How do you measure hunger? Is it through the number of people who are reported to have died of starvation? But that does not reflect those who have become weakened by the lack of food and die of another cause such as sickness.
Maybe through the official statistics of food hand outs by NGOs or Government sources. But who is to say whether all those who receive help are truly without food, or even if all those who are genuinely without have been included in the list of those to be helped.
Recently we moved to help some of the members of one of our village churches where we had received notice that people were struggling to find food. We delivered nearly one ton of maize flour to be shared between 40 families within this church. We interviewed a random choice of people from that group. Here in brief are the stories of three of these women.
Nalizyera is a married woman in her 20s. She has 3 surviving children and also cares for her elderly mother. Her husband has been gone for several months ostensibly to look for work to help support the family, but his absence just means that the entire family depends upon Nalizyera. last year the poor rains meant that she harvested only a little food. Now the family eat when she finds piece work in the fields, and do not when she fails to find work. A days piece work would provide food enough for 2 days if she is careful. There has been no work for some time because the rains have failed for much of the current rainy season. Indeed our own investigation showed that there is clearly no work to be done in the fields now and has probably been none for a week or two. Nalizyera has no food whatsoever in her home and had been 3 days without food when we met her. She is obviously getting a lot thinner. It is doubtful that the baby on her breast is getting much nourishment.
Donika is in her 40s. Last year she and her husband harvested nothing. her food store finished several months ago. Her family have survived to now on the piece work she has found since then. Predictably she can go for days without eating at all. Often the food she finds are maize husks – the same food which we use to feed our pigs.
Agogo Loyta is a widow and a grandmother. Age approximately 70. We have known her for many years. Although she is still quite fleshy to look at it is obvious to us that she has lost a lot of weight in recent weeks. She supports a teenage grand daughter who is now sick. Her clean home is quite empty. We had a look but there was nothing to eat in the home at all. The food we left her would be enough for her and her grand daughter to eat twice a day for 2 weeks. We do not expect to be able to bring more help for a further 28 days.
None of these stories are unusual. They are repeated up and down the country in every village. Although each year produces similar stories of suffering, hunger having become a part of life in rural Malawi, there is no doubt that there are many more people struggling this year, without any end in sight.