REAP Country Case Studies: Malawi - 9 December 2021



Malawi is one the poorest countries in the world with a high prevalence of chronic food and nutrition insecurity. The country is extremely vulnerable to a wide range of climate shocks which includes droughts, dry spells, flooding and pest infestations. Floods and droughts pose the most significant and recurring risk to Malawi, with the highest impacts occurring in the central & southern regions (World Bank, 2019a). A large proportion of the population is exposed to climatic shocks which are becoming increasingly frequent and intense. The compounding effect drives a “vicious cycle of poverty and recurrent vulnerability” (WFP, 2019: p.2).

Malawi is extremely vulnerable and exposed to a range of climatic shocks in southern Africa, especially to severe drought induced by the occurrence of a possible El Niño event. In 2015-2016, Malawi’s agriculture season experienced a late onset of rains, prolonged dry spells, and incidence of floods across regions of the country. The severe drought was exacerbated by El Niño and Malawi experienced its worst food security crisis in over a decade leading the Government of Malawi (GoM) to declare a state of disaster in April 2016.

The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC)3 , which delivers humanitarian assistance in shock prone areas, indicated a total 6.7 million (an estimated 40 percent of the total population) were severely affected and faced chronic or acute food security (NRS, 2020).

One of the worst disasters in Malawi occurred in January 2015 when rainfall, the highest on record and constituting a 1 in 500-year event, caused significant flooding – predominantly in the Southern Region. It is estimated that the floods affected 1,101,364 people, displaced 230,000 and killed 106 people. A state of disaster was declared for 15 districts4 of the 28 districts, several of which are the poorest in the country (Red Cross, 2017). Most recently, in March 2019, the country was struck by Tropical Cyclone Idai which led to heavy rains, deadly floods and strong winds severely affecting 15 districts, two of the four major cities, and an estimated 975,000 Malawians (World Bank, 2019b). According to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment, it was estimated that the total effects of heavy rains and floods amounted to US$ 220.2 million, requiring US$ 368.3 million to recover (GoM, 2019).

In addition, issues such as deforestation, low productivity and an over-reliance on rain-fed subsistence farming makes the economy especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and leaves the poorest particularly exposed to climate change, shocks and variability. In terms of administration, Malawi is divided into three regions (Northern, Central, Southern) which comprise a combined total of 28 districts.