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The human cost - West Africa Food Crisis

The human cost - West Africa Food Crisis – 23 May 2012

Fears are growing of a humanitarian disaster across West Africa as millions of people face starvation. Extreme hunger is now a daily reality for many families surviving on just one or two meals a day, some of whom are so desperate that they are resorting to eating wild leaves. Countries affected are among the poorest in the world and include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, which have all declared states of emergency.

They’ve been left reeling after severe drought had a disastrous impact on harvests and livestock. Please give today to help us respond

The tragic human cost


The growing human cost of Niger’s hunger emergency can be seen in the dwindling frame of nine-month-old Karima. Over the last four months she has lost half her body weight, coinciding with the failed harvest in this southern Dosso region of the country. In recent weeks her condition has worsened and her mother, 25-year-old Dayaba, has brought Karima to Soukoukoutane health centre after a long journey by foot which began the previous day. ‘I feel weak and I have no breast milk for my baby which makes her cry,’ said Dayaba.

Karima is not the only child crying today. Accompanied by husband Jada, Dayaba and Karima take their place alongside more than a dozen other women with malnourished young children waiting to see medical staff.

Miracle tree

They gather in the welcome shade provided by a neem tree – known locally as a miracle tree because of its medicinal properties. It’s a beacon of verdant foliage in a barren landscape scorched by drought, indeed it seems a miracle the tree is there at all given the heat which feels like walking past an open oven on full blast.

Dayaba and Jada tell of how the failure of their millet crop has brought them to the clinic: ‘We didn’t collect any food from the harvest,’ says Dayaba. ‘At the time we planted millet, there was not enough rain.’ Normally their millet plants would reach six foot high but they made to just two foot before succumbing to the drought. Jada immediately read the danger signs: ‘Straight after I planted the millet I saw the situation was becoming bad. The rain came at the right time but it stopped just after a few days. We didn’t produce anything. So I left for Burkina Faso. This is the worst situation I’ve ever faced.’


He wasn’t the only one from his village to head abroad seeking work and income to send home. ‘My neighbours are facing the same situation, almost all the men in my village – between 60 to 70 men – left at the same time to go abroad. Only five old men stayed in the village.

Hard decision

‘We had to go because we had nothing. We had to find work so we could send back some money; it wasn’t because we liked leaving. Even if we stayed in the village there was nothing we could do for the women. As a man, we’re supposed to find something to eat for our wives and children but we don’t even have a goat to sell to buy food. It was a hard decision but we had to do it.’ Three months ago, the work ran out in Burkina and Jada returned to Niger and an uncertain future.

‘We don’t know how the next harvest will be. Only God knows. I have fear in my heart because if not for the grace of God I might lose my daughter.’ Jada said, ‘My prayer is that God will give us a good harvest. It may rain but that might not give us a big harvest. Our strength is fading and we are fearful.’

What Tearfund is doing to help

Seven Tearfund partners in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger are responding to the food crisis, helping crop growers and livestock producers with emergency measures. Depending on the location, they are distributing food, running cash-for-work projects, selling food at reduced prices, supporting grain banks and introducing market gardening.

As so many people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, cash-for-work schemes provide an invaluable income boost when times are hard. People get paid for activities that benefit the wider community, for example, planting trees to protect the soil and building barriers to prevent the encroaching desert.

Market gardening is helping communities diversify their food beyond staple cereal crops, such as millet. Partners are providing training, tools and seeds so people can produce a variety of vegetables. Growing tomatoes, cabbages, onions, carrots, peppers and aubergines not only boosts people’s diets but provides them with cash crops to supplement their incomes.

Grain banks enable people to buy food at reduced prices in times of shortage. After each harvest, a family will put a sack of grain into the bank, plus extra by way of ‘interest’.

Tearfund partners have been working in vulnerable communities for many years, often alongside local churches, to improve livelihoods and to reduce the risk of disasters.
They have long term plans to strengthen people’s resilience, for example, by diversifying incomes, introducing drought-resistant crops and improving farming techniques and water sources.

