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United Methodists make churchwide appeal for African famine

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Noting the potential for mass starvation, the United Methodist Council of Bishops has issued a churchwide appeal to fight famine in Southern Africa. The appeal was approved the week of July 8. Funds will be directed to the United Methodist Committee on Relief's African Famine and Relief Advance #101250-4 and used to support United Methodist and ecumenical work in the region.
The Rev. Randolph Nugent, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, requested the appeal based on advice from UMCOR staff, part of the mission agency. "Without a churchwide appeal for the African drought, it is believed that we will not be able to raise sufficient funds to meet the needs of the people," Nugent wrote in a memo to the Council of Bishops.

Two United Methodist episcopal leaders from the affected region, Bishop Christopher Jokomo of Zimbabwe and Bishop Jo=E3o Somane Machado of Mozambique, also urged action.

Countries affected by what the United Nations World Food Program calls the worst food shortage in a decade include Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Tanzania, Zambia and Swaziland.

United Methodist officials in Mozambique, for example, have reported severe food shortages in the central area of the country. The Rev. Morais Quissico, an UMCOR disaster relief coordinator there, told Disaster News Network that people have become weaker and more vulnerable to disease, especially by eating "bush foods" not meant for human use.

"The majority of the people in these remote rural areas do not have any other source of survival other than cultivating the land," he explained. "From land cultivation they get food, not only to eat at home, but also to sell and get money for other necessities."

The World Food Program and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned in early June that the severe food crisis eventually could affect nearly 13 million people by next March. In early July, the World Food Program launched a $507 million appeal to feed people in the region. To date, the U.N. agency estimates it has been feeding 4.6 million people.

Alternating droughts and floods, combined with the mismanagement of food supplies, have led to the shortage, which is complicated by the region's chronic poverty and high HIV/AIDS infection rates. Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho have already declared national disasters because of the famine.

Malawi, which may be the hardest hit, is experiencing what could be its worst crop failure since 1949. In May, the U.N. Development Program coordinator for Zimbabwe reported that all of that country's rain-fed crops had failed and that the people had only a quarter of the food needed for the next 12 months. A recent U.N. report from Zambia indicates that desperate citizens there are eating potentially poisonous wild foods, stealing crops and turning to prostitution as a means of raising money to buy food for their families.

Action by Churches Together, an ecumenical aid coalition to which UMCOR belongs, has already prepared appeals for its work in Malawi and Zimbabwe and anticipates making more appeals. As of June, UMCOR had only contributed $10,000 to each appeal because of limited resources.

Worship materials promoting donations for the churchwide appeal are being mailed in July. Because of the need, according to UMCOR executive Wendy Whiteside, "we're asking the churches to take an offering for the next three months - one in July, one in August and one in September." She noted that the request for three offerings symbolizes the fact that drought conditions generally take three years to develop.

Kristin Sachen, UMCOR's international coordinator of emergency services, said that because governments are making food donations, the relief agency's own focus would be on the support of local, grass-roots programs that help with food distribution. "We would also support the underlying vulnerabilities, such as assistance to HIV/AIDS-affected families and orphans and support of education in the collapsed economies," she added. UMCOR will investigate agricultural development projects "to improve the long-term sustainability of communities."

Contributions to the Churchwide Appeal for Southern Africa Famine should be designated for UMCOR Advance #101250-4. Checks can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or going online to http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/.