CHURCHES across Southern Africa are working to stave off the threat of famine after a long drought and a failed harvest caused severe food shortages.
A prolonged water shortage this year, a result of the El Niño climate phenomenon, has meant that many staple crops could not be planted and harvested. Aid agencies have reported that hundreds of people have already died from malnutrition and millions more are at risk.
The director of humanitarian emergency affairs for Southern Africa at World Vision, Joseph Kamara, said last month that, while the situation had not yet turned into famine, there was a “significant food crisis”.
”It’s the most intense drought for the last 35 years. There are insufficient supplies of maize and other staples,” he said. “Even South Africa, which is the food basket of the region, has had to import food from South America.”
World Vision has been providing food parcels for rural areas, to support the poor, who largely rely on subsistence farming to survive. It is also giving out drought-resistant seeds and water supplies.
The Bishop of Northern Malawi, the Rt Revd Fanuel Emmanuel Magangani, said that his diocese had responded to the crisis with both short- and long-term interventions.
They have distributed maize, the region’s staple crop, to the most vulnerable families, and have started to give out porridge to pupils at three schools; four more schools are due to join the programme in January.
”In the long-term plan, we would like to use our seven-hectare piece of land in Mhuju area for commercial farming,” Bishop Magangani said. “This will help us to grow maize and cassava in order to respond to the food shortage. Knowing that rains are not reliable due to climate change, we would like to be able to harvest water to use for irrigation.”
A report from the Anglican Council in Malawi has predicted that as many as eight million Malawians will need emergency food handouts for at least six months.
The coping mechanisms adopted to deal with food shortages and rising prices were risky, the Council said. Children often cut down to one meal a day, and dropped out of school because they were too hungry to learn, while others turned to prostitution to earn more money, which could result in HIV infections or teenage pregnancies.
USPG has also begun an urgent appeal to assist Anglican Churches in Southern Africa in getting food to starving communities.
In the island nation of Madagascar, the Church has reported that 230 people have died, and 15,000 children are suffering, as a result of drought, in the diocese of Toliara alone.
”People are weak and listless, and sleeping every day without eating. Children have started to drop out of school through weakness, or because they’ve got to walk further to collect water,” the diocese’s development co-ordinator, Gasthé Alphonse, said.
At a confirmation service in Madagascar, at which the Bishop of Toliara, Dr Todd McGregor, presided, one dehydrated young person collapsed in the Bishop’s arms.
Seven thousand people are receiving food aid from the Church; a further 4000 villagers will be trained in how to establish food storage to prepare for future famines.
There have also been widespread crop failures in Zimbabwe, where a combination of climate change and the effects of El Niño have left the vulnerable poor facing malnutrition.
The national co-ordinator for relief and development for the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, Artwell Sipinyu, warned that smallholder farmers needed to prepare for a future of frequent droughts as a result of climate change.
”The Anglican Church has responded with a schools feeding programme that will support around 7600 young children,” he said. “Improved nutrition will enhance children’s capacity to learn and participate in sports and other activities.”
The Church is also providing households with packs of seeds that they can plant next season, to reduce the dependency on donations or handouts.
Both Bishop Magangani, in Malawi, and Mr Kamara, of World Vision, thanked British taxpayers and donors who, through the Department for International Development and the Anglican Communion, are funding much of the relief work.
”I thank the British taxpayer for their support: we wouldn’t have made it without them,” Mr Kamara said.
“We are very grateful for the supper we have received from the Anglican brothers and sisters across the world,” Bishop Magangani said. “This is realising the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Give us today our daily bread.’”