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Millions face starvation as famine hits southern Africa

Posted on: November 16, 2016 4:33 PM
Drought hits Zimbabwe
Photo Credit: Leah Gordon / USPG

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The people of Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe are facing the risk of death as erratic weather, drought and crop failures have resulted in chronic food shortages. Hundreds of people have already died from malnutrition and that figure is set to rise substantially. One young person being confirmed in the diocese of Toliara in Madagascar collapsed in the arms of Bishop Tod McGregor as a result of dehydration.

The Anglican mission agency USPG has launched an emergency appeal to support Anglican Churches in the region.

“People are weak and listless and sleeping every day without eating,” Toliara diocese’s development co-ordinator, Gasthé Alphonse, said. “Children have started to drop out of school through weakness or because they’ve got to walk further to collect water.

“People have been selling their animals to buy food they would normally grow themselves. Once they’ve sold their livestock, they have no other resources to buy food. Even those with little resources are struggling to feed their families as food and water prices are too high. People are eating cactus like animals to survive.”

Earlier this month, the diocese reported that 230 people in the region had died and 15,000 children were suffering from severe malnutrition. They have set up an emergency response team to oversee relief efforts in the worst affected regions of Astimo-Andrefana, Anosy and Androy.

“Working through a network of 70 rural churches, food aid will be distributed to 7,000 people, with a particular focus on children and pregnant women,” a USPG spokesman said. “In addition, 4,000 villagers will be trained in disaster preparedness, learning such skills as how to establish food storage centres and how to develop income generation projects. It is hoped the training will also give confidence so communities needn’t feel like victims in their situation.”

Like other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi has had two consecutive bad harvests. Officials estimate that some 8.6 million people in the country will require food aid from December for more than six months as a result of the combination of flooding and drought.

There is a critical hunger situation and the government has declared an emergency. “In such times of hunger, food prices go up complicating the situation,” USPG said. “As a result, people develop coping mechanisms that are risky and even counterproductive. In many communities, people are having one meal a day and children are dropping out of school due to hunger.

“In addition, prostitution and transaction sex increase as people seek to earn more money – which can result in girls dropping out of school, teenage pregnancies, early marriages and HIV infection.”

The Anglican Church in Malawi is supporting communities in chronically hunger-prone areas, helping to develop skills to help people become food secure. “Initially, we are reaching out to 1,200 vulnerable households in the four Anglican dioceses worst hit by flooding and drought, namely the Dioceses of Lake Malawi, Northern Malawi, Southern Malawi and Upper Shire,” USPG said.

“As well as providing short-term food relief, we are also embarking on a long-term sustainable programme to empower communities through training in emergency preparedness and income generation. This programme is scheduled to continue until September 2018.”

Even before the current crisis, some 72 per cent of Zimbabwe’s population lived in chronic poverty. The country “has been in the grip of an intense drought since 2015-16, driven by one of the strongest El Niño events of the last 35 years,” the national co-ordinator of relief and development for the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, Artwell Sipinyu, said. “The influence of climate change cannot be ruled out.”

Sipinyu said that “the entire country has been affected, with 2.8 million people facing chronic food shortages, especially in Masvingo and Matabeleland. . .

“The Anglican Church has responded with a schools feeding programme that will support around 7,600 young children. Improved nutrition will enhance children’s capacity to learn and participate in sports and other activities.

“The church is also providing households with seed packs for planting next season to help reduce the need to depend on donations or handouts.”

He added: “My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am appealing to every one of you to help the under privileged in our societies, as we are called to serve. Our purpose is to serve God and, through preaching the gospel in truth and deed, let’s help humanity. For in Matthew 25:35, Jesus says I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”

USPG described the situation as “critical”. The spokesman said: “an immediate response is required to save lives. In each country, Anglicans are well placed to support vulnerable people because their church networks reach the rural communities that are most affected.”

  • Click here for further details of USPG’s Rapid Response Famine Fund and to make a donation.