Alarming reports are coming from the region saying that more than four million people in three countries - Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe - are currently threatened by severe food shortages due to a drought. Worst hit by the crisis is Malawi where the problems are mounting. During the year 2001 the country had been affected by floods and cyclone disasters, which resulted in a poor harvest. Most farmers did not harvest adequate food to take them to the harvest time. In the beginning of this year heavy rains washed crops away in some parts of the country. This and the current drought aggravate the food shortage situation. Critics say that the government handling of the food situation could have been better. Furthermore, there are reports of cholera outbreaks in several perts of the country.
ACT members, Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD) and the Evangelical Lutheran Development Programme (ELDP) have described the food shortage as a serious crisis needing urgent response from the international community. They point out that most people in the rural areas do not have adequate income to purchase the little food available on the market - this has forced many households to stay without food for long periods of time.
From remote villages, staff members report that some people are now eating wild fruits, grass seeds and banana roots. At times, that has led to deaths as some fruits are poisonous and, in their desperation, some people do not realise this. It is also reported that some peasant farmers with crops in the fields have already started to eat the premature green maize * narrowing further any chances of harvest in May. Another common commodity people resort to is maize bran - usually given to livestock. But even the bran is not enough for so many people in danger of starving.
The food shortage has reached crisis stage in the country and many children have have become severely malnourished. The crisis has caused widespread hunger and an increase in hunger-related diseases. It is expected that the reported death toll of at least 300 people will rise before help reaches the affected people.
ELDP and CARD are going to distribute food in Nsanje, Salima (CARD) and Karanga, Photombe and Chikwawa (ELDP). In total the members will distribute maize to approximately 37,500 families in the above mentioned districts. They also plan to distribute a highly nutritious food mix called Likuni Phala to about 17,000 malnourished children.
The food crisis is so severe that reportedly primary schools had to close as pupils were unable to go to school because they were too hungry. The rural areas where the majority of people are dependent on agriculture have been most affected with women and children faring the worst. Malawi has experienced several years of poor harvest due to drought or flooding.
Efforts to bring food from South Africa have been frustrated by seroious regional transportation problems, coupled with the inefficient way the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) has been handling the maize sales. The government of Malawi estimates that about 70 percent of the total population has been hit by food shortages.
For further information please contact:
ACT Communications Officer Callie Long
(mobile/cell phone +41 79 358 3171) or
ACT Press Officer Rainer Lang (mobile/cell phone + 41 79 681 1868).
ACT Web Site address: http://www.act-intl.org
ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.
The ACT Coordinating Office is based with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Switzerland.