The nation's harvest has failed and the people have nothing to eat. Mothers are boiling leaves and grass - anything they can find - in a desperate attempt to feed their hungry children.
The food crisis in southern Africa is due to a combination of elements: adverse weather conditions for two consecutive growing seasons in some countries, mismanagement of grain reserves in others, and questionable government policies, primarily in Zimbabwe. The U.N. World Food Program estimates that almost 13 million people in six countries will be at risk by the spring of 2003.
This food security crisis is technically not yet a famine even though people are dying. However, the situation is frightening - especially as concerns about regional food availability and affordability grow. Chronic food shortages pose even greater risks to children as widespread malnutrition increases their vulnerability to deadly diseases.
Malawi's embattled communities - already crippled by AIDS - have no defense against the sweeping tide of hunger. Local doctor Alfred Phiri sums up the feeling of utter helplessness "I am treating people who just needed food," he says. "Often, they've gone hungry for so long that we can't help them...I just try to make them comfortable while they die."
As the food crisis deepens, Malawi's Christians are suffering. Church leader Emmanuel Chinkuita-Phini reports that no one attended a recent Sunday service - the entire congregation was too weak to come to church. Many church members had gone days without any food.
"I've seen people eating grass - food for animals - because they have nothing else," says church leader Dean S.M. Banda.
Other pastors report hunger on an alarming scale. "I have seen people dying in the hundreds and being buried in a community grave," says Rev. Jeremiah Chienda.
World Relief's Stella Kasirye in Malawi says the situation in rural areas is growing more desperate each day. "The people are so hungry. If we do nothing, it's like sentencing them to death," she says.
Pastors are crying out for help as they watch their people -and their communities - wither and die. "American churches...please come to our aid before it is too late," pleads Rev. Chienda.
World Relief and Churches Respond
Answering the desperate pleas for help, World Relief is partnering with local evangelical churches to distribute emergency food supplies in regions where World Relief already runs long-term aid and development programs.
Steve Houston, World Relief's Disaster Response Director, says churches are distributing maize to orphans, families with young children and people living with HIV/AIDS in Rumphi and Mzimba in the north and Nkota Kota in central Malawi.
Partnering with World Relief Canada and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, World Relief and churches are feeding thousands of highly vulnerable families. Plans are under way to establish a supplementary feeding program targeting children under five.
Malawi's Christians are giving sacrificially to help their needy neighbors. Despite their poverty and hunger, members of a local Baptist church are giving grain to Chipiliro Malithano as she looks after her six orphaned grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Mopho Jere, the chief of a village in northern Malawi, is looking to the Church to feed hungry children in his remote community. "The Church has helped many of our children," he says. "Christians have taught us how to care for our babies - I hope the Church will help us survive now."
While survival is the primary objective at this critical time, World Relief and churches are equipping families with the resources and knowledge they need to bring about community transformation. Initiatives that promote health, nutrition and AIDS education empower families to improve their security and well-being. "Our long-term goal is to equip families to provide for themselves, so that in the future families will be better prepared," explains World Relief's Kasirye.
Church leaders in Zimbabwe and Mozambique are requesting help from World Relief as well.