Living with HIV and the struggle to survive Malawi drought

Publié: 27 mai 2016 8:15 CET

By: Thea Rabe, Norwegian Red Cross

“See this telephone? This is how I survive nowadays,” says Loveness Mussa. During an ongoing drought in the southern African country of Malawi, the 46-year-old is one of 10,000 people receiving financial support through mobile cash transfers from the Malawi Red Cross Society.

For ten years, Loveness Mussa has lived with HIV and has managed to get by on her own, even after her husband died. This year, however, is the toughest  due to the drought that has hit her home in southern Malawi. All of her maize crops have dried up, leaving her without any harvest.

“I went to the field as usual this year to plant maize seeds. And at the beginning, they grew a little. But after a while the sun came, the rain stopped, and never came back. Now all my crops have failed,” Loveness explains.

Malawi, along with most of southern Africa, is experiencing severe drought. Three million people are currently affected in Malawi with the numbers only expected to increase. Rivers have dried up, crops have failed, and people like Loveness are expecting little to no harvest.

In September 2015, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an Emergency Appeal of 749,268 Swiss francs to meet the food security needs of 10,000 people affected by the drought in Malawi.  The Appeal is 74 per cent funded, which has enabled the Malawi Red Cross Society to implement cash transfers to 10,000 of the most vulnerable people in the districts of Nsanje and Phalombe.

The mobile cash transfer is an easy way for people to receive urgent relief. The way it works is quite simple, says Wakissa Munkhondia, who is responsible for the cash distribution programme in the Phalombe district for the Malawi Red Cross Society.

“In the district of Phalombe we have 1,000 families receiving cash transfers,” explains Wakissa. “They have each been given one mobile phone. When we receive funding from international donors, the money is transferred to the mobile company, and then directly to each individual mobile phone number which has been given to the families.”

Each identified family receives a monthly cash transfer of approximately $43 US dollars over a period of five months. The cash transfer is sufficient to meet the immediate food needs of a household of five based on the current price of a standard food basket which includes a 50 kilogram bag of maize, 5 kilograms of beans, and 2 litres of cooking oil.

Loveness Mussa has never owned a mobile phone, until she received one from the Red Cross to receive cash transfers.

“I don’t have electricity, so the phone is not always on,” Loveness says. “But when the money is transferred to the phone, my friends tell me that I have to charge my phone. After I charge the phone, I go to the cash distribution point and show them the text message I have received. That is when I get cash in my hands, and I can go and buy food.”

Because of her HIV medication, Loveness gets very sick when she is not getting enough food. And never before has she had this little to eat.

“When I don’t get food, I start to vomit, and the effect of my medication is reduced. This is why I need to have some access to food, but this drought makes it impossible to get food without external help.

“I really don’t know what to do if I don’t get help. I rely on others to get by,” she says.