Church Responds as Millions Face Starvation in Southern Africa

Two women come together in prayer.
Two women come together in prayer. (USPG)

The Anglican mission agency USPG has launched an emergency appeal to support Anglican churches in southern Africa as they reach out to communities facing famine and loss of life.

Erratic weather, drought and crop failures have resulted in chronic food shortages in Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe, with hundreds of lives lost due to malnutrition.

In Madagascar, The Ret. Rev. Dr Todd McGregor, bishop of Toliara, reported that during a confirmation service, a young person collapsed in his arms due to dehydration.

And the diocese of Toliara's development co-ordinator, Gasthé Alphonse, told USPG: "People are weak and listless and sleeping every day without eating. Children have started to drop out of school through weakness or because they've got to walk further to collect water.

"People have been selling their animals to buy food they would normally grow themselves. Once they've sold their livestock, they have no other resources to buy food.

"Even those with little resources are struggling to feed their families as food and water prices are too high. People are eating cactus like animals to survive."

In Malawi, where an estimated 8.6 million people will be facing starvation in December, USPG funding will support an Anglican program to provide food aid to vulnerable households and train communities in disaster preparedness.

In Zimbabwe, hunger is driving some people to eat the seeds they have rather than planting them, which will lead to further food shortages. Here, USPG is supporting a schools feeding program that will reach 7,600 children aged 3 to 7.

The situation is critical. An immediate response is required to save lives. In each country, Anglicans are well placed to support vulnerable people because their church networks reach the rural communities that are most affected.

Madagascar: 'This Year's Drought Has Taken an Extra Heavy Toll'

Emergency action is needed to save lives in Madagascar, where drought has affected thousands in the arid south of the island.

According to David Lane, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Rome: "We [need] to bring attention to an impending emergency in Madagascar, an island nation that gets little attention and where this year's drought has taken an extra heavy toll."

Droughts over the past three years have led to poor harvests and a steep rise in the cost of staple foods.

In early November, the Anglican Church reported that 230 people had died and 15,000 children were suffering from severe malnutrition in the Diocese of Toliara. These numbers are now likely to be higher.

In Amboasary, in Toliara Diocese, a villager reported: "The River Mandrare doesn't bring water so there is no agricultural production. We lack water and food, so sickness comes."

In response, the Diocese of Toliara has set up an emergency response team to oversee relief efforts in the worst affected regions of Astimo-Andrefana, Anosy and Androy.

Working through a network of 70 rural churches, food aid will be distributed to 7,000 people, with a particular focus on children and pregnant women.

In addition, 4,000 villagers will be trained in disaster preparedness, learning such skills as how to establish food storage centers and how to develop income generation projects. It is hoped the training will also give confidence so communities needn't feel like victims in their situation.

Malawi: '8.6 million Will Require Food Aid From December' 

Report prepared by the Anglican Council in Malawi:

Malawi, like other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, has had two consecutive bad harvests, due to flooding and drought, resulting in a critical situation of hunger. Reports suggest an estimated 8.6 million Malawians will require food aid from December for more than six months.

The Malawi government has declared a disaster situation. It's very difficult for the government to reach out alone so it has called for local and international support to reach all who need food relief.

Malawi depends on a rain-fed farming system and, in times of poor rains, the harvest falls far below national consumption levels and creates panic and anxiety, especially among the poor.

In such times of hunger, food prices go up complicating the situation. As a result, people develop coping mechanisms that are risky and even counterproductive. In many communities, people are having one meal a day and children are dropping out of school due to hunger. In addition, prostitution and transaction sex increase as people seek to earn more money, which can result in girls dropping out of school, teenage pregnancies, early marriages and HIV infection.

Against this backdrop, the Anglican Church in Malawi is endeavoring to complement the efforts of the government by supporting communities in chronically hunger-prone areas, helping to develop skills to help people become food secure.

Initially, we are reaching out to 1,200 vulnerable households in the four Anglican dioceses worst hit by flooding and drought, namely the dioceses of Lake Malawi, Northern Malawi, Southern Malawi and Upper Shire.

As well as providing short-term food relief, we are also embarking on a long-term sustainable program to empower communities through training in emergency preparedness and income generation. This program is scheduled to continue until September 2018.

Zimbabwe: 'Jesus Says I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Something to Eat'

Report by Artwell Sipinyu, National Co-ordinator Relief and Development for the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe—a country where 72 percent of the population lives in chronic poverty—has been in the grip of an intense drought since 2015-16, driven by one of the strongest El Niño events of the last 35 years. The influence of climate change cannot be ruled out.

Combined with a poor 2014-15 harvest, an extremely dry season in 2015, and drier-than-average conditions in mid-2016, the result is crop failure. An already vulnerable population now faces high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.

The entire country has been affected, with 2.8 million people facing chronic food shortages, especially in Masvingo and Matabeleland. President Mugabe has declared a State of Drought Disaster.

The Anglican Church has responded with a schools feeding program that will support around 7,600 young children. Improved nutrition will enhance children's capacity to learn and participate in sports and other activities.

The church is also providing households with seed packs for planting next season to help reduce the need to depend on donations or handouts.

As well as looking at the current drought facing the smallholder farmer, we have got to prepare for the future. Due to climate change, droughts will prevail for some time, so mechanisms need to be put in place to help communities become self-sufficient.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am appealing to every one of you to help the under privileged in our societies, as we are called to serve. Our purpose is to serve God and, through preaching the gospel in truth and deed, let's help humanity. For in Matthew 25:35, Jesus says I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.

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