Reeling from devastating floods, prolonged dry spells and donors’ reluctance to finance 40 percent of the national budget, Malawi has been dealt a sharp blow as the southern Africa state struggles to mobilise resources to feed over 2.8 million people currently facing
Malawian president Peter Mutharika has already sent an SOS to the international community to intervene.
A food security assessment exercise between June and July this year by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) comprising government, donors and non-governmental organisations, indicated that more than 2.8 million needed food aid following severe floods and drought that ruined this year’s harvest.
‘From the onset of the rains in mid-December 2014 through mid-January 2015, the country received continuous rainfall that led to the worst flooding in living memory,’ Mutharika said. ‘The floods affected about 1.1 million people. It damaged people’s property and public infrastructure and at least 64,000 hectares of crop fields throughout the country. 101 people were killed and 172 people were reported missing.’
Malawians depend on maize as a staple but last growing season was characterised by intermittent rainfall and prolonged dry spells at critical stages of maize development, which led to a food deficit of 223,723 tonnes.
According to Mvac, 2.8 million people will not meet their annual food requirements during the 2015/2016 consumption period between the months of October and March, representing 17 per cent of the of the country 16 million population.
‘Although there has been people facing hunger in recent years, the situation this year is the worst in many years… Government has developed the 2015/2016 Food Insecurity response Plan. The response plan requires a total of $146.378 million,’ Mutharika said.
To kick-start the mitigation exercise the Malawi government has already purchased 30,000 metric tonnes of maize from neighbouring Zambia. Officials are negotiating to buy additional 26,000 metric tonnes.
The United Nations’ World Food programme (WFP) is already gearing up to respond to the crisis. WFP country representative, Coco Ushiyama says life-saving food and cash-based transfers have been given top priority in the response plan which is designed to protect lives and prevent hunger.
‘It is also vital to secure already hard-won development gains in areas such as health and education. People in some affected districts have already started selling their livestock to make ends meet. Women are also engaging in more firewood and charcoal selling, which
degrades the environment and further aggravates the fragile climate,’ says Ushiyama.
Since the end of last year, WFP has provided relief assistance to avert hunger in households hit by poor rainfall during the 2013/14 growing season and the floods in early 2015. This operation has already reached more than one million vulnerable people.
‘Additional contributions are urgently needed,’ says Ushiyama. ‘We have an innovative toolbox to respond – including food and cash-based transfers.’
Timely funding is essential for an efficient and effective response, especially to enable the pre-positioning of food stocks by November, ahead of the rainy season, in rural areas where road access may be cut off.
Ushiyama said a swift response is imperative to save children’s lives and prevent worsening under nutrition, particularly stunting among children. ‘Stunting not only limits people’s growth, but also their cognitive development, and has far-reaching effects on health and
productivity over a lifetime.’
A recent Cost of Hunger in Africa report for Malawi estimated that stunting, which at 42 percent is among the highest in the region, costs the nation nearly $600 million annually.
Over the years Malawi has been a breadbasket in southern Africa supplying maize to countries such as Swaziland and Zimbabwe. From 2005, Malawi introduced the Farm Subsidy Programme, which enables poor farmers to buy seeds and fertilizers at subsidized prices. Surpluses in maize production have been attributed to the programme.