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On Drought and Famine


On Drought and Famine
A Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Zambia
21st June 1992

The most severe drought in recent history caused immense suffering among Zambians in 1992, as half of the harvest failed. In their brief Statement, the Bishops said that the drought should not be looked at as a punishment from God but a call to work for a society marked by greater social justice. The response must be three-fold: the charity of relief, the work of development, and the pursuit of justice. This response is the test of true faith in God and authentic Christian commitment. The international community is thanked for its help, but cancellation of our external debt is again called for.

“I was hungry and you gave me to eat”

    Because of the several droughts that have affected Zambia and other parts of southern Africa, these words of Our Lord Jesus take on a special meaning and urgency as our people now face the pains of famine and hunger. Many of our elders say that they have never before in their life witnessed such a drought in Zambia. Our crop yield is far below what is necessary to feed our people. We are already dependent on imported maize. The price of mealie-meal, already beyond the range of so many of the poor, is likely to move even higher.
  1. Although our situation is not as desperate as that of some of our neighbours, half of our harvest has failed. A great part of our population is already experiencing hunger, especially in the Southern, Central, Eastern and Western provinces which are affected by the drought. In other provinces there are people who also have lost their crops due to lack of rain. Many will have neither food at hand to feed their families, nor sufficient money to purchase food.
  2. Indeed, in some parts of the Country, the lack of sufficient water threatens animals as well as people. Rivers, dams and wells, which normally dry up late in the dry season, are already without water. Animals are being sold off by their owners, and many others are dying from lack of water and diseases. By the time we reach the next rains in November, there will be too few animals for ploughing in the new season.

    Call From God

  3. In the face of such a serious calamity, all the resources of the Nation must be mobilised. This is a tremendous challenge to our new Government in the opening months of the Third Republic. We appreciate the measures taken to face the crisis with determination and efficiency. But the challenge is also a strong call to all of us Christians and we must collaborate with and complement the efforts of the Government.
  4. We must not see the drought as a punishment or curse from God, but rather as a call from God to define more clearly and live more faithfully our identity as Christians. For “those who have” it is a call to solidarity, compassion and charity. For those “who have not” it is a call to trust in God’s providence. For all of us, it is a call to work for a society marked by greater social justice.
  5. As we are reminded in the Letter of the Apostle James, our faith must be demonstrated in works, especially the works of sharing with the needy (James 2:14-23). This sharing must be even of the very little we have, as we learn in the Old Testament story of the widow of Zarephath who shared with the prophet Elijah out of her poverty (1 Kings 177:16). The followers of Jesus will be moved with compassion with him, seeing who are very hungry (Mark 8:2-3). And we will recall his words, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat!” (Matthew 25:35)
  6. Our own African culture similarly calls us to solidarity, that we may preserve our sense of family and community. We must particularly care for the children. The children are the future of our Nation, as the Bemba proverb reminds us, “Imiti Ikula e mpanga.” This is not a call only to care for our own children, but for all children in need. According to the Cinyanja proverb, “Mwana wa mzako niwako yemwe” - the child of your neighbour is your own child.

    Three-Fold Response

  7. Response by our Church to this national drought demands the charity of relief, the work of development, and the suit of justice.
  8. First, in the present famine situation, pastoral workers are called upon to engage in relief programmes as necessary and as much as possible. These programmes involve our parishes and schools, our hospitals and other agencies. In the drought areas, task forces and coordinating structures are being set up at parish and diocesan levels. In order to reach the most vulnerable and affected people, specific groups and needs have to be identified. We should also assist to determine the most appropriate forms of aid, including direct and subsidies, deliveries for sale, food for work, support of malnourished children and families, and free distribution.
  9. In order to make the best possible use of resources and avoid duplication we must coordinate our efforts with Government agencies, particularly those of health and agriculture and other non-Governmental groups. There must be strict accountability of all relief funds and foodstuffs through careful supervision, documentation and evaluation. Moreover, the Church programmes should take special steps so that in these relief efforts the dignity of those receiving assistance is respected and over-dependence on food aid avoided.
  10. Second, moves towards rehabilitation and development must not lag behind the relief efforts. Relief is only short-term, for emergencies; development is for the longterm. Surely the prospect of future drought must impel us to train our people in better agricultural planning and farming methods. Programmes of development education and other training programmes run by the dioceses must be strengthened, with special attention paid to women and youth. Sustainable agriculture methods need to be taught and drought resistance crops introduced. Furthermore, adequate schemes of food security should be devised.
  11. Third, all our efforts must aim at promoting justice and fairness. Too frequently in the past, programmes designed to help the poorest have not in fact done so. Instances of discrimination, favouritism and corruption in the distribution of assistance must be reported and eliminated. Political and religious partisanship must have no place in the efforts aimed at feeding the people. At a time when strenuous efforts need to be made to avoid starvation among our people, justice demands that less money be spent on superfluous extras by all: e.g. extravagant allowances on local and overseas trips, unnecessary expenses by the clergy. Proper priorities need to be established by the Government and the Church.

    Internal Assistance

  12. We are deeply grateful to the international community of donors and our Church partners for the assistance that they have offered in the past and are offering now in our present crisis. Given the extent of the damage brought on by the drought and the devastating effects of famine, this is a significant sign of generosity and solidarity. It is of course tragic that we Africans must once again come before the world community asking for help. But it would be even more tragic for the scourge of famine to sweep across the continent without that help coming. For then the community of the human family would be dangerously broken.
  13. Because the large external debt of Zambia has such a draining effect on our economy, we repeat the appeal which we made in our Pastoral Letter, The Future Is Ours, that there be large-scale forgiveness of our debt. We cannot be expected to take the food away from the mouths of our children and be deprived in order to return interest payments to the rich Nations.

    Test Of Christian Faith

  14. Last year we celebrated 100 year of the Catholic faith is Zambia. Our community has grown strong with ministries and institutions of our own. We are thankful to God for many blessings. But now the test has come for us to show how deep is our Christian faith, how authentic is our Christian commitment. By working hard, cooperating together, sharing resources and undertaking sacrifices, we Zambian Christians can, with God’s help, move into the second century with mature faith.
  15. Our response as a Christian community to the crisis of drought and famine can be a moment of renewal in all our ministries. It can be an occasion for us to review our pastoral plans at the local, diocesan and national levels, to evaluate the effectiveness of our development and training programmes, to examine our education and religious formation courses.
  16. In addition to the use of funds from our Lenten Collection to meet the needs of the poor, we pledge ourselves to set up a special “solidarity fund” to share resources with others, both nationally and internationally, who are suffering from the drought. There are those who are stricken than we are here in Zambia at this time, and our sharing will show our solidarity with them. In particular we call upon Catholics who are blessed with good incomes to be extra generous in contributing to the “solidarity fund.”
  17. Finally, on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, “Corpus Christ,” when we celebrate the gift of the bread, which “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” (John 6:33), we know that the challenge that faces us is truly a religious challenge. Strengthened by the sharing of the Eucharist, we must share our daily bread with the hungry in our midst. Together, then, we will be able to hear the words of Jesus, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”

Bishop Dennis De Jong, Bishop of Ndola
Chairman - Zambia Episcopal Conference

21 June 1992
Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