The Salvation Army steps up its relief effort in Malawi

With southern Africa facing its worst food crisis in a decade, The Salvation Army's famine relief programme in Malawi is stepping up a gear. Working closely with the United Nations World Food Programme, help is being given to the most vulnerable people: HIV/Aids victims and families headed by women, children and the elderly. With the region's rainy season due to start this month, and the situation worsening, Salvation Army emergency consultant Brain Oxley sends this first-hand report from the region:
'One day, about 2,000 people had gathered at the government-owned warehouse where grain, seeds and fertilizer would normally be sold. The warehouse was empty apart from the food that had been supplied by the UN World Food Programme in Blantyre to The Salvation Army for free distribution. From villages in a 15-kilometre radius, the most needy had been selected to receive help.

'Choosing who needs the help most when everyone is so short of food is proving to be a very difficult task. Captain Ted Horwood, Malawi Regional Training & Development officer, currently leads the team. Our Project Manager, Mr Felix Mtano, works closely with the local community. Decisions on who is to receive a ration card are taken only after discussions with local chiefs, village headmen and with women and men of the village specially convened to make the difficult selection of beneficiaries. These people form the nucleus of a Village Relief Committee (VRC) and our management team works closely with them to plan delivery dates, select venues and decide the allocation of the precious ration cards.

'As I arrived for the distribution, one very young mother was sitting under the shade of a tree with her young baby at her breast. She had no milk for the baby and no food at her home. She had walked 12 kilometres during the early morning to the food distribution site at Tamani Village in Phalombe District, south-east Malawi. She had heard that The Salvation Army was giving food away without asking people to go to their church. With no food since the day before, and only a meagre amount then, she hoped for a miracle, something to ease the baby's hunger and to help her during the days ahead.

'Her story sums up the great problem facing the people of Malawi. Not enough food, no money to spend at the local village market, no goods to sell in order to get cash and yet many have babies and children to worry about. So on this hot day at Tamani, as 2,000 hopeful people gathered, the relief committee members helped identify those with ration cards and separate them from those who turned up without a card, yet hoping for a miracle. This young girl and her baby were fortunate -- we had enough to help and they received the food they needed, at least for the immediate future.

'For them the miracle happened.

'Sadly, conditions will get worse in Malawi. Food is going to be a pressing issue until the next harvest of maize, due in April 2003. Even then, the expectation is for a much lower yield than the country is going to require. In this desperate situation, The Salvation Army is working to help, support and witness the occasional miracle.'