National and traditional leaders, as well as many other stakeholders in the Kavango Region yesterday began a specially convened two-day conference at Kamutjonga, 25km from Divundu, to deliberate on burning issues such as teenage pregnancies and malnutrition in the region.
Led by the Deputy Prime Minister Marco Hausiku the conference is taking place at the Kamutjonga Inland Fisheries Institute.
Following a 2011 USAID study, which revealed that the region's teenage pregnancy rate (35 percent) is more than double the national average of 15 percent, national leaders assigned to the region including Marco Hausiku the Deputy Prime Minister, John Mutorwa, the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Rosalia Nghidinwa the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Tjekero Tweya the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, and Petrina Haingura the Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, are attending the high-profile conference to try and devise measures to mitigate what many consider a brewing social crisis of potentially catastrophic dimensions.
The main issues to be discussed include teenage pregnancies, malnutrition, street children and the role of traditional authorities in addressing these pressing social challenges in the region and the country at large.
Speaking during the opening ceremony, the Deputy Prime Minister said diseases such as malnutrition should not exist in the region due to its fertile soil, high rainfall and the presence of the perennial Kavango River. Recent statistics released by the Kavango Regional Council indicate that 3 775 cases of malnutrition were reported between January 2011 and September 2012, of which 1 734 were of children under five years of age.
Moreover, the Rundu State Hospital reported 73 deaths and 468 hospital admissions of children under the age of 12 years due to malnutrition, between the period January 2011 to June 2012.
Chief Erwin Mbambo, who is also attending the meeting lambasted the lack of discipline among youths for the high teenage pregnancy rate. "Culture is dead in the region, because young people are emulating the Western world. In the past you would not see any part of a woman's body, but today it's different," said Mbambo.
He also alluded to the fact that most social matters are being politicised instead of leaving them to traditional authorities.
In the region which is rated as one of the poorest in the country, factors contributing to the rise of teenage pregnancies include peer pressure, lack of discipline and lack of social and parental control. "Parents also contribute to the problem, because they go to the shebeens at night and then the children have to sleep on an empty stomach," observed Hausiku.
The region is home to seven ambitious green scheme projects established by the government - producing tonnes of fresh produce, which is readily accessible to locals and yet the country continues to experience unusually high levels of malnutrition.