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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Zambia's bleak prospects
Children at a feeding centre
Feeding centres are vital in the fight against hunger

In Zambia over two million people are now needing food aid to survive until the harvest next April.

The worst poverty is in the rural areas, but the towns have not escaped the effects of this disaster.

Children breaking rocks
Amost any job is good enough to eke out a living

Poverty was already severe in cities like the capital, Lusaka, but the drought has driven up the prices of staple foods like maize, pushing many families to desperation.

This should be the season of plenty. With the crop having been harvested just a month ago prices should be low.

Bleeding hands

But maize has already risen by 30% and is continuing to rise. The poor simply cannot afford to pay these prices.

Launch new window : Southern Africa famine
In pictures: Southern Africa famine

Aid agencies now have to feed around 45,000 people in Lusaka - and many more in the towns across the country as a whole.

Some children resort to breaking rocks by smashing one rock against another. It is cruel work, leaving their hands bleeding, but if they manage to get a whole wheelbarrow load, then they can earn 20 or 30 cents.

And that could be a vital contribution to family budgets, since many survive on less than one dollar a day.

Bensic Chibawe looks after orphaned siblings and cousins
Bensic Chibawe receives help from the WFP

The other scourge that Zambia is facing is Aids. So many adults have died that there are now many families in which the older children have to bring up their brothers and sisters.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food to help the families get by.

One of those receiving this is Bensic Chibawe. First Bensic's parents died. Then his uncle. Now he is left looking after six children on his own.

Feeding centres have also been established to cater for the growing number of street children.

When the food at home dries up, some children run away to search among the rubbish bins for any left-overs. The centres provide them with somewhere to sleep, play, learn and - most importantly - to eat.

'Heartbreaking'

The food is simple enough, no more than maize, beans and fish. But it is wholesome, and the children wolf it down.

But if the situation is bad in the cities, it is worse in the countryside.

The southern province is normally Zambia's breadbasket. But it is now one of the areas that is hardest hit.

A feeding centre has been established by World Vision in the village of Siamungala. Men and women now line up once a month for their ration of maize.

World Vision feeding centre in Siamungala
A woman selected to receive food aid is fingerprinted

But only the lucky ones receive food - pregnant mothers, the disabled, ill or very old. Being hungry does not qualify you to receive aid, because there is just not enough to go around.

A village committee has the heartbreaking task of deciding who gets rations, and who goes hungry. As their names are called out the recipients come forward to be fingerprinted, and logged.

All around this village are bare stalks of maize. Their heads are shrivelled, and there was nothing to harvest.

Grim future

Many have already resorted to strategies that they would normally only use during the 'hungry season', just before the next harvest is due.

They are reducing their families to just one meal a day, and supplementing what they have with roots or fruit collected from the forest.

Others have sold off their prize possessions - their cattle. But to do so means jeopardising the future, since cattle not only provide milk, and occasionally meat, they also pull the plough before planting.

It will be many months before the rains come. And it will be April or May before the next crop.

Until then these people have nothing else to rely on. If the sacks of grain donated from abroad do not continue to arrive, the future is grim indeed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
David Loyn in Zambia:
"Since there's no corn they've been grinding up the stalks to make a kind of flour"

Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help

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See also:

11 Jul 02 | Africa
06 Jun 02 | Africa
30 May 02 | Africa
19 Feb 02 | Africa
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