El Nino in Malawi: Living off food aid

In Ntcheu district, southern Malawi, men and women queue for a month’s food aid ration

In 2015, nearly three million people in Malawi were in need of food aid when the rains failed. After a second consecutive dry season, an unprecedented number of possibly 14 million people will be in need this year.

Esther Peter in Malawi

75-year old Esther Peter (above) gave birth to and raised 10 children, all of whom tragically died of different diseases at different points in their lives. Now at 75 years old she finds herself raising three orphaned grandchildren and trying to provide for them. With the last two seasons of drought in southern Malawi she is having to turn to aid agencies such as CARE in order to be able to do so. She receives monthly distributions of maize, beans, pulses and cooking oil.

Esther Peter at a food distribution in Malawi

Each community has worked together to identify their most vulnerable members in need of food assistance, as there is not enough funding to reach every single person who has been affected. Elderly, single women like Esther find it particularly hard to maintain crops and continue with the hard labour necessary to provide their families with food. After the unprecedented weather brought on by the El Nino phenomenon the crops she was growing all died.

A distribution of corn meal

Esther watches as CARE staff pour her ration of corn soya blend onto the piece of cloth she brought for transporting it. CARE staff measure out food rations for each family, but these are often not enough to last people the entire month and they have to look for alternative work or means of providing. But not everybody is able to do so and hunger remains a big worry. Esther says:

I don’t know what I will do when the food aid ends. With my age I don’t have the strength to go and do casual labour for food.

Cooking oil being poured into a bottle

Esther holds a plastic bottle steady as CARE staff pour her ration of cooking oil into it. Although this food aid helps people avoid possible starvation, it is often not enough for families like Esther’s to last the whole month and they are forced to limit the number of meals they eat and to look for alternative sources of income at the same time.

Loading bags of food onto a bicycle

A local neighbour boy helps Esther to transport her food from the distribution point back home. Her oldest grandson is only 15 years old, and at school during the day, so Esther often has to rely on the kindness of neighbours to help with difficult physical tasks.

Esther outside her damaged house

Esther’s house was also recently destroyed by strong winds, with the roof entirely blown off while they were inside sleeping. For three days the family slept in the neighbour’s tobacco storage shed until they were invited inside to share their house. This was back in February and the family haven’t been able to rebuild. Esther says:

I don’t know how to build back a house, and the children are too young to do it.

Esther preparing food in the yard outside her home

Esther begins to prepare lunch for her three grandchildren who are all at school with the food rations she has just received. Esther has seen a lot of changes in the village in her lifetime, including the set up of their first ever health clinic, but this weather, she says, in unprecedented. One of her big worries, along with having a place to live and food to eat, is the future of her grandchildren.

Esther and her grandson outside their home

I worry for the education of the children, and getting things like uniform for them to go to school if I don’t have any money.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.