By Aurélie Marrier d’Unienville, IFRC
In the dappled shade of a broad limbed tree in the village of Changanine in the Chibote district of southern Mozambique, several dozen villagers wait patiently through the midday heat.
Volunteers and staff of Mozambique Red Cross Society are distributing seeds to help local farmers improve their harvest in the dry and parched conditions. The villagers of Changanine have been brutally affected by the severe and prolonged drought which started in March 2015.
The seeds that the Red Cross is distributing are a special drought-resistant variety. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) hopes that they will help to prepare the villagers for the next cropping season in October, when rains are expected to come again.
78-year-old Sylvester Chivite, who lost the use of his eyes many years ago, has waited since morning to collect his portion of the seeds. Smiling broadly and clutching at a wooden cane, he is looking forward to eating something other than foraged nuts, Nulu seeds and animal-skin broth that has been his family’s staple diet for the last nine months.
“We only eat the ‘Nulu’ seeds because we are hungry, they’re not nutritious. They’re not even edible,” said the father of four. “Nor do we feel full after eating them. It is just to survive.”
Villagers were forced to kill and eat their livestock in the early days of the drought, and the remaining animals now are unhealthy and emaciated.
Chivite’s family used to farm watermelons and beans, among other crops, but the rains never came, and the crops withered in the fields. Rivers have dried up, their sandy beds have turned into roads for the few vehicles that visit this remote area. Now, the villagers of Changanine must trek 5 kilometres to find water.
“We ‘the community’ dig for water-wells in the low-lying areas. We dig at dawn, and if we find water, then we drink,” said Chivite, whose visual impairment prevents him from finding water for himself and his family, leaving him dependent on the kindness of his neighbours.
The drought situation has hit the elderly, children, pregnant women and those suffering from illnesses or disabilities, like Chivite, the hardest. The Red Cross is providing assistance to people who have been hardest-hit by the drought. Families have received food aid as well as tools, seeds and training to strengthen their resilience to future crises and climate-related disasters, such as droughts.
In May this year, the IFRC estimated that as many as 31.6 million people had been affected by the drought in southern Africa, which has been exacerbated by a particularly strong El Niño weather phenomenon.
With the rainy season due to start in October, Adalia Tiyane, a 59-year-old Changanine resident, hopes the worst may now be over.
“As soon as the rain comes we will plant the seeds that we received,” she said as she walked away from the distribution centre, clutching a heavy sack of maize kernels, beans and other seeds. “Our lives will get better.”
In May 2016, the IFRC launched a 110 million Swiss franc initiative to significantly scale-up Red Cross drought response activities in southern Africa, including emergency distributions of cash and efforts to strengthen the resilience of 1 million vulnerable people, with an emphasis on supporting at-risk communities to better withstand future challenges.
This falls under the One Billion Coalition for Resilience – an IFRC-led initiative that is bringing together aid organizations, governments, the private sector, academia and community groups to strengthen the safety, health and well-being of communities.
In Mozambique, the IFRC is appealing for 1.7 million Swiss francs to support the Mozambique Red Cross Society protect the lives and livelihoods of 14,767 people. The Appeal is currently 26 per cent funded.