Namibia’s nomadic Ovahimba people adopt to contemporary living amid COVID-19 pandemic

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A local Himba mother takes her child out of a temporary tent in Windhoek, Namibia, on April 14, 2020. These tents were donated in an attempt to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. (Xinhua/Jacobina Mouton)

Located about 740 Kilometers out of Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, is the Kunene region which houses the town of Opuwo, where a largely nomadic and pastoral community of the Ovahimba people, are living.

They have shunned civilization opting for their traditional lifestyle for years but are fast adopting modern day methods of living amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ovahimba people are a rare breed of African tribesmen and women who until now have not changed their traditional living standards nor conditions and survive through their traditional cattle breeding, nomadic and largely traditional ways of living.

However since the advent of COVID-19, the Ovahimba are now slowly finding new ways of living including warming up to government programs where they consume water from boreholes, sanitizing their hands and living a largely altered lifestyle that meets the laid down procedures of COVID-19 regulations.

“We have been living our lives the traditional way but ever since COVID-19 we have had to adjust and follow the laid down rules. Naturally our homes are rather small and we live in large numbers but we cannot continue in that style anymore. We have started social distancing and we have also adapted to sanitizing our hands as everyone,” Pajea Herunga, a resident in Kunene region, told Xinhua.

Admitting that it has not been easy adjusting to the new normal, she said projects by the government including drilling of boreholes in their area as well as encouraging them to adopt to conservation of their wild animals had transformed their way of living.

“We sometimes receive donations including food staff and sometimes sanitizers so we can use it. The government and other players continue to assist us,” she said.

Namibian Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta said the people in the Kunene region form a bigger part of the country’s conservancies and they will continue to benefit from government support.

“The point behind these conservancies is to encourage people to sustainably exploit their natural resources and also strike a balance between the need for consumption of these wild animals and avoiding depleting them. The money collected from these conservancies is for the community and is used to develop the communities where the conservancies operate,” Shifeta said.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Namibia country representative, Alka Bhatia said support in terms of water infrastructure as well as knowledge in conservancies as well as health is important in marginalized communities such as the Ovahimba communities of Kunene.

She emphasized that the UNDP will continue to work closely with marginalized communities as well as the Namibian government to find ways of improving the life of the poor and marginalized in the Kunene region.

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