Zimbabwe + 2 more

Southern Africa remains gripped by food crisis - relief is helping but more support is needed

The severe food crisis affecting more than 11 million people across southern Africa will worsen if more aid does not reach people in critical need of food. In addition, recent floods in southern Malawi have intensified the hardship, washing away crops and livestock and damaging houses.
Since an appeal launched by Tearfund in November, its church-based partner agencies have been distributing emergency food aid to the most vulnerable and tackling the immediate effects of failing crops by providing seed and fertilizer in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This has eased the burden in some badly affected areas and has enabled families to plant crops in hope of a harvest in April. Indications are that a good harvest is achievable with steady rainfall.

"Some fields in Malawi are again green and we are very thankful for the aid that has already been given to help us," says Francis Mkandawire of the Evangelical Association in Malawi, "But heavy rains in the south have hampered any hope of a crop yield. It is the immediate hunger gap before the next harvest that is affecting many villages leaving them with empty food stores. February will be the most critical month. People were eating mangoes, but they have completely gone now and we need more emergency food aid to prevent green shoots being eaten before harvest."

Although Tearfund and other agencies have been active in helping the communities most in need, a greater response is necessary to ensure that additional urgent needs can be met.

"We were warning in November that the crisis would deepen in the coming months if rapid international action was not taken," says Karyn Beattie, a Tearfund aid worker just back from the region. "In Zimbabwe the food situation is desperate. If it wasn't for emergency food distributions families would be left to survive on the wild vegetables and fruits, available at this time of the year - and many wouldn't survive."

Tearfund has projects earmarked, awaiting funding. For example: the provision of food packs for people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia and a proposal to feed people suffering due to the Zimbabwe Government's 'Operation Restore Order' who are still living in tents seven months after being evicted from their homes. These two vulnerable groups need urgent relief and further donations will directly benefit these Tearfund projects.

Francis Mkandawire says that the food crisis is having an additional effect on communities torn apart by HIV and AIDS. "The burden that a food crisis puts on poor communities is acute. For those that are also hit hard by HIV and AIDS there is even less hope because there are so few workers left in many villages and mothers with HIV are struggling to support families affected as well as so many young orphans. The food crisis has affected the whole HIV and AIDS programme," says Francis. "Those that are HIV positive rely on the nutrition from a good diet in order for the anti-viral treatment to work. In addition, so many orphans are affected by the food crisis where grandmothers cannot afford to give them a meal."

Villagers need food aid, seed and fertilizer to keep them alive and healthy, as well as to ensure a good harvest in April. But Tearfund is also addressing the long-term issues - working to help people improve their own lives beyond this crisis, for example, through new ways of farming that will deliver better crop yields and mitigating the impacts of HIV and AIDS.

Tearfund launched its Southern Africa Crisis Appeal in November last year. =A31.54 million has been received in donations so far. Supporters can be assured that this is all being put to immediate effective use. However, further donations will help advance this urgent relief work and can be made by credit card via the website www.tearfund.org <http://www.tearfund.org/> or by calling 0845 355 8355 (local rate calls) - or by sending a cheque to Freepost, Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 8BR. Cheques should be payable to Tearfund and earmarked for 'Southern Africa Crisis'.