Working closely with communities on such solutions ensures such projects are owned locally and therefore have long term viability.


The Dawning of a New Era in Myanmar

The Dawning of a New Era in Myanmar – 8 May 2012

Up to last year, a military junta had ruled Myanmar for nearly five decades. The rule of the military government was characterised by human rights abuses, increasing poverty and deep-seated corruption.In the remote mountainous regions, one in three children is malnourished and one in five people lacks access to safe water. After Afghanistan Myanmar is the second poorest nation in Asia.

Peace is coming

However, hope is stirring in this nation and there is a movement towards peace and reconciliation. Political prisoners have been freed, oppressive laws have been overturned and the government has signed peace agreements with many of the ethnic minority tribal militias. It is against this backdrop that the April 1st by-election put Aung San Suu Kyi (Leader of the National league for Democracy) into parliament.

Tearfund is working with local churches to help the people of Myanmar rebuild their lives. Houses are being reconstructed, wells are being repaired to provide clean water and families are being provided with seeds and tools to replant their fields. ‘They (returning Kachin refugees) lost everything,’ says Min Nwe, a World Concern staff member, ‘and they are returning with only the clothes they wear. It is planting season so it is essential that the rice seeds are planted soon so families can get a good harvest and feed themselves.’

The people of Myanmar are on the brink of historic times. Please join with us in praying and supporting the people of Myanmar – praying that God’s church will be able to rebuild broken lives.

Please give – to bring them hope and a future.

  • €18 can enable Tearfund’s partners to supply emergency food supplies such as rice and lentils
  • €55 can provide a family with essential household items, water containers and blankets
  • €16 per month (over a year) can help a family restart a small business and become self-sufficient again

Please give today

Mother buddies in Malawi

Mother buddies in Malawi – 3 May 2012

In Malawi, one in five children born to a HIV-positive mother is infected – a death sentence at birth. However, child and maternal mortality can be reduced dramatically with a number of low-cost interventions. Tearfund Ireland has received three year’s funding from Irish Aid, a government department, to mobilise churches and communities in rural Malawi to stop AIDS but still needs donations to enable this life-saving work to succeed. Give today

Slim disease

‘Slim disease’ is the local name given to AIDS which has ravaged the country since the 1980s. More than 10% of the population are infected with HIV and tragically are passing it on to the next generation. Rev. Harold, a church leader in Chitera was exhausted from attending the funerals of AIDS victims with often as many as ten per month. ‘People were in a constant state of grief.’ he says, ‘It was particularly tragic when a young infant wasted away and died’.

Loneliness kills

Rev. Harold then attended a training run by the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), Tearfund’s partner. He realised that AIDS was the equivalent of leprosy in Biblical times. ‘Sufferers were isolated from family and community. Even us, their church persecuted for their condition,’ he explains. One woman, whose family, on learning of her condition, set fire to her home to drive her out. ‘It’s not only the disease that kills,’ Rev Harold continues, ‘but the loneliness.’

Changing church

As a result of his training Chitera community and the local church is changing dramatically. Following the example of Jesus with the lepers the church members have begun to welcome people living with HIV and are providing practical care and support for them. On a recent visit to Malawi I attended a church service and was present as the collection was gathered from the congregation. This was like nothing you would see in Ireland – someone offered a bar of soap, another a pair of socks, someone else a single egg. It was moving to witness people with next to nothing giving whatever they could for those suffering from AIDS.

Inspiring as the image is, however, it touches on something much deeper and confirms the incredible potential of the church to bring healing and hope.

A mother’s hope

The church conducted a voluntary HIV testing and counselling clinic as part of their Sunday service. 176 people came to be tested. One of them was Evelyn who was pregnant with her first child. ‘I was very afraid when I found out’ she says softly ‘I thought there was no hope for me and my child, in Malawi this is a death sentence.’ However a ‘mother buddy’ (a church volunteer) was able to take her to the health clinic on a bicycle ambulance so that she could be provided with anti-retroviral medicines. ‘I don’t think I could have gotten there without her’ says Evelyn as she reflects on the hour’s walk to the nearest clinic.


