Gustav Kpeyibor, SJ; Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
"We must face the truth, and the truth is that people need help. People need food, and at the end of the day, what such a public acknowledgement does is to say there is a critical need for intervention." -Fr. Celophas Lungu
Church appeals for help
The Catholic Church in Zambia has in the meantime launched an appeal, through Caritas Zambia, to donors and generous benefactors for help with the food crisis in the country, particularly in the rural areas. Funds from the appeal will be used to assist people in drought and hunger-afflicted regions of the country," Fr. Cleophas Lungu told Mwenya Mukuka in an interview for Vatican News.
The Church alone cannot deal with the scale of the unfolding hunger; hence, its call for the Government to declare a crisis.
Climate-related drought devastating small scale farming communities
A climate-related drought is impacting the Southern African country with Caritas Zambia now saying according to its research, more than 400 000 households are already facing increasing food insecurity and decreased water availability.
Ironically, in some parts of the northern province flooding affected crops and destroyed homes.
Fr. Lungu says a prolonged dry spell during the last rainy season caused poor agricultural yields, especially for small scale farmers. The most drought-affected parts of the country include the western half of Zambia which recorded unfavourable harvests. Many lost their crops entirely. Some affected households are now surviving on one meal a day, wild fruits or simply go without food. “Such a situation is not good for the health of the people in terms of meeting their nutritional requirements,” Fr. Lungu said.
Zambian Government says it has enough grain
Zambia's staple food is Maize.
Last Friday, the Zambian Government rejected calls from Caritas Zambia President and Bishop of Mongu Diocese, Bishop Evans Chinyemba who urged the Government to declare a hunger crisis in affected areas. During the Vice President’s Question and Answer session, Mrs Inonge Wina told parliamentarians that the country had adequate Maize (grain) in its storage facilities. She also said the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, (DMMU) which is under her office, had already started distributing relief food in affected districts.
This week, Fr. Lungu defended the call for the declaration of a hunger crisis and refuted suggestions that the Church was being alarmist. He said the Church was simply responding to poor people who were knocking on its doors.
Caritas Zambia carried out extensive research
“The Bishops didn’t just dream about it (the call for a declaration). When we had a meeting of Caritas Directors from all the eleven dioceses (of Zambia) last week, and at the end of it, there was a Press briefing by the President of Caritas Zambia, Bishop Chinyemba. It was after receiving and reviewing reports that were given by the Caritas Directors coming from all over Zambia (that the appeal to Government by the Bishops was made),” Fr. Lungu said.
He continued, “Between April and May 2019, there was also a very thorough and detailed process of assessing the food situation on the ground. This was done by all our Caritas structures; reports were given to the (Caritas Zambia) national office and put together. So we had a picture (of what is happening). On top that, … to do some verification of what we got from the dioceses, two teams were sent out –one to the northern parts of the country and another team went to the South (of the country) in Monze Diocese. Again we verified that the situation was quite critical, people do not have enough food,” Fr. Lungu explained.
Government relief food so far is below people's needs
Acknowledging that there has been some distribution of relief Maize by the Government, Fr. Lungu said the current Government relief effort fell far below the needs of affected communities.
“While there were occurrences of (Government) relief Maize or food being distributed, these occurrences were first of all, not widely seen and again the amount of food that was being given was quite minimal. Very negligible,” Fr. Lungu told Vatican News.
Time to act is now
The Catholic Church believes that the time to act is now if those affected are to be helped.
“We believe as a Catholic Church that it would not only be wise but necessary for the Government to send a very clear message not only to the people in Zambia but the world at large, acknowledging the problem. And we are not saying that when we say there is a problem, it is the fault of one person or another; of one ministry or another in Government. These are things that occur because of climate change; because of unfavourable weather patterns. The only responsible way to address the situation is not to bury our heads in the sand. We must face the truth, and the truth is that people need help. People need food and at the end of the day what that public acknowledgement does is to say there is a critical need (here) for intervention.
Fr. Lungu underlined that the Church did not seek to politicise the drought situation or meddle in the politics between the Government and the Opposition but was seeking middle ground to respond concretely to the needs of the people.