While recent food surveys across the southern
Africa region are generally more positive for the coming year, poor farming
communities remain particularly vulnerable to food shortages and anxiously
await the main maize harvest in April/May. To further add to the region's
problems, tropical cyclone Japhet has hit southern Mozambique and parts
of Zambia and Zimbabwe bringing strong winds and heavy rains.
Christian Aid's appeal fund continues to grow and now stands at over =A32.98 million. It looks set to break the =A33 million barrier soon. The generosity of Christian Aid supporters is overwhelming and is enabling Christian Aid partners to help the most vulnerable survive and overcome the continuing food shortages. The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal is also growing and now stands at =A316 million. TV celebrity Claire Sweeney's recent DEC-organised trip to Malawi has highlighted how appeal funds have staved off the worst effects of the food crisis. Visit the BBC website to find out more Breakfast in Malawi: Famine.
Working in partnership
Christian Aid's southern Africa emergency officer Colette Fearon has also reported back on her recent visit to Malawi, where prospects for a reasonable maize harvest look better than this time last year.
Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian is the largest non-governmental organisation in the north of Malawi and its emergency relief work has certainly had an impact on the local community. This time last year a 20kg sack of maize cost 700 Malawi kwacha (=A34.71) at the local markets. This year a 20kg sack of maize in the north can be bought for around half that. The prospect of a fair harvest this year has meant that maize prices are more stable and communities are managing better than 12 months ago when the full impact of the food shortages was apparent.
It was evident, visiting the rural homesteads a few weeks ago, that the Livingstonia Synod's distribution and support had progressed well; the young maize looked healthy and the farmers were pleased with the maize seed and the support that they had received. However, the success or failure of this year's maize harvest still depends on consistent, good rains throughout March.
Working in partnership has been a key to the success of the emergency relief activities so far. Livingstonia Synod staff work very closely with the field workers of the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture and this mutual support and co-operation is of enormous benefit to the local subsistence farmers as knowledge, ideas and experience are shared among all those for whom subsistence farming is a way of life.
The humanitarian situation in Mozambique is expected to worsen over the coming weeks and months. Due to the poor rains during the critical cropping period there has been near total failure of the harvest in many parts of southern Mozambique. As a consequence some of these farmers can expect little or no food until February/March next year. This, compounded by last year's poor harvest, means that there will be a serious deterioration in the availability of food for many vulnerable populations in the south of the country.
To further compound the situation a tropical cyclone, 'Japhet', has battered southern Mozambique, bringing strong winds and very heavy rains to northern Gaza and Inhambane provinces - the very areas that have been experiencing severe drought. The drought will have a negative long-term impact on rural livelihoods that may be worsened by any structural damage caused by cyclone Japhet.
Christian Aid is working with the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM) and the Ecumenical Committee for Social Development (CEDES) to prepare for the increasing needs of communities affected by food shortages. Field workers will be trained in essential survey and assessment skills so they can respond quickly and effectively to help communities affected by the drought. CCM and CEDES will also look at long-term strategies to support communities who have exhausted all their traditional coping mechanisms, such as selling their cattle, household property and tools to buy food or seeds. This type of support is part of Christian Aid's on-going commitment to communities who lost their homes and livelihoods in the floods that devastated central and southern Mozambique in 2000.
Christian Aid is also looking at how it can support ACT International, the worldwide ecumenical network of emergency relief, in its work in Mozambique.