The endless fields that looked so promising in spring now
stand grey and dry. Another year of drought has brought more
hunger and hardship to Moldova, a country of 4.3 million people
in eastern Europe.
“Two years ago it all looked different,” says
Maria Dragach, 35, and a mother of seven whose family has
been assisted by the Red Cross Society of the Republic of
Moldova. “Our garden was full of vegetables and my husband
had a job in Chisinau, but now with this desert land we have
to save every penny to buy the cheapest food and to make ends
Maria tried to grow vegetables, but the merciless July sun
left her with dried pea-sized green tomatoes and a few cucumbers.
Today her supplies consist of two cabbages, potatoes and
carrots. These are the ingredients for the schi (cabbage soup)
she cooks daily to give her husband George and boys a decent
breakfast before they go to work in the fields. They take
homemade bread too. For supper they will have baked cabbage
that she cooks while they are in the fields. It’s the
same every day.
Buckwheat with onions is a richer meal, but they cannot afford
it as often. Sometimes they have spaghetti with fried onions
“to add some colour”, as Dragach puts it. Vegetable
oil is expensive and she tries to save it when she can. Last
year the family sold their cow for lack of fodder. They have
one rabbit that will probably be the last meat the family
will have this year.
“When I was pregnant with my last son,” she says,
holding her seven-month-old baby, “I desperately wanted
to eat fish. There are no rivers or lakes in our area and
we did not have money to buy it in the city. Then my brother’s
wife sold her gold necklace to buy some fish for me. I still
feel so grateful to her for that.”
In 2007, Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, was struck
by the worst drought in its recent history. The drought affected
80 per cent of the country and badly affected farming, which
constitutes one-fifth of Moldova’s gross domestic product.
Families were forced to sell or slaughter their livestock
— they could no longer afford the fodder.
This year, another drought brought more hardship. Gardens
dried up. The price of staples such as rice, meat and vegetable
oil soared 150 per cent in the first five months of 2008.
And there is less work. To add to the worries, floods swept
northern Moldova in July. The United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization says Moldova is the only European country that
needs urgent food aid. The World Bank warns that the level
of poverty in Moldova could reach 41 per cent in 2008.
“It seems everything comes at once: no fodder, no cow,
no milk, no meat, no job,” says Dragach. “Our
eldest son will not go back to school in September for his
last year of studies. He will help his father to earn for
the family, otherwise we will not survive.”
The Dragach family was among the 10,000 people who received
a 30-kg food parcel with rice, buckwheat, vegetable oil, two
cans of meat, sugar, flour and oil from the Moldova Red Cross.
The distributions were aimed at the most vulnerable people,
generally multi-child and single-headed families and those
with disabled members in isolated villages. They were most
at risk of malnutrition.
Dragach says the parcel was a boost to the family’s
diet but only lasted two weeks. “I tried to economize
but it was difficult to keep that stuff away from the children.”
Red Cross executive director Vasile Cernenchi worries about
the coming winter. “When I see all the empty glass jars
in the cellars that traditionally would have been filled with
winter preserves by this time of year, I can foresee the coming
problems,” he says. “Next winter, we expect to
see an acute shortage of food for the most vulnerable people,
who will have neither winter supplies nor money to buy food,
the price of which is ever increasing.”
The solution lies in longer-term food security programmes,
says Edmon Azaryan, head of the International Federation’s
monitoring mission in Moldova.
“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,” he says.
In Moldova, as in the other countries affected by hunger,
what is desperately needed are programmes to build community
resilience. The Red Cross Red Crescent is putting in place
such programmes, which include providing seeds, tools and
fertilizer, in many African countries (see box).
“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,”
says Joe Lowry, International 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. We are looking at novel, sustainable
solutions like livestock rearing, poultry farming, beekeeping
and microcredits to help make this happen.”
Making sense of life
Nina and Nadezhda Bobuh are known by their neighbours as
“the little bees”. The 72-year-old twins, who
live in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, survived last year’s
grim winter thanks to a Red Cross canteen.
“We only eat the soup there,” explains Nina Bobuh.
“We pack the main course which we then warm up for the
dinner and save the buns for breakfast.”
Nina, a former book seller, and Nadezhda, a former nurse,
guide the Moldova Red Cross volunteer down to their cellar.
Shelves are full of empty glass jars that in recent, happier,
times were filled with preserves for the winter.
They economize in any way they can. Near their garden stove
is a sheaf of brushwood that the elderly sisters collect from
the forest every week. They collect water from the roof.
Yet every month they buy a sack of wheat for US$ 35 to bake
bread and biscuits they share with their older neighbours.
“When we share this homemade bread, we feel some sense
in life,” says Nina Bobuh.