Southern Africa is in the grip of food insecurity, with more than 13 million people facing hunger over the next six months. The situation has been caused by widespread crop failure, mainly due to drought across much of the region. Worst affected is Malawi, which also suffered devastating floods earlier this year. In October, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) began a major relief operation in Malawi, where nearly three million people will not have enough to eat between now and the next harvest in March.
Floods and drought – a lethal combination
Before she sets off for home, Modesta is taking a short rest. She has just carried a 50kg bag of maize on her head from the nearby food distribution site and will have to load it onto a bicycle for the rest of the journey. Beside her sits her neighbour, Ester, who has also received WFP food assistance – maize, cow peas and vegetable oil. (In areas where market conditions allow, WFP is providing cash-based transfers.)
“All the crops we planted were washed away by the floods in January,” says Modesta, a mother of five. “We replanted the following month. But there was no rain and our crops wilted in the heat. That’s why the food we collect here is so important – we’ve lost everything.”
To make ends meet, Modesta and her neighbhours do what they call ‘ganyu’ – piece work or casual labour. This can involve tilling land, fetching water or even making bricks. The money they earn is paltry – between 50 US cents and one US dollar a day.