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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 20:36 GMT 21:36 UK
Hunger and Aids stalk Mozambique
Orphaned grandchildren with grandmother now face starvation in Tete
Grandparents are often left to look after the children

The great Zambezi flows lazily by the town of Tete, on its way to the Indian Ocean.

But a mere 40-minute drive away, rivers have dried to a trickle, some are mostly mud or reduced to stagnant pools, or simply filled with sand.


If we don't get help most of us are going to be dead by the next planting season.

Paulina Jose, farmer

Hunger or drought is stalking southern Africa and Mozambique has not escaped it.

It has already set in here, right in the province of Tete, wedged in by colonial-era frontiers of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.

Everywhere drought has killed crops.

Withered stalks of maize and sorghum litter the dusty fields.

Malaria is rampant and cholera killed many here in the first three months of the year.

Wild fruit for dinner

In the village of Cachembe, in Changara district, people are desperately scouring the bush for wild fruit and nuts as they try to stay alive.

But, with everyone doing the same, even this source of food is becoming scarcer by the day.

Many children have bloated stomachs, a classic tell-tale sign of malnutrition.

Paulina Jose showed me her dusty field of withered sorghum.

A woman holding Baobab fruits
Eating wild in a bid to stay alive

"Normally I would get 800 or 900 kilos from here, but this year I only got 60 kilos.

"If we don't get help most of us are going to be dead by the next planting season."

The Mozambican Government has already appealed for emergency aid and the UN's World Food Programme is sounding the alarm, saying that at least 12.8 million people in six countries across southern Africa need help.

According to their latest estimates 515,000 people in Mozambique need food aid.

The drought in Mozambique has been catastrophic, but thankfully it has not covered the whole country, parts of which have had good rains and harvests.

But the rains have failed in much of the centre and south of the country.

Many of these areas were already devastated by massive floods at the end of 2000 and beginning of 2001.

The floods washed away crops, houses, bridges and infrastructure and also drowned cattle and other farm animals.

HIV/Aids

Mozambique had barely been recovering from this catastrophe when peasant farmers were hit with new disasters.

Swarms of tiny, sparrow sized weaver birds devoured whole areas of new crops, while disease killed much of the rest.

The birds are known here as a harbinger of hunger to come.

Then came malaria and cholera, striking communities already enfeebled by HIV and Aids.

In much of Mozambique the estimated averages for the numbers infected range from between 11 to 14 %.

But, here in central Mozambique, in places like Cachembe, which straddle the main road linking the country to Zimbabwe and Malawi, the rate is estimated to be some 21.2 %.

It is mostly the middle generation who are sick or dying.

This means that grandparents are often left to look after the children.

In Cachembe, home to some 3,000 people, there are 118 old people caring for 379 children.

The elderly and the children they look after are already amongst the most vulnerable and the hardest hit by the drought.

Dry rivers in Tete, central Mozambique
Mozambican rivers are drying up
According to Zeca Chicusse, programme officer in Tete for the aid agency HelpAge International, which is mostly funded by Britain's Help the Aged, the situation is grim.

"Now it is hard to see what it will be like in three months, but we have experience.

"There were no rains in 1972/73. In 1983 we saw people dying, it happened again in 1991/92 and in fact it happens every 10 years.

"But, over the last 10 years there's has been less and less rain every year."

His colleague David Bonjisse, a rural development officer, adds starkly:

"Here in Tete, if they don't receive any help people will start to die in two or three months, especially in Changara district."


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See also:

30 May 02 | Africa
19 Feb 02 | Africa
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