had been registered to receive targeted food, on track to reach 90,000 by December. Regional warehouses for the WFP food being distributed to OVCs are provided by the government, as is secondary transport, for which 50% of the costs are reimbursed by WFP.

The WFP exit strategy is to transfer most of the children registered to receive food through OVC targeting to the child welfare grants scheme. Those in receipt of the child welfare grant are not entitled to food assistance. Once a person successfully applies to receive a welfare grant, they are given a one month grace period before the food entitlement stops. Since linking registration of the food aid beneficiaries with the government grant scheme is critical to this exit strategy, external expertise has been engaged to review both the WFP and Government systems to make practical recommendations on how to link the two.

At a regional level, Ministry and WFP staff and IPs engage with the traditional authorities, the village 'endonnas', who assist in the identification of the OVCs and assist in the registration for food. As part of the monitoring, they use the OVC lists generated through the food distributions and tally them with the list of those receiving the grant. Until recently this was quite labour intensive in that lists were compared manually. However, there has been progress in computerising the system and already this is making it easier. At food distribution points, information on the child welfare grants is distributed detailing the grant and how to apply.

Collaboration

Both the Ministry GECW and WFP describe a strong working relationship since WFP began operations in response to the 2003 drought. The Ministry GECW feel that this has been helped in that all OVC activities work within a National Plan of Action, that also had input from the UN agencies in its development.

The current Management Committee structure used for co-ordination of OVC activities have their origins in the Emergency Management Unit that met and communicated very frequently during the emergency response to the 2003 drought. While the National Management Committee now meet less often at once a month, they have learned the value of close communication and continue to communicate daily though emails and by phone to ensure that they can respond to issues as they arise. The current committee has also learned practical lessons from the emergency unit, in areas like logistics - this 'institutional' memory has also been helped by the fact that WFP was a partner in the previous emergency phase as well as in the current OVC programme.

Lillian Mutinta Buiswatelo, Ministry of GECW, and a member of the Nambian Red Cross (IP)

Both the National Management Committee and Regional Management Committees work with other Ministries, such as the Ministry of Health (MOH), with traditional structures and with IPs. Implementation issues are discussed at a regional level and fed back to the monthly national committee meeting.

The Ministry GECW experience has been that NGOs have not been operating in isolation in OVC related programming, but have been keen to integrate activities in line with overall national objectives put in place. Some NGOs are well established, like the Red Cross and CAA who are two of the implementing partners for OVC food distribution, so their emergency and OVC activities have been part of a continuous engagement in the country. The political stability of the country has also helped to encourage good working relationships between government and NGOs.

Grant system challenges

Children wait with their carers

The Ministry GECW and partners are working to address some of the practical challenges currently facing the grants system. Many of these relate to the documentation, like birth certificates and death certificates that are essential for the grants application. For example, a person may be buried along with their documents, such as birth certificates, that are needed for grant applications. Some villages are very remote and have no access to mortuary services to obtain the necessary death certificate and bodies may be immediately buried before there is consideration given to the need to document the death.

A carer collects her household ration at an OVC targeted food distribution

To address these issues, the Ministry GECW is involved in awareness raising and communicating through traditional structures to inform people. They are also working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help ease the process of proving the parentage of a child. For example, a short birth certificate is normally issued at birth, however a full birth certificate is required for the grants system. They are trying to change this so that a full version is issued as standard. They are also working to have birth certificates issued at more locations, like health centres and hospitals, and investigating whether also to accept baptismal certificates as well as birth certificates as evidence.

One of the big challenges described by the Ministry GECW is human resources. Administrative clerks carry out the actual processing of applications for the maintenance grants. The Ministry GECW consider this a manageable task with current staff capacity, even with the increasing numbers applying to register, since the bulk of the work is done before reaching office level. However, the greatest bottleneck is in applying the foster and disability grants, due to the lack of social workers on the ground. Currently there is only one social worker in each region, except for the extreme West where there is none. Foster grants processing is also hampered by the legal process - a court order is required to approve a foster placement, and there is only one magistrate dealing with this per region, as there is no dedicated Commissioner for Child Cases. Only once a court order is issued can the foster grant be applied. This situation was reflected in Caprivi where there are 2,690 in receipt of the maintenance grant, and only 89 in receipt of the foster grant - a reflection, say the Ministry GECW staff, of a bottleneck in the system rather than less call for foster grants.

There are a number of practical challenges to the grant process, potentiated in the Caprivi region. Given its border location, children may have been fathered by non-Nambian nationals and so will not be entitled to the Child Welfare Grant in Namibia, even though they are living there. There are cases where a father may be working in a border country like Botswana or Zimbabwe and die there. It is very difficult for a family to secure the necessary death certificate to prove this and so again, the grant cannot be accessed. While the Ministry GECW staff try to be as supportive as they can in such circumstances, this documentation is essential to ensure the grants are appropriately targeted to OVCs.

The Ministry GECW are aware that the current programme is largely focused on material assessment and support to OVCs. They hope to develop a combination of services that would more broadly address quality of life for these children and for assistance to include psychosocial care.

Lillian Mutinta Buiswatelo, Ministry of GECW, checks registration at an OVC food distribution point

Discussion

There are a number of significant challenges facing the escalation in the child welfare grants system in Namibia that will have a bearing on how successfully WFP can exit from the targeted food assistance on schedule. First, the sheer numbers involved is a high target -111,000 OVCs - particularly since this involves dovetailing two administrative systems together within a relatively short time frame. Even when both systems can be successfully linked or combined administratively, there remains the outstanding issue of those children identified as vulnerable through targeted food assistance but who do not quality for government assistance due to lack of documentation. This may emerge as a particular problem in areas like Caprivi where documentation may be especially lacking. Ironically, given the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and number of orphans, it is a region that is particularly in need of assistance.

Meaursing oil at the distribution

As yet, human resources capacity is not limiting the administration of maintenance grants but many more still need to be registered. The acute lack of social workers is already limiting provision of foster grants, disability grants and safe place grants. Given the HIV/AIDS prevalence and with increasing strain on family networks, the proportion of OVC requiring foster care or placement is most likely to increase.

In what is a politically stable country with functioning and accessible markets, there are those who might argue for a cash or voucher scheme instead of food aid that would be easier to administer. On the other hand, a cash or voucher scheme could well undermine the cash based government grant scheme and removed the incentive to transfer to the grant system. There is also a visibility given to the OVC situation through the food distributions that perhaps would be less obvious or hidden in a cash scheme.

Despite the challenges, there is a strong sense from the WFP and Ministry GECW staff that this is a very good working partnership that has developed between them. The close communication that is established is really helping to deal quickly with any issues that arise. While both schemes are running in parallel, they are not duplicating efforts. WFP food aid is considered a temporary relief pending transfer to the government grants system. Furthermore, the food programme will help build capacity and facilitate the transfer of some of the most vulnerable children in Namibia to the grant system. The pro poor / vulnerability focus of WFP beneficiary selection criteria will help to fast track many of those most deserving cases over to government grants faster than would otherwise be the case.

For further information, contact: Baton Osmani, WFP, email:Baton.Osmani@wfp.org

Show footnotes

1Assessment of OVC interventions with a food component in Namibia. By Rene Verduijn for WFP, November 2004. Accessed online at: http://www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0001116/index.php

2Republic of Namibia, MoHSS, Report of the 2002 National HIV Sentinel Survey

3See field article in this issue on the Junior Farmer Field Life Schools in Namibia.

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Reference this page

Marie McGrath (2006). Exit strategies in OVC programming in Namibia. Field Exchange 29, December 2006. p15. www.ennonline.net/fex/29/exitstrategies