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Take Steps “to heal inequality, poverty” in Zambia: Jesuits at Launch of COVID-19 Relief

Fr. Leonard Chiti, Provincial Leader of the Society of Jesus for Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Province.

The leadership of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Zambia and Malawi has expressed concerns over inequality and the level of poverty in the Southern Africa nation of Zambia amid COVID-19, calling on the government to work toward addressing the gap and give an opportunity for affected people to bounce back.

“We are concerned that in a country where there is enough to go around, others have almost completely nothing. We wish to urge that steps be taken to heal the inequality and poverty around so that every Zambian should build resilience against any threat like COVID-19,” the Provincial Leader of the Society of Jesus for Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Province, Fr. Leonard Chiti, said Monday, May 4.

Fr. Leonard, who was speaking at the Launch of the Jesuits Relief COVID-19 response for ZAM said, “Jesuits and our collaborators, we do not end at giving bread to the hungry; we care about “why” the hungry are hungry.”

“We are taking food to the poor because we notice that they are completely powerless and under the current circumstances there is no social protection being provided for the vulnerable and poor,” he said and added, “Many in our compounds have no running water, have inadequate and poor housing and have no sanitation facilities and systems.”

“In a country endowed with abundant resources including water, this should not happen,” Fr. Leonard decried.

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According to the World Bank, 57 percent of people in Zambia live in extreme poverty. The World Bank Poverty and Equity Brief on Zambia for April 2020 also projected that the economic impact of COVID-19 on the country is expected to constrain GDP growth and to result in an increase in poverty in the near future. 

“The above scenario amongst others, which highlight the fact that the disease outbreak impacts are not only threatening the health of populations but also increasing the rates of hunger and poverty in Zambia has inspired the Jesuit Emergency Appeal for Zambia to prioritise the most urgent and lifesaving interventions necessary to reduce the impact of COVID-19,” Fr. Leonard said.

The Jesuits Priest stated that is Society’s intervention will be done in two phases. It seeks to complement the Government of Zambia’s COVID-19 Multisectoral Contingency and Response Plan that focuses on strengthening preparedness and response to COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It is the first phase of our interventions and covers a six-month period (May to October 2020),” he said adding, “during the first phase we are targeting to raise approximately ZMW.6.6 million Kwacha (US$366,000.00).”

He added, “The second phase will be a recovery one whose objective will be to assist targeted fragile communities to build back better.  For this phase, we are targeting to raise ZMW.14.2 million Kwacha (USD 785,849).”

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Further, the ZAM Provincial noted that the initiative is in line with the second Universal Apostolic Preference (UAPs), which states that the Society “will walk with individuals and communities that are vulnerable, excluded, marginalized and humanly impoverished.”

“We have also adopted the Human Rights-Based approach and more importantly and the Catholic Social Teaching will also provide for us the values framework guiding our work,” Fr. Leonard said and enlisted the Catholic Social Teaching as “Economic and social justice for all, Life and dignity of the human person, preferential option for the poor, Call to family, community, and participation, Solidarity, and Care for God’s creation.”

He further said, “The appeal targets at-risk communities across Thematic Areas of response including Public Health, Education, Risk Communication and Community Engagement, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), Social Protection, Nutrition and Food Relief and Immediate Economic Support and Advocacy.” 

Zambia has reported at least 138 cases of COVID-19; three have died and 92 have recovered.

On his part, Zambia’s Minister of Health, Chitalu Chilufya, who attended the launch recognized that “the Government has over the years received a lot of support from the Catholic Church and this initiative is one such gesture.”

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“This, plus all the help that the Government has continued to receive from individuals and various organizations during this crisis is overwhelming and a clear demonstration that humanity can come together to fight a cause regardless of the circumstances,” Chilufya said.

“The Jesuit Emergency Appeal’s complementary role to Government effort is gratifying as it has a holistic approach to the pandemic and is apart from providing life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable and those most at risk by providing public awareness on COVID-19 using multiple platforms,” the Health Minister said. 

He added in reference to the Jesuit Emergency Appeal, “It also offers social cohesion through immediate interventions to improve governance, ensure economic and social justice for all, human rights and gender equality, and mitigating longer-term impact on fragile populations and small to medium scale businesses.”