The poor, the elderly, those with disabilities and many others suffering from acts of God will always be there. With their misfortunes twinned with hunger, it tells us hardships have a way of striking those with the least defence.
Ethel Kabwazi of Chingala Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chiseta in Lilongwe was one of the 6.5 million Malawians who faced a humanitarian situation following the drought and floods that affected crop yield and damaged other property in 2016.
Like many others in her situation, life seemed to be a very temporary affair, trapped in a dark suspense, like ill-fated sailors waiting for knights in shining armours.
Her means of survival involved knocking on people’s doors to beg for food; an extreme and chastening way of humbling oneself for survival. But she had no choice if she were to live and save her children.
She was a woman, forever chained to the traditional dictates of motherhood – and she remains so; so all possibilities of her children’s survival had to be explored.
In her area – like in many others – cases of some malnutrition and hunger-related diseases started to emerge to fortify the aftermaths of the humanitarian need after the meagre harvests had been depleted.
However, government’s declaration of hunger disaster and a call for support from the development partners blew the wind of hope quick enough as relief programmes mushroomed to target the vulnerable people like Kabwazi.
President Peter Mutharika made the declaration in accordance with powers conferred upon him by Section 32(1) of the Disaster Preparedness and Relief Act.
An International Non- Government Organisations (Ingo) consortium involving United Purpose, Goal and Concern Worldwide was created as a joint effort to suppress the hunger effects and save the suffering Malawians with financial support from Department for International Development (DfID), The Royal Norwegian Embassy, Usaid, Irish Aid, GIZ and European Commission Humanitarian Office.
The consortium was led by Save the Children and a relief programme was implemented in 10 districts that include Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dedza, Machinga, Balaka, Zomba, Chikwawa, Nsanje, Mulanje and Phalombe.
As the programme was winding up, Save the Children took journalists to some of the sites where it was implemented to appreciate the impact, saying its emphasis was on its core functions to save children who are the worst hit in times of crisis.
“Out of the 6.5 million affected people, about 3.1 million were children. In any crisis, children are always the most vulnerable and therefore need special focus and that is our priority as Save the Children,” says the organisations’ Director of Operations and Humanitarian Affairs, Amos Zaindi.
United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) states that whether it is a flood, an earthquake or a hurricane, too many children lose everything – their homes, their families, even their lives.
“During disasters children are also left vulnerable to many other dangers, from disease and malnutrition to violence and exploitation.
“As our climate changes, more severe and frequent natural disasters, food crises and changing rainfall patterns are putting children in increasing danger,” Unicef says.
And stakeholders mutually agree that interventions during humanitarian crises must always put children at the core of considerations.
In that regard, the Ingos’ relief programme involved maize and cash distribution to beneficiaries to enable them to have food and buy other needed items like relish and others so that while everyone affected found some solace, children were sufficiently taken care of.
The coming of Save the Children’s relief programme to Chingala Village meant a relief to Kabwazi, whose family was one of the beneficiaries.
“I used to walk long distances to beg for food in shops and people’s homes because I had no other way to feed my children. But through the programme, I’ve been able to have food and I stopped begging,” narrates Ethel.
The programme entailed response and resilience to relieve the victims from household food insecurity and make them resilient after the programme phased out in nine months.
Reaching about 702,620 people in 127,749 households with cash distributions, seeds, maize, climate change smart agriculture skills and awareness, the programme cost over $42.25 million (approximately K30 billion).
Out of the total beneficiaries, the programme has reached 379,485 in total and provided food and cash supplements to 18,592 lactating and pregnant women and nutrition screening to 9,878 children.
“We have supported the creation of 808 Village Savings and Lending (VSL) groups as a way of anchoring community resilience,” says Zaindi.
Through VSL groups, some parents can manage to pay secondary school fees, manage to acquire assets and have income for some household needs and farm input among others.
However, as the programme came to an end, it is important that government adopts the approach to build resilience among the poor who are exposed to climatic conditions that affect their main economic activity, farming in the rural areas.
Ellen Nyakabande of Senior Group Village Head Bester in Chikwawa is able to pay K99,000 school fees for her girl-child, Hana, who is in Form Four at Nkhoko Christian Secondary School at Nchalo.
She explains how Bank M’khonde, initiated by one of the Ingo implementing partners, Goal, enabled her to pay boarding fees for her child.
“I feared for her safety as she had to walk several kilometres going to school and back, anything could happen along the way. There was once a rape incident involving some girl when she was coming from school, passing through the sugar cane plantation,” she says.
Such economic empowerment cases are numerous and several beneficiaries have improved their income levels, other than just being relieved from food insecurity.
The Ingo programme has proved that with climate smart agriculture, households are still able to get better yields in the face of shocks while VSL, on the other hand, also enables families to invest in inputs and other household necessities.
“It is our hope that government and other stakeholders will adopt these emerging lessons in future humanitarian programming responses,” says Zaindi.
And with no noticeable records of hunger-related deaths following the declaration that 6.5 million Malawians were in need of food assistance, it tells us interventions like those of Ingo are critical in such moments of crisis.
That is the kind of grace which should spread across the country whenever there is a crisis. It soothes the wounds created by acts of nature and sufferers finally find their feet.