People have been reduced to eating toxic locusts as a result of the food shortages affecting Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The Anglican mission agency USPG, which is supporting local Anglican churches respond to the crisis, says that the extensive hunger has been caused by a combination of drought and erratic rains across the region.
The Bishop of Toliara in Madagascar, Todd A McGregor, said that people in rural communities are so desperate for food that they are eating locusts even though they know they are toxic.
He also spoke about an incident at a confirmation service when a young man who was being confirmed collapsed into his arms as a result of hunger and exhaustion. “It was apparent the famine was taking root,” he said. “I was informed a number of people had died, and a number were not able to be confirmed because they were in hospital.
“I saw the devastation a lack of food brings to the innocent. During the confirmation, while I was laying hands on a young adult, he collapsed on me. I wasn’t able to move, and called my priest, evangelists and others to assist the man by pulling him off me. They lifted him off and began to rehydrate him. He was so weak and exhausted from the impact of the famine he had collapsed on me. During the rest of the service I kept looking at him to see if he was OK.”
The World Food Programme, UN, government, and other agencies are providing food aid in Madagascar, with a focus on school meals and supporting farmers.
While the erratic weather – that many blame on climate change – is affecting the whole region, Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe are thought to be especially affected because these countries are less robust in terms of the economy, infrastructure and emergency relief processes.
“Reports of communities starving are a reality,” the Rev. Maxwell Kapachawo in Zimbabwe said. “The nation had failed once again to yield enough to feed the nation. Unlike the previous year’s drought, when famine mostly hit the rural population, this time even those in urban settings are struggling to make ends meet.
“There is nothing worse than having a human being go to sleep on an empty stomach,” he said. “It is worse for those who need to take medication every day – which means many people living with HIV may easily default on their antiretroviral medicines.”
George Willow, of the Anglican Council in Malawi, reported that the church had provided 300 of the families hardest-hit by the famine with flour or maize seeds. Alongside immediate support, he said that the church is focused on helping communities to be prepared for future emergencies.
“We are encouraging people to plant more trees, especially along the river banks and in the uplands, to reduce the rate of floods and dry spells in the future,” he said. “And, funds permitting, we want to empower smallholder farmers this growing season with [seeds], mainly those which are drought resistant.”
USPG is supporting the churches of Madagascar, Malawi and Zimbabwe as they respond to the crisis; and has launched an appeal for its Rapid Response Famine Fund to help prevent further loss of life.