Two years of successive failed harvests in 2001 and 2002 left 3 million people in Malawi and 16 million across the region in need of food aid last year. In July, the DEC - a collection of the 13 leading British agencies including ActionAid, Oxfam and Save the Children - responded by launching a major appeal to attempt to avert a catastrophe across the region. The appeal, which was made by Claire Sweeney and Fergal Keene on behalf of the DEC, raised a staggering £16 million and Claire's trip visited projects to see exactly how this money is being spent.
Speaking from Malawi's capital city, Lilongwe, Claire said, "I came out here because it's important that people see where their money has gone. The DEC appeal was unique because it was launched before famine took hold of the country. This time last year thousands of people were on the verge of starving to death, but the food got there in time."
"Out of the appeal, £16 million has been raised which is absolutely brilliant. People at home should be proud of what they have given. It has made the difference between life and death."
Claire visited DEC funded projects run by ActionAid, Concern and Save the Children to see at first hand the impact of both the food crisis and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The projects included food distribution, feeding centres for children under 5, HIV/AIDS awareness programmes and agricultural work. Claire spoke to many families, mothers and children individually to find out how they are coping with the twin crises of food shortages and HIV/AIDS.
"The terrible truth is that Malawi has overcome one hurdle, last year's food crisis, and is now facing another more long-term problem and that is AIDS," Claire said, "I've spoken to so many mothers whose families have been devastated by AIDS. There's a real need now to look for long-term solutions."
Lizzie Nkosi, Programme Director for Save the Children in Malawi who launched the appeal with Claire last year said, "This crisis is not over. Malawi is still extremely vulnerable following two years of failed harvests and the ravages of HIV/AIDS. We must now focus on the longer term - things like building better health services, more HIV awareness schemes and improving farming methods. That's why Claire's visit to the region is so important - to make sure that this crisis is not forgotten."
DEC Chief Executive Brendan Gormley welcomed Claire's unique visit to the region, "We're thrilled that Claire has travelled to Malawi to see at first-hand how the money raised by her appeal is being spent. Her trip will help us to make sure that the crisis facing the region is not forgotten in these dangerous times."
Claire will be reporting back on her trip to Malawi in a series of special TV reports for BBC Breakfast starting on Wednesday 26 February on BBC One