By Peachey, Paul
The Independent (London, England)
BY THE time Enny Mazuba returned to her village with the half- bucket of maize she had walked 50 miles to earn, her husband had already died of hunger.
After the harvest failed, he had been too weak to join her in the long trek to the farm in a neighbouring district to earn meagre rations and, instead, stayed behind to die. Her four children lived on, helped by their neighbours who took pity on them at their father's funeral and gave rations from their own small supplies.
"With God's will they were able to survive," said Mrs Mazuba, 54, as she ate from a small pot of cooked maize paid for with the sale of her last chicken. "I don't know how I will live now." Her village, Keemba, in the Southern Province of Zambia, nearly four hours drive from the capital Lusaka, was once the bread basket of the country but now the view over the blasted fields is of the stunted twigs from failed crops. As the boreholes dry up and animals die of disease, she - along with her children, the remainder of her village and millions more across southern Africa - face starvation over the next few months.
Death is already well entrenched in this rural area. Forty per cent of the province's population are estimated to have HIV/Aids, which has killed huge numbers of the country's medical staff. Malaria is ever-present, cholera and measles are dreaded, and polio remains a constant threat which, despite the huge problems, has been the focus of a huge United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) project to immunise more than one million children over the past five days.
Yet, without a huge injection of food supplies, medicines and other aid, millions more are likely to die, charities, government officials and health workers in the region unanimously agree.
Zambia, where Unicef estimates more than a fifth of its near 11 million population faces death through starvation, should have filled its grain silos and stores after harvesting up to June, to last them through the through the year. Already now in winter they are empty, along with the small straw thatched stores in around the village of Keemba, in the district of Monze, where the rain fell only twice in the last year.
Local farmers say that for this year's harvest, 60 per cent of the fields that were ploughed and prepared remained unseeded as they waited for the rains that never came to start the growing process.
Down by the waterhole, the few cattle left that had not been struck down by the tick-borne "corridor disease" waded in the water. But not for long, since Frank Lubasi, the agriculture co-ordinator for the area, said it would be dry by the end of August. A rare occurrence but the product of 30 years of erratic rainfall where volumes have declined steadily year on year.
Herdsmen will take the cattle 30 miles to the nearest water, depriving the villages of what little fresh milk was available but at least those with cattle will probably survive.
A survey of households by the Monze authorities have shown that most people were in their final month of having grain after the "total failure" of the harvest.
For Saliya Ncheema, aged 92, sitting in the shade thrown by the walls of her home among a cluster of six small mud huts, that time has already passed.
She is responsible for 18 grandchildren, her three sons having died from Aids-related illnesses. She is going blind and is too frail to supply the food for the youngsters in her family.
They cluster around her, their swollen faces and bodies showing the signs of malnutrition. …