Throughout Evelyn‘s pregnancy the mother buddy provided continuous support and prayer. The anti-retroviral medicines can have some horrible side-effects including nausea and vomiting and without encouragement pregnant women often stop taking them. But Evelyn persevered and gave birth to a baby boy Ztembele, which means ‘thanks’.

Recently Ztembele was old enough to be tested for HIV and to the delight of his mother Evelyn he was negative. ‘Without the medicines, my mother buddy and my church I would be telling a different story today’ says Evelyn. She has decided that she wants to be trained as a mother buddy so she can share her experiences and help mothers in her situation.

Today, in Chitera there has been only one burial for an AIDS victim in the last six months. Behind this dramatic turnaround is the loving care and dedication of a network of church volunteers, led by Rev Harold and inspired by Jesus.

A future free from HIV

Such success has not gone unnoticed. Tearfund Ireland has secured three years funding from the Irish Government towards reducing the incidence of HIV transmission from mother to child, a significant initiative in a country with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Over the next three years we plan to test 6,500 mothers and will be providing ‘mother buddy’ support to the HIV-positive mothers. As a result hundreds of children will be born with a chance at life. Evelyn is looking forward to her opportunity to give something back to her people – her way of giving thanks.

The Malawi HIV project is only partially funded by the Irish government and will require your support to ensure its success.

  • €18 will enables us to provide emergency transport for a pregnant woman
  • €35 enables us to provide HIV testing at a church
  • €150 will enable us to support a HIV positive pregnant mother and prevent her child being born with HIV

Give today

Push your Pastor from a Plane?

Push your Pastor from a Plane? – 26 Apr 2012

Ok, so it’s like this; we were looking for a quirky fundraising idea that would highlight how scary poverty can be and encourage pastors to take the ultimate jump…. from a plane!

‘Little chance’ you may say. Well it’s like this….living on the edge of poverty can be scary and earth shattering as well as nerve-racking and unpredictable, especially in northern Myanmar where decades of ethnic conflict have left many displaced.

Tearfund partner World Concern is helping the Kachin refugees return to their homes, provide them with clean water, seeds and tools to replant their fields. We are aiming to raise €10,000 to help this project through the ‘Push The Pastor’ fundraiser. Or you can donate today by clicking here

So it’s quite simple, would you ask your pastor/minister to do a sky dive and help him/her fundraise in the process? You will need to raise a minimum of €500 because it will also cost to send your pastor flying through the air! Of course it doesn’t have to be a pastor but anyone who is up for it!

We will send you the sponsorship cards and everything necessary to get you up and running so call Cliona today on 01 878 3200 to book your place.

Go on! Help the people of Myanmar away from the edge of poverty.

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The Real Hunger Games – 16 Apr 2012

It seems like every conversation I have lately, I get asked if I’ve read The Hunger Games. At work, at church, at dinner – eventually I realised I should probably find out what’s getting people so animated.

The dystopian fiction of The Hunger Games is set in a country named Panem, in what is left of North America after an unexplained apocalypse generations ago. Districts around its Capitol are starving and dying, children skipping school to find food and become head of families when their parents cannot care for them. Already this is striking a familiar chord; we know all too well that this isn’t a potential future scenario, but a daily reality for communities Tearfund works with from Bangladesh to Bolivia, right now.


The plot thickens. To punish the districts for their rebellion 74 years ago, the Capitol holds an annual televised event where they choose a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 at random from each district, and force them to fight to the death for prizes of food as the whole country watches. Immediately I’m getting flashbacks to the starving babies we saw fight for survival in East Africa on our TV screens not even a year ago. And we are in danger of seeing it again this year as 13 million are at risk in the Sahel, West Africa. Almost a third of people in Chad are in trouble. Some children are already dying from malnutrition and others are cutting their meals down to one a day and selling their precious livestock. The UN is calling for over $1bn to head off the food crisis in the Sahel.

I wish that was fictional.

