Zambia_Old lady wearing purple blouse standing next to grandson
Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

Zambia: "I want a home again where I can raise my grandchildren"

The floods come suddenly. The water announces itself with a rumble in the middle of the night. Chuma Mwende, 85, and her five grandchildren are in their house when they are surprised by the water. They don't know where the water is coming from, only that they must flee as quickly as possible. As neighbors pull them onto an ox cart, they watch the flood engulf the houses around them. "Our house submerged," Chuma recounts. In search of dry land, she and her neighbors discover a field about two kilometers from their village.

In Zambia, people such as Chuma and her grandchildren are feeling the consequences of the climate crisis brutally and clearly: the dry seasons are getting longer, the soil is drying out. Heavy rainfall during the rainy season has increased over the past few years. Again and again, dams break unable to withstand the mass of water, and flood everything. The waters sweep away villages and animals and destroy fields and plants. A large part of Zambia's rural population depends on agriculture. They rely on the weather and their crops. The unpredictability of the climate makes food and income increasingly uncertain.

Zambia_Old woman standing between line of tents in displacement camp

Chuma walking around the newly distributed tents in her IDP camp. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

Chuma can only walk on a stick that reaches her shoulders. Her back is hunched. "We have lost everything. At my advanced age, it's difficult to move and I don't know how to find food for my grandchildren," Chuma says. Instead of enjoying her retirement, she has the sole responsibility for her five grandchildren. Her own children have all passed away. The youngest, Nchimunya, 6, never leaves her grandmother's side. When they leave their home, they do not have the opportunity to pack anything. They come to the field with only the clothes they are wearing.

Chuma neither has the time nor strength for more. The family has been living in the camp since January, together with 640 other people. Among them are 347 children. In total, almost 375,000 people were affected by the floods in Zambia between January and March 2023. Initially, the displaced gathered plastic bags and long sticks which they tied together to make makeshift shelters. For four days they had to hold out in these shelters while the rain continued. Then government representatives from the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) replaced their plastic shelters with real tents.

CARE distributes blankets, solar lamps, water tanks, and utensils of daily use, such as pots and buckets. For Chuma and the other displaced people in her camp, tents are their only home. Their only shelter. Up to 16 people live in one tent - often, two households live together. Currently it is over 30 degrees in the camp, the rain has stopped, the drought will soon follow, and the fields are already drying up. There are no trees to provide shade and the heat in the tents is unbearable.

Zambia_Old lady sitting in IDP camp tent with young grandson

85-year-old Chuma sitting with her grandson Nchimunya, aged 6, in their tent. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

Chuma's daily life in the camp revolves around finding food for herself and her grandchildren. In the morning the children look for firewood and Chuma prepares porridge for them. In the afternoon and evening they eat whatever else they can find. Sometimes neighbors step in and help Chuma's family, or the children are sent to forage for sweet potatoes in the fields and fish in the river nearby. There is never any certainty that there will be enough for the next few days. The worry about the next meal accompanies many people in Zambia. Half of the population does not have enough to eat. Zambia is one of the countries with the highest malnutrition rate in Africa. Children are particularly affected with more than one in three children under five years old being stunted.  

Chuma describes her biggest wish: "I want a home again where I can raise my grandchildren." Her granddaughter agrees, looking shyly at the ground: "We want food and a home."  

How CARE helps: 

CARE is providing emergency relief to people affected by the floods in Zambia. With cash, food, and non-food items such as blankets, solar lamps, water tanks and buckets, CARE is helping displaced people who have no homes and few financial resources. In the long term, CARE's projects focus on making people more resilient to climatic conditions, for example with reforestation projects, drought-resistant seeds and training on nutrition and health.