Editor's Comment

No-one should starve

Maize.

IT IS clear that the number of Zambians in need of relief food is on the rise.
What is not clear yet is how many people actually have to be supplied with food to prevent starvation.
This rising need for relief food was confirmed yesterday when Vice-President Inonge Wina disclosed that the number of districts in need of this help has increased from 38 to 86.
This is worrisome, given that Zambia has 117 districts – meaning a good majority of districts have people who would starve if not provided with food.
The consolation is that although there are this many districts that have sent out distress calls, it is not everyone in these regions that has no food or insufficient food.
An even bigger relief is the assurance – or reassurance – that no Zambian will die of starvation.
This is a bold statement to make, considering the dire shortage of the staple food, maize, in most parts of Zambia. But it is evident that the pledge of effective supply of food has been made with realistic confidence.
Distribution of relief maize has been going on for many months and increasing with new reliable information that gets to the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU).
In fact, this food distribution started long before it became evident that the crop harvests in many parts of the country would fall far below expectations.
This was because some crops wilted before they matured because of prolonged dry spells. Other crops were washed away in floods also before they were ready for consumption.
It is, however, imperative that finality be put to the actual food needs. Government needs a comprehensive vulnerability assessment to ascertain the number of households in need of intervention.
With the DMMU well-structured through a decentralised system, information should quickly be collated and numbers determined of those in absolute need of help.
A lot of work has already been done as stated yesterday by Mrs Wina, who told Parliament that Government has done a vulnerability assessment to establish which households need relief food in all the 117 districts.
The task now is to speed up the distribution of the food and more importantly to ensure that it reaches the intended needy people.
While Zambia may have enough food in its reserves, these could quickly and easily be depleted if the grain goes to the wrong people. This should not be allowed to happen, especially against the background of the assurance that no-one will die of hunger.
It is good, therefore, that the DMMU is often on the ground when distributing the grain.
The head office staff, however, cannot be in all places all the time, so it is incumbent upon the respective local DMMU officers to ensure that only those that have been identified as in need receive the food.
No diversion of the food should be tolerated. Anyone who attempts to do so should dealt with severely, of course within the confines of the law. This is because stealing food from a hungry person is tantamount to killing them.
There could also be need to increase the allocations. The 12.5kg bags of mealie meal for some families cannot last long, even when limited to one meal a day. With appropriate statistics, however, the distribution quantities should be right.
It is fortunate, too, that the plight of those in need of relief food is also getting sympathetic attention from other organisations. Non-governmental organisations, the Church and foreign partners have stepped forward to help provide food.
Like Government, some of these organisations have been helping the needy for a long time, even in times of plentiful. This is because there are always vulnerable people in communities.
In this situation, when harvests are unusually low, the need for better collaboration between Government and these partners becomes paramount.
Without coordinated efforts, there is a risk of duplicating distribution and this could result in some of the needy getting more than what is of immediate need while others could get much less than their requirement.
The DMMU should, therefore, ride on the networks of the religious groups and traditional authorities, among other institutions, to expedite and smoothen the distribution chain.
All concerned parties can, and should, pool their efforts to indeed ensure that no-one dies of hunger.

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