Battling to alleviate hunger

2008-03-11 00:00

As the queues of poor people for food and other assistance grow longer by the week, NGOs, community based organisations (CBOs) and feeding schemes are finding themselves under increasing pressure to meet the demand, amid spiralling food and fuel prices.

The biggest food redistribution operation in KZN, Feedback, which last year delivered more than 1,3 million meals to the hungry in Pietermaritzburg alone, says there has been a major drop in excess food from bakeries and other food outlets since the start of the year.

Mervyn Abrahams, research and project manager of Pacsa (Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness), says a basket of essential food items for the average family of six has increased from R788,94 in January this year to R833,14 in February.

"In such situations, the only option left is to eat less food," he said. "But research has shown that a lack of proper nutrition in childhood leads to decreased economic productivity in adult years and reinforces the cycle of poverty."

Director of Cindi (a network that co-ordinates 120 support groups for children affected by HIV/Aids), Yvonne Spain, says that adding to the problem is the failure of government programmes to deliver.

Organisations like Pacsa, Rotary, the Salvation Army, the Thokozani Health Organisation, Entabeni Community Care and the Child Advocacy Project all report rising levels of need and say that, unless social security services play a more effective role in alleviating the problem, they will not be able to cope.

"Thousands of people who should be getting support grants are simply not getting them because of department inefficiency. As a country, our Home Affairs Department just has to get smarter at document handling. People in dire need are not getting the help they need because of poor delivery, and most people have never even heard of the Social Relief of Distress grant," Spain said. (See box at left).

Brad Burger, regional co-ordinator of Feedback, which collects excess food from bakeries, produce markets, food factories and restaurants for distribution, says rising prices mean people are buying less food, manufacturers are producing less and there is less excess food generally. "It will certainly have an effect on our programme in the short term and we’ll have to cut down on deliveries to many of our normal outlets."

Currently, Feedback distributes 26 000 kg of food each month throughout the PMB area.

Incoming Rotary District Governor for KZN, Hennie de Bruyn, says food insecurity among local households is becoming more noticeable.

"As food prices rise we are becoming more aware of the extent of this problem, particularly in the rural areas. Often city dwellers are not aware just how acute hunger is in villages and townships …"

Rotary oversees the Feedback operation in KZN.

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