After months of severe food shortages in Malawi's central and northern regions, more than 300 people starved to death in January and February. But an even more deadly humanitarian crisis could be on the way with April's harvest expected to yield significantly fewer crops than in previous years.
President Bakili Muluzi declared a national disaster on Wednesday (March 6). His urgent appeal for emergency food aid followed a warning by health officials that 70 percent of the country's 10 million people - mostly those living in rural areas - were at risk of starvation, reported the BBC.
The government has said it needs more than $20 million to avoid an even greater disaster, but, so far, it has only received a little more than $1 million.
Located in southern Africa, Malawi is a small, densely populated country with few natural resources and, economically, is almost totally reliant on agriculture.
The current food shortage in Malawi is a combination of several factors, according to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). One is the disaster-prone state of the country, which suffers from varying degrees of flooding each year.
In the past two years, extensive flooding has devastated several regions of the nation, wiping out harvests and leading to food shortages.
A drop in donor support for a farm assistance program that provided seeds and fertilizer to needy families, and the government's decision to sell part of its national food reserve have also contributed to the situation.
Classified as both a "least developed" and "low-income, food-deficit country," Malawi ranked 163rd out of 174 countries in the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) 2000 Human Development Index. Nearly 60 percent of the predominantly rural population live below the poverty line, and their diets fail to meet basic daily nutritional requirements. The food security situation has been worsening each year due to declining productivity, rising population and the increasing spread of poverty.
International Relief Groups Reach Out to Malawi
The Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) has been working to improve living conditions in the impoverished nation by implementing a community-based healthcare project, which will provide local workers, small communities and young students with first-aid training, and is implementing a water and sanitation program to improve health conditions.
In response to the current condition, the WFP has begun buying large quantities of maize on the local market - at highly inflated prices. The WFP assistance will feed an estimated 200,000 people, according to the BBC.
As the situation worsens each day for Malawi's thousands of hunger-stricken residents, prices for staple foods such as maize have increased nearly 400 percent. Unable to afford the soaring prices, residents have begun to consume green, immature maize out of desperation, which officials fear will exhaust April's harvest production earlier than normal and lead to another food shortage in 2003.
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