Karonga Diocese in Malawi has implemented a relief project to save and protect livelihoods of vulnerable population (an estimated 13,750 people) affected by food shortage in 3 districts in Northern Malawi. The objective is to sustain 2,500 households during this period of food insecurity which affects around 3 million people in the country.
Malawi is currently facing food shortage due to dry spells and floods during the 2014/15 growing season. The three districts of Chitipa, Karonga and Rumphi which are under Karonga Diocese were equally affected. According to reports from the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) about 24,954 households, representing a population of 137,245 people, are affected in these three districts.
“The main reason why these people have no food is that their maize was washed away by excess water from Kyungu River which has very fertile banks on which locals grow crops all year round,” explains Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga. “During the rainy season rain waters the crops; during the dry season the moisture left during the rainy season waters the crops. There is no improved form of farming along these fertile banks of this river. They use the same methods of farming that our grandparents used many years ago. When the moisture left by rain is not enough to make their crops grow, the crops die ― just 50 metres from the famous Kyungu River. And during rainy season, floods from this same river wash away their maize and rice crops.”
Mons. Mtumbuka laments that, besides the natural causes of this food shortage, the lack of development in this region aggravates the problem. “It is a disgrace that in an area with so much water, such fertile soil people have to be fed by people of good will from far away because we cannot use these resources properly.” The Bishop of Karonga grew up in this area, and he describes how little the farming techniques used by the general population have changed over the years. “On my way back from Iponga and just after crossing the Kyungu River I found mother and son working on their maize field. They were doing it exactly how my mum and I and my brothers and late dad did many years ago… Is it really impossible to improve the quality of farming for this mum and her son? Is it really acceptable that people living in such a fertile area and with so much water have no food?”
The government of Malawi is responding through its international partners led by the World Food Programme. However, the assistance is not adequate to target all those affected by the crisis. Karonga Diocese therefore appealed to its partners for assistance so that it could distribute food to the affected population which is not being targeted by the WFP programme. Aid to the Church in Need has responded with a total aid of €50,000 to finance two relief programmes coordinated by the diocesan development department. Tony Zender, responsible for Malawi in ACN’s projects department, explained that “as a charity, ACN usually focuses on the realization of pastoral projects. However, we see it as our duty to provide help in times of need, especially when no one or only very few organizations are ready to offer relief to our suffering brothers and sisters in Malawi.”
The beneficiaries have been selected according to their level of vulnerability: widows, orphan-headed households, elderly-headed, disability, the chronically ill, land holding size etc.
Bishop Mtumbuka says about the pictures he has sent of the food distribution in Iponga Primary School. “I took these pictures myself when I went to see for myself how our officers had organised the work and whether their plans were really working. My impression was that they were very much on top of things. The locals were very grateful. Some were young, others not so young, but they all waited patiently to get their food items. While they were all very grateful to receive the food aid, it was also clear that this is not something nice for them; sitting there for hours waiting for food.”
A total of 800 households were registered to receive the relief food items to sustain them for a month. The total population which directly benefitted from the project was 4,408 out of which 52% were women whilst 35% were children under the age of 12. Among the challenges faced were the poor road conditions, aggravated by heavy rains, which significantly increased transport costs. In some cases, due to the high numbers of affected people, the targeted beneficiaries were forced to share the amount of relief food they received with other equally affected people. So the food they finally took home was not enough to carry them for a month.