“Without food we cannot survive”

“Without food we cannot survive”

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It is a hot day in Pembe, a small town in the province of Inhambane in the Southeast of Mozambique. In the early morning hours men and women are waiting to queue for a month’s food aid ration. Most of them have walked for hours, others already arrived the day before. Inhambane is one of the regions worst affected by the current drought. CARE is distributing vouchers amounting to $30 US. “I have had only one meal per day for the past weeks,” says Almarinda. “My children were sometimes too weak to go to school. It is difficult for them to walk long distances on an empty stomach.” Almarinda does not know how old she is, but guesses she is in her early 40s.

To get to the distribution site, she was standing on a pick-up truck squeezed in between a dozen other men and women, driving two hours to make her way to Pembe from her home village. Her youngest of five children, two year old Alfredo, is sleeping on her arm. “Usually I can feed my children,” she says. “I have always worked hard and in previous years I could harvest enough. But since last year it hasn’t rained. There was nothing growing in my field anymore.” Mozambique has been hit by its worst drought in 35 years, which has left almost two million people in need of assistance after two consecutive rainy seasons failed. The survival of more than 70 percent of the people in Mozambique is closely tied to agriculture, with the loss of crops due to drought resulting in a devastating loss of family income, food and nutrition.

According to UNICEF almost 100,000 children are at risk of facing acute malnutrition in the coming six months, with food insecurity expected to reach its peak in October. Almarinda has to win the fight against the drought on her own. The father of her children has left her. “He did not want to be with me because of this,” she says and lifts her skirt to show the wooden pole which serves as her left leg. As a young woman she stepped on a mine. Since the end of the civil war more than 20 years ago, around 10,000 people in Mozambique have been killed or mutilated by mines. For people with disabilities, the elderly, as well as single women and mothers it is particularly difficult to deal with the current drought and food insecurity.

While Almarinda is waiting she listens to José, “The Voice of the Market”. He explains how the distribution will take place, where people should queue, and advises what to buy and what to cook. “Many people have not eaten a proper meal for quite a while. They are afraid to go hungry again and just buy rice to fill them up. We tell them to also buy oil, beans and other nutritious food to make sure their diet is not one-sided.”  When Almarinda receives the voucher she takes this advice very seriously and buys oil, rice, maize and flour, enough for the coming four weeks. José also explains the criteria for receiving assistance, and highlights that each community has worked together to identify the most vulnerable members in need. Unfortunately, there is not enough funding to reach everyone. CARE, as part of an international consortium with Save the Children, Concern Worldwide and Oxfam, as well as other humanitarian agencies, can reach less than a third of the people in need.

“In the past weeks I collected wild fruits and leaves to stretch the little food we had,” explains Almarinda. “I am very much looking forward to finally cook a proper meal for my children again. There are few things that are worse for a mother than hearing your child cry because it is hungry. It leaves you feeling helpless. Without food we simply cannot survive!”

As part of an international consortium, CARE Mozambique is aiming to reach 500,000 people with food assistance and access to water and sanitation. Their work is funded by international donors such as the UK Department for International Development and USAID/OFDA. CARE is also working with communities to enable them to prepare to reoccurring droughts and adapt to the changing climate over the longer-term. This includes teaching more climate resilient farming techniques, involving communities in village saving groups and creating new sources of income. 

“Without CARE’s food assistance we would not be able to survive. Nothing is growing in our fields anymore. We received some seeds a few months ago as well, but we were so hungry that we ate them directly and did not plant them, ” says Mariana.