Moldova – Red Cross calls for sustained support to help the impoverished population facing malnutrition

تم النشر: 5 يونيو 2008 0:00 CET

The Moldova Red Cross has just completed the distribution of food parcels to some 7,500 of the most impoverished families in isolated rural settlements in Moldova. As expected by the Red Cross, the operation revealed other problems that need an urgent response on a longer term basis to address poverty and strengthen the capacities of the most vulnerable in this poor European country. Sustained assistance to address the root causes of this situation is vital for these families.

“I want to be a pilot,” says 17-year-old Vadim Moldovan, in a serious and blunt tone. But those plans are in the future. For now, every morning since he finished school a year ago, he gets up at six o’clock to accompany his father to a small machinery repair shop where he earns money to help support his family of six people. They can barely make ends meet and, with winter food reserves consumed before the winter ended, the food parcel from the Moldova Red Cross will help them survive through the most difficult months until the new harvest. The 30 kilos of sugar, flour, oil, canned meat and other products will diversify the bland, daily ration of potatoes and onions.

The Moldovan family lives in Sarata Noua, a small village 180 km from Chisinau, the capital of Moldova – the poorest state in Europe. Three successive droughts in recent years decimated food production and further impoverished the population in this agricultural nation, a population already suffering from endemic poverty after the political and economic hardships of the past decade.  The drought of 2007 was the worst in the country’s recent history. It affected 80 per cent of the territory and led to severely diminished harvests. Agriculture and agribusiness account for some 70 per cent of Moldova’s gross domestic product.

Together, Valery Moldovan, 42, and his eldest son Vadim, earn about 100 Euros a week. This is hardly enough to provide food for the family and to pay for basic services. Valery knows that he will not find the 1,000 Euros they need to pay their share of the gas pipeline that is under construction in their village. This means the family will not have access to gas for heating and cooking. He does not know how to solve the problem. “I gave up looking for a way to earn more money,” he says. “There is no work in our village.” He tried to find a job in Russia, but after 18 months in Moscow he found that he spent more on his scanty living conditions than he managed to earn. So he returned home.  

With the authorities predicting yet another serious drought in 2008, in April and May the Moldova Red Cross (MRC), with support from the International Federation, started the distribution of food parcels to 7,500 people in multi-child and single-headed families and those with disabled members in isolated villages. These groups were facing the risk of malnutrition due to the acute food shortage and the slaughter of their livestock for cash (in some regions up to 70 per cent of the cattle was lost). The operation was designed to meet the minimum dietary requirements of needy families until the harvest.

“Moldova's poorest and most marginalized were already finding life extremely tough even before the drought. This has pushed them to the brink of extreme poverty,” explains Joe Lowry, Federation representative for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. “As many people of working age - mothers and fathers - have left the country, the onus is on grandparents to care for children, or for children to fend for themselves. This is a very disturbing situation in the year 2008, right on the border with the European Union. But simple charity is not enough. The Moldova Red Cross needs support to help lift people out of poverty and we are looking at novel, sustainable solutions like livestock rearing, poultry farming, beekeeping and microcredits to help make this happen."

Vera Khohlova, 34, a mother of five children, lives in Bendery, a city 40 km from Chishnau. “The Red Cross food parcel for us was like God’s present for Easter and we had a real holiday with some food on the table in addition to potatoes,” she explains. “They do sell food at the local market, but I do not want to go there – what for, since I do not have money to buy anything?” She works as a bus conductor making 700 lei (euro 45 / US$ 70) a month, of which 400 pay only for services. 

“It was very, very difficult after the drought last year,” she continues. “Last October I had six sealed three-litre jars of stewed fruit and two jars of pickled tomatoes from 2006, but I could not make any more in the autumn of 2007. Even the beans that normally can withstand droughts got dry too early.  How did we survive the winter? We had potatoes, and sometimes I went to buy low quality food for low prices. I also buy the cheapest sprat at the market, boil carrots and mix it all with spaghetti. Not very tasteful, but it reminds you of meat. When you have nothing, you become creative, you know.”

Since January 2008 the prices of basic food products such as meat, rice and vegetable oil have soared by 150 per cent. The prices for electricity and gas have also increased. A 17 per cent increase in pensions does not make up for the inflation rate, thus decreasing people’s incomes. Although the spring harvest of tomatoes, radishes and cabbage is already available on the market, prices are too high for vulnerable people to afford.

“The drought caused many problems and it hurt primarily the most vulnerable,” says Alexandra Lobanova, the Deputy-Mayor of Bendery. “This year, apart from the Red Cross food parcels, we received fodder for cattle through the UN programme against drought. The local administration also tries to help people in need, but this support does not exceed 10-30 dollars per person per year. Despair and emotions often go to the extreme and it is hard to spread aid evenly.”

Nadezhda Ivanovna, 79,lives in Bendery.  After years of work at a local textile factory, she suffers from asthma. “Medicines are very expensive,” she notes. “I am not choosy with food. Meat?” She waves her hand and smiles. “I do not need it. It is much worse that I cannot pay for the medicines without which I cannot breathe. I try to live reasonably within my income (her pension is the equivalent of euro15 or US$ 23), nothing superfluous. This food parcel is a real bonus for me, it is priceless!” she exclaims as she takes two cans of meat out of the box brought by a Red Cross worker.  

In March 2008, following the appeal from the Moldova Red Cross and recommendations for immediate intervention from its assessment team, the International Federation released 250,000 Swiss francs (155,000 euro / US$ 231,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the operation. The Red Cross monitoring mission assessed further needs of the vulnerable population in rural areas and certain towns. The assessment results will be used to define a strategy to address the root causes of people’s vulnerability in future through development programmes.

“Food, fodder, clothes for children, seeds, money to pay for rents and communal services, agricultural machinery and fertilizers were identified among the most acute needs of the country’s rural population,” says Edmon Azaryan, head of the Federation’s monitoring mission in Moldova. “The Government and other organizations are trying to continue their support, however they will not target the beneficiary group selected by the Red Cross - the ones that fall between the meshes of those ‘safety nets’,” he says.