The situation in the Sahel is depicted very well in this new illustration, inspired by the arena from the Hunger Games, which reminds us why hunger persists in the developing world in our day and age, despite there being enough food for everyone. Hunger rules this landscape – 1 billion people trying to make a living, whilst battling against climate change, high food and energy prices, conflict, inequality, trade barriers, land grabbing, and historically a minuscule investment in agriculture.

Hunger is no game for Agnes Anyabo, 37, from Omulala village, in Eastern Uganda. She is my heroine in the real world of hunger. Orphaned at 6 and later thrown out by her husband for not bearing a child, her tiny plot of land was washed away by floods. She started over again and planted more vegetables, but then a drought forced her to eat wild leaves. She had two more mouths to feed as guardian of her sister’s daughters Caro and Margaret. But she joined a women’s farming cooperative, set up by the local church, and started growing cassava and received cattle and goats. Now she is more resilient to face droughts and floods.

So how can we end the real hunger games, for good, so we can help more people like Agnes?

The international community and governments need to stop treating food crises as a series of unexpected disasters. They can no longer play with people’s lives or wait to act until we see starving African children on our TV screens, as if it were the televised Hunger Games. We need long term strategies to end chronic hunger, build resilience and prevent predictable food crises, like the one looming in the Sahel, right now.

We need to invest more in smallholder farmers and put female farmers at the very heart of strategies and increase their access to land, markets, extension services, loans and decision making. Shifting the focus to the demands faced by women in ensuring that her family eats enough nutritious food, today and tomorrow and benefits from economic gains, better captures the nature of day-to-day food security.

Governments must develop national food security strategies, including empowering women to ensure equal access to food. Food security needs to climb higher up the food chain in terms of political agenda and investment. We need visionary leadership to ensure that all countries, especially those prone to food crises, have sufficient resources to ensure food security effectively and to end the hunger games once and for all.

Read more on Tearfund’s response to the West Africa crisis
Donate today to support our life-saving work

Matthew Frost is Chief Executive of international aid and development agency Tearfund UK

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Food distributed as hunger worsens in Mali

Food distributed as hunger worsens in Mali – 5 Apr 2012

A Tearfund partner is providing emergency food aid to people living around Timbuktu in Mali who are affected by the Sahel hunger crisis as well as in-country conflict. Supplies are being distributed by our partner TNT not only to locals in this remote area south of the Sahara but to people who have fled there following the recent Tuareg rebellion.

Sahel drought and crop failure

Like Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, Mali is badly affected by food shortages following the partial failure of rains and subsequent poor crops last year. With rising food prices too, around 3 million Malians are going hungry and Unicef estimates that between 175,000 and 200,000 people are suffering severe acute malnutrition. Donate today

Mali coup

There has been criticism of the Malian government’s lack of response to the food crisis and there is now more uncertainty following last week’s coup when soldiers ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure from power. The military’s move was prompted by anger over the president’s handling of the Tuareg uprising, which erupted in late January.


Around 195,000 people have been made homeless by the fighting between the Tuareg and Malian government forces, with some 100,000 Malians fleeing across the borders to Niger, Algeria, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. There are fears the conflict will exacerbate the hunger crisis as displaced people will not be able to return to their homes when the rains start in a few months’ time.

Every year Malians contend with a hunger gap, the period between when existing food stocks run out and the next harvest is ready. This normally runs from May to the first harvests in September, but this year, as in other very bad years, it started in February. Rains are expected in June and people tend to begin preparing the ground in May.


Cath Candish, Tearfund Programme Coordinator for Mali, said, ‘Mali is facing a volatile and uncertain situation. The conflagration of a food crisis with a Tuareg rebellion can only leave the poorest and most vulnerable even more so.’

Meanwhile, further south from Timbuktu, Tearfund partner AEDM has been funding community groups to diversify their crops and to use more sustainable techniques to grow them. Another partner ODES is improving access to water as well as teaching better agricultural practice, while partner JEM is helping communities develop market gardening.

Donate today to make a difference

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