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Southern Africa: Food Shortages Force Sisters to Survive on Corn

In response to widespread drought, World Vision is scaling up relief and recovery efforts across Southern Africa; some 500,000 people in Lesotho alone face critical hunger without such intervention.

September 2007




Please note: If a sponsored child is directly affected by a crisis or disaster, it is World Vision's policy to notify that child's sponsor as soon as possible.


Tsepiso, 3, (left) shares a lunch of plain maize porridge — seasoned with just a bit of salt — with her cousin, Mookho. The family is coping with chronic poverty and increasing food shortages like so many of Lesotho's families: sharing among extended family members, borrowing from neighbors, making meals simpler, or skipping meals altogether. © 2007 Rachel Wolff/World Vision
Editor's note: Southern Africa's worst drought in 30 years is threatening lives and destroying livelihoods. In this region already battling AIDS, extreme poverty, and recurring rain shortages, 5 million people across Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe are now suffering hunger and malnutrition. World Vision is helping to meet desperate families' immediate survival needs an estimated 1.7 million people in these countries and preparing them to better cope with such future disasters.

Selloane, 5, is too young to have heard the word 'drought.'

Yet every day, she and her 3-year-old sister, Tsepiso, experience the consequences of Lesotho's worst drought in 30 years. "Sometimes I'm hungry and there's no food at home," says the matter-of-fact 5-year-old.

The girls' distraught mother, Matinki, expresses concern of her own: "Without employment, especially during drought times like now, it is not easy to provide proper, balanced food for my children. Lately, I only have corn to give them."

'We Need to Increase Our Response'

Severe drought across Southern Africa this year is hitting the tiny nation of Lesotho particularly hard. Already struggling with declining soil quality and progressively shorter periods to recover between droughts, Lesotho also has a shrinking labor force because many adults are dying of AIDS and leaving orphaned children behind.

Half a million people are directly affected by the current drought in Lesotho, says World Vision's commodities officer, Jonathan Moyo. "If the relief work of groups like World Vision stopped, [the people] would face critical hunger. But we will need to increase our response in the coming weeks, as even those who harvested something will run out of food by September."

Regional Crop Failure

Matinki, 27, holds her youngest child, 5-month-old Tanki; he is relatively plump and healthy, since he is breastfed. Note the barren land in the background. The family lives in Khitsane village, in southern Lesotho, an area described to be stony, parched, and dotted with cacti.
Matinki, 27, holds her youngest child, 5-month-old Tanki; he is relatively plump and healthy, since he is breastfed. Note the barren land in the background. The family lives in Khitsane village, in southern Lesotho, an area described to be stony, parched, and dotted with cacti. © 2007 Rachel Wolff/World Vision

In addition, because of crop failures in neighboring South Africa, imported grains and vegetables have become more expensive, squeezing the budgets of low-income families like Matinki's. "When I don't have any money to buy vegetables or beans, we eat plain maize meal, like today," she says.

Cooked maize — similar to corn, and referred to as papa in Sesotho, the local language — is usually served with vegetables and protein, such as beans, eggs, or meat. Yet because of current conditions in the country, the 27-year-old mother explains: "We only eat beans or eggs about once a month."

Since the family's maize from their June labor is gone, Matinki now depends upon income from other odd jobs she and her mother can find; this includes washing neighbors' clothes. "For washing one load of clothes, I am paid $3; I use that to buy vegetables," she says. "I can buy a cabbage that lasts two days for $1. I cannot afford to buy meat because it is very expensive — a kilogram is $4.50."

Severe Hunger 'By October'


Local culture where Matinki's family lives, in the hard-hit southern district of Mohales Hoek (about 87 miles from Lesotho's capital, Maseru) dictates that extended family members share whatever they have with more needy relatives, ensuring that no one goes hungry. "When we don't have food, I go to my relatives' house to eat. My mom sends me," confirms 5-year-old Selloane.

But the situation grows increasingly desperate.

"Right now, people are still sharing the little food they were able to harvest in June," Moyo says. "But this coping mechanism won't last. Within the next few months, their relatives will run out of food. We could see severe signs of hunger in October or November."

Vulnerable Families 'Need Most Help'


In response to the severe drought across the region, World Vision is appealing for funds to scale up our emergency and livelihoods response to assist families like Matinki's in the drought-hit areas.

Our hope is to mitigate the hunger of families like this, who stand to face the severe effects of drought by October, and again in January, when our staff reports that the 'hungry season' reaches its peak.

"Vulnerable families will need the most help," says Moyo. "These include child- and female-headed households, the chronically ill, people living with HIV or AIDS, and orphans and vulnerable children."

In the area where Selloane and Tsepiso live, World Vision plans to:
  • Provide food aid for the most vulnerable families;
  • Offer nutrition education to parents, especially for those with children younger than 5;
  • Teach families how to grow their own vegetables in the harsh terrain;
  • Distribute seeds for the October planting season;
  • Support poultry farming to boost nutrition; and
  • Provide alternative income-generating opportunities.
"Beyond the immediate shock of the drought, World Vision will work to address the ongoing challenges of poverty that families here face," explains Hugh Greathead, a World Vision relief manager.

Hopefully, Selloane and Tsepiso will soon have bowls filled with vegetables and beans to accompany their maize — long before they're old enough to fully understand the word 'drought.'

Learn More


>> Read another article about the water shortages in Southern Africa and how World Vision is responding.

Four Ways You Can Help

>> Pray for those affected by the severe drought in Southern Africa, and for aid groups, including World Vision, who are responding to their needs.
>> Donate now to provide food for hungry children and families affected by the severe drought in Southern Africa. When combined with government grants, your gift will triple in impact to provide nutritious food to those who are suffering and need it the most.
>> Sponsor a child in Lesotho. World Vision sponsorship provides additional assistance to children during times of crisis; the program also helps children and their communities rebuild their lives after disasters, like Southern Africa's severe drought.
>> Become a Child Crisis Partner. Be an advocate for a child suffering from hunger.

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Learn More

Read another article about the water shortages in Southern Africa and how World Vision is responding.

Four Ways You Can Help

Pray for those affected by the severe drought in Southern Africa, and for aid groups, including World Vision, who are responding to their needs.
- -

Donate now to provide food for hungry children and families affected by the severe drought in Southern Africa. When combined with government grants, your gift will triple in impact to provide nutritious food to those who are suffering and need it the most.
- -
Sponsor a child in Lesotho.World Vision sponsorship provides additional assistance to children during times of crisis; the program also helps children and their communities rebuild their lives after disasters, like Southern Africa's severe drought.
- -
Become a Child Crisis Partner. Be an advocate for a child suffering from hunger.

 





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