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Pangs of hunger in nation of plenty

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By Beaton Chimenya:

Aufi Mmadi, 76, grew up knowing that a cock’s crow at the break of dawn marked the beginning of good things.

In those days, especially years between 1968 and the late 1980s, food and water were plenty, unlike these days— when the weevil of food insecurity has eaten through national food security efforts, leaving granaries empty, rivers and lakes dry and people hopeless.

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It is a despicable situation.

BUMPY ROAD— The only dependable road in Sale’s area

says Mmadi, from Chimbira Village, Sub-Traditional Authority Sale, in Machinga District.

“In those days, when a cock crowed at the crack of dawn, we, as kids then, would marvel at the sound, sure that another eventful day was before us. In those days, we could eat fruits such as guavas, mangoes, oranges, and other homegrown things like sugarcane. Maize was in abundance as well as pumpkins and life was generally good,” he adds.

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Today, smiles have long been replaced by frowns and, even from a distance, it is clear that Mmadi is a man troubled; a man short on the commodity called peace of mind.

Life has become a day-time nightmare for the father of seven.

Unfortunately, Mmadi is not the only one perpertually hit by food shortages

The picture is gloomy in Machinga District.

In fact, those who wish to record first-hand experiences just have to pay people of Machinga North Constituency a visit.

In villages such as Mkwakwata, Village Head Chimbira, in the district, one will be lucky to come across a granary full of maize.

Like hope, maize stocks ran out eight months ago.

NEGLECTED— Learners just hear of the existence of full primary schools

This has prompted well-wishers such as Road to Relief to embark on relief food distribution exercises.

And one can be excused for believing that hunger-stricken people have received a priceless gift per household, for people get visibly enthusiastic after getting packages of maize, irrespective of the quantity.

For example, after people called for help, Road to Relief decided to visit subjects of Mkwakwata, where officials donated assorted items such as 25 kilogrammes (kg) of beans, 50kg of maize, salt and soap to 175 households.

One of the affected people, Puna Mwamadi, says hunger has not spared anyone.

“It is not just us who are running out of food; even people in some parts of Mozambique face a predicament similar to ours. This means we have nowhere to buy maize and other grains from. We are in big trouble,” Mwamadi says.

Sale, while applauding Road to Relief, asks other well-wishers to visit the area and assess the situation for themselves.

“Many families are in dire need of various forms of support, including food. Very few people produced enough food.

“As I am speaking, a good number of women and children, in short most households, are affected. The quicker we get assistance, the better,” Sale says.

More so because Malawians are, often, arrested on petty grounds in Mozambique.

“Sometimes, my people get arrested in Mozambique for illegal entry while searching for fresh water sources since my area does not have sources of potable water,” he says.

The area is, in short, in the middle of nowhere— sandwiched between mountains

and bushes, far from trading centres such as Mkwepele and Nselema.

To get to these trading centres, one has to cover a distance of about 74km over a bumpy and rough road. A difficult feat for someone on empty stomach.

One of the affected villagers, Selina Malema, says people are far from being saved from the pangs of hunger and under-development.

“We have been greatly hit by hunger in this area and we need more donors,” she says.

Not that the government is not aware of the situation.

NOWHERE TO GO— Innocent children of Machinga

Two weeks ago, officials sent by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) visited the area, where they donated items that gave them a chance to see another day.

Road to Relief spokesperson, Ajilu Kalitendele, says the organisation appreciates the extent of the problem.

“This area has been affected; so has neighbouring Mozambique, where people around this area buy their food from,” Kalitendele says.

He fears for the worst, saying people in affected areas are at risk of catching waterborne diseases such as cholera.

“Our organisation has constructed boreholes to ease the problem but we have been facing some challenges. For example, we have been failing to discover water after digging deeper and this has forced us to start constructing wells, instead of boreholes.

“The situation has culminated in increased cases of school dropout. Children are dropping out of school due to hunger. That is why a lot of children are loitering around,” he says.

That is not the only problem, though. The area has no full primary school and those who reach Standard Five find their own means of walking to full primary school far from their areas of residence, another big blow to efforts premised on promoting access to basic education.

When contacted to explain efforts being made to avert effects of hunger, Chairperson of Adapt Plan Project in Zomba District, Kate Mwandira, says they are assessing the situation.

“We started preparing for situations like this some time back. We, in conjunction with the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, will be working hand in hand to rein in on the situation,” Mwandira says.

Chimbira area could best be described as a forgotten area. Although it borders Mozambique, it lacks a lot of facilities.

There are no permanent markets where villagers can buy food and other necessities.

It takes half a day to reach the closest market.

Communication is another problem, as network availability is not guaranteed.

As such, people depend on the neighbouring Mozambique as the majority of men trek to that country to search for menial jobs and potable water.

The development comes at a time the Dodma has said there might be a ‘slight’ delay in the distribution of about 139,000 metric tonnes of maize to 3.3 million people who face food shortage between now and March next year.

The delay, according to Secretary and Commissioner for Disaster under the Office of the President and Cabinet, Ernest Kantchentche, is a result of the extension of the ongoing once-off distribution of relief maize to 432,000 households across the country.

This means food distribution efforts targeting beneficiaries identified by the recently released Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) report would be linked with the current maize distribution exercise to ensure that there is no gap between distribution exercises.

“At the moment, preparations are at an advanced stage to help us respond to the MVAC report immediately after the current exercise. We are procuring transport services and [making] other logistic arrangements to make sure that the process is completed on time,” he says.

The government had planned to finish the once-off distribution exercise on October 27 but the exercise has been extended to some districts due to challenges such as inadequate funding and transport for the relief maize.

However, Kantchentche said his department has started engaging district councils to immediately start targeting and verification of beneficiaries so that the distribution exercise starts immediately after the current exercise.

“We have established that these people seriously need relief food. We cannot give them a single bag and stop there. We want to continue giving them the food until they are stable,” he says.

Until that day, people of Machinga and other districts may continue to get items in peace meals.

Not a desirable condition for people on the verge of dying from starvation-induced hunger

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