BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Somali Swahili French Great Lakes Hausa Portugeuse
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Africa  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
Eyewitness: Malawians struggle for survival
Ludia Mbwino (Pic: Bo Mathisen, IFRC)
Ludia's baby is unlikely to make it

Ludia Mbwino carries her three-year-old son Zione on her back like a small baby.

He screams in protest when she takes him out of the wrap where he finds listless comfort all day long.


Tradition here is that when someone dies, mourners attend the funeral wake with food. But these days, there is no food available to bring.

His stomach is swollen, his ribs are becoming more and more visible every day and his legs are too thin and weak to carry him.

Zione is one of an estimated 3.2 million people in Malawi in desperate need of food aid, including nearly 18% of children under five.

Ludia has seen his health becoming worse and worse.

In the health clinic they told her he is malnourished and that she has to give him more food.

With the failed harvests and soaring food prices in Malawi, this is advice that she is not able to live by.

"I don't think he will make it," she tells me sadly, and looks away.

Funerals

The sad, solemn atmosphere in Ludia's village, Phwetekero, serves as a stark reminder for the both of us of what might come.

Ester Paul (Pic: Bo Mathisen, IFRC)
Lack of food has caused three year old Ester's legs, face and eyes to swell
Inside one of the huts another young mother is mourning a two-month-old daughter lying under a colourful cloth.

The villagers and people from surrounding villages have gathered in the yard to take part in the funeral wake. They sit quietly.

Tradition here is that when someone dies, mourners attend the funeral wake with food. But these days, there is no food available to bring.

On my way to a Red Cross food distribution nearby, I pass the graveyard and the chopped-off branches with green leaves on the dirt road - a frequent sight in Malawi's rural areas these days and a signal that there is a funeral going on.

Passers-by get off their bicycles. We slow down our car.

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

I see a man standing with both feet in a tiny grave which he is preparing for the girl from Phwetekero. He uses a machete to make the walls of the grave as straight and smooth as possible.

Burdens

Some 13 million people are threatened by starvation in the coming months in Southern Africa.

Aid worker Matthews Nyirenda  (Pic: Bo Mathisen, IFRC)
Aid worker Matthews Nyirenda: You cannot imagine the sad faces of the people we turn away
I find it almost impossible to grasp this staggering figure.

In contrast, it is very easy to comprehend the vulnerability of each and every one of the people that I see lining up for the Red Cross food distribution in Nkhotakota.

They are children struggling to provide for younger sisters and brothers after having lost their parents.

They are grandmothers left with the burden of caring for the orphans of their dead children.

They are people weakened by HIV and Aids and unable to fend for their families, elderly who live alone and have no-one to support them, widows, disabled people.

They are the most vulnerable people - the ones who are facing the greatest difficulties in coping with the rapidly deepening food crisis in Southern Africa.

Queues

Village by village, name by name, those registered for aid from the Red Cross are called into the line in front of the warehouse where the sacks of maize are waiting, only a fingerprint's signature away.

Malawians waiting for food (Pic: Bo Mathisen, IFRC)
Those not on the list don't get food
Local Red Cross worker, Matthews Nyirenda, organises the line. A silent crowd of people has gathered round him, watching the distribution.

They know that their names are not on the lists, but have come in the hope that, just maybe, there will be something left over at the end of the distribution.

Matthews tries to explain to me about the frustration of not having enough food aid for all the people that desperately need it.

"You cannot imagine the sad faces of the people that we have to turn away when we go to the villages to register beneficiaries for our food distributions.

"But we can only give out what is donated to us. We target the most vulnerable people, but they all need assistance. We have to leave out old people, people who are sick, people who are keeping orphans," says Matthews.


Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help

CLICKABLE MAP

IN DEPTH

TALKING POINT
See also:

01 Aug 02 | Africa
02 Jul 02 | Africa
28 Jul 02 | Breakfast
16 May 02 | Business
19 Nov 01 | Africa
14 May 02 | Africa
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes