After 3 months of low intensity seismological activity in the Karonga district of Malawi, the area was hit by a sequence of stronger earthquakes ranging from 5,4 to 6.0 on the Richter scale between 6 and 20 December 2009. Seismological activity continues and is taking the form of an earthquake swarm. There is no certainty about when this is expected to halt. The district of Karonga is located in the northern part of the country, bordered by Lake Malawi on the East, by the Songwe River (border with Tanzania) on the North, and the Nyika Plateau and highlands on the West and South. Approximately 270,000 people live in this area, and they depend on subsistence agriculture (cassava, maize, sweet potatoes and rice) and fishery for their survival.
The Department of Disaster Management Affairs of the Government of Malawi appealed for assistance to support over 200,000 people living in the area. Initial information from the technical teams confirm that there are over 31,220 people whose housing was partially or completely destroyed and have moved into a camp or host communities. A camp has been set up in the Ngerenge area in Mulinda village and no formal headcount has been taken to date; although, it is estimated that around 5,000 people are living in the camp. The camp is also a distribution point for relief for 17 villages. Over 200 people have been wounded, and four have been killed. Following the last quake, there is much uncertainty in the area. The Department of Disaster Management Affairs has indicated that shelter, water and sanitation needs are to be regarded as urgent.
The Government of Malawi provided some assistance to the affected population under the leadership of the Department of Disaster Management Affairs and with support from line ministries. This included food items, water supplies and health interventions (equipment, staff and medicine). District authorities have been assigned as the coordination focal points at the local level and multi-sectoral emergency teams have been established. The district was divided into five zones and the Malawi Red Cross, Plan International and World Vision were assigned as logistics coordinators in the zones. UN agencies deployed multi-disciplinary technical teams to the affected district to assess the situation and humanitarian needs. They are identifying unmet immediate humanitarian needs and assessing early recovery needs.
Malawi is a densely populated country, approximately 14 million inhabitants, with more than half of the population (52%) living below the poverty line and 83% of the total population living in rural areas. Malawi is ranked 160 out of 182 countries in the 2009 Human Development Index, indicating that Malawi is one of the least developed countries. The economy is predominately agricultural which accounts for more than one-third of GDP and 90% of export revenues. The health and nutrition situation is critical showing increasing prevalence of malnutrition among children and high incidence of HIV/AIDS, with some areas in the southern region recording prevalence rates as high as 30%. This is further compounded by increasing food prices with some areas observing as high as a 79% increase, leaving a great contingent of the population with very limited access to basic foods and deteriorating their household food security. Pregnant women and children are especially affected, with 45% of children suffering chronic malnutrition characterized by stunting. The population living in the southern part of the country has had their situation aggravated by floods and cholera.