Over 4.2 million people need emergency assistance
Between 4.2 million and 4.6 million people are at risk of food insecurity between April 2005 and March 2006 and require between 272,000 MT to 423,000 MT of food aid or its cash equivalent. Households in the south, especially in parts of Zomba, Machinga, Phalombe, Nsanje, Chikwawa, Mwanza and Neno districts, have been affected by dry spells and an early end to the rainy season which has adversely affected crop production. Households in these areas face deficits ranging from 30 70 percent of their annual food needs, and began experiencing the gap in June 2005. Figure 1 shows the location and severity of anticipated food insecurity.
Figure 1: Location of affected households
Household food deficits have resulted mainly from a poor growing season, coupled with limited household incomes as well as a scarcity of inputs early in the season. The final crop estimates show that maize production has dropped by 29 percent, from 1,733,125 MT last season to 1,225,234 MT this season, making it the worst maize production year in ten. This has resulted in an official food gap of between 400,000 MT and 500,000 MT.
These households have limited means of responding to the production gap, and most depend primarily on the market to compensate for production failures. The resultant rising market demand for food, especially maize, is beginning to force maize prices up. But as prices rise over the season, poor households who have limited income will be increasingly unable to fill the food gap. If the situation continues without adequate food aid many households, especially the poor, will face irresolvable household food deficits that will lead to increased malnutrition. Given that poor and in some cases middle-income households in the affected areas will not be able to afford enough food to meet all their needs, even if it is available in the market, it is essential that agencies plan to fill households deficits, either through food aid or cash support. The number of households in need of food assistance will continue to increase until the next harvest in March 2006.
Prices have already started to rise, consistent with predictions of a worse than normal year. A number of interventions are being carried out to address the situation. Food aid is already being delivered to parts of the country where needs were assessed. Distributions are planned to increase monthly from now through the end of the year, reflecting the increasing deficits faced by poor households. However, only 41 percent of the 272,000 MT food aid required has been pledged so far, leaving a huge shortfall. The number of beneficiaries is expected to increase in the period October December, peaking in January to March 2006. It is therefore imperative that donors should find ways to fill the shortfall before the critical months of December and January, when the number of food aid beneficiaries is expected to reach 4.2 million.