UN envoys warn: Humanitarian crisis persists in Malawi despite gains made

LILONGWE - Rapid response from international donors has helped stave off a catastrophe in Malawi but millions of people remain at risk from lack of food, HIV/AIDS and floods, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, James T. Morris, warned today.
"The crisis is far from over and while we've made great strides in getting assistance to the worst affected areas, the situation remains so fragile that gains could easily be eroded," said Morris who travelled to one of the worst flood-affected districts, Salima, during his visit to Malawi. "A combination of HIV/AIDS, late rains and now floods, are threatening this year's upcoming harvest."

The double blow of HIV/AIDS and alarmingly erratic weather patterns converging across southern Africa has prompted the addition of Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, on Morris' second mission to southern Africa. Attention at the highest level of the UN to tackle this dual calamity reflects the urgent priority of the crisis.

At the root of the crisis in Malawi, along with tough policy issues, erratic weather and chronic poverty, is the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, especially women.

An estimated 70 percent of hospital deaths are now reported to be AIDS-related and more than 300,000 children have been left orphaned by the disease. The adult prevalence rate is lower than in many other countries in the region but is still estimated to be at least 16 percent amongst adults.

"The food and agricultural insecurity in this impoverished nation is strongly linked to the devastating effects of the terrifying impact of HIV/AIDS," said Lewis. "More than ever, we cannot ignore the plight of women. The majority of those living with HIV/AIDS are women, who are also responsible for most of the food production and are the linchpin of society."

Family bread-winners have either been lost to the disease or are too weak to work in their fields and hundreds of thousands of families cannot afford to buy food. Teachers are dying at an alarming rate - currently 14 percent a year.

A year ago, hundreds of people reportedly died from hunger and hunger-related diseases in Malawi. Twelve months later, it is clear that food aid interventions have helped to stabilize the situation and keep people alive.

Early contributions from international donors and a unique consortium of partner non-governmental organizations working in the country ensured that almost three million people have received crucial food aid assistance. Some 3.3 million will be targeted in February.

Strong donor support also enabled the distribution of 2 million agricultural starter packs containing vital seeds and fertilizers to farmers throughout the country, while Government provided an additional one millions packs. Compared to last year's rainy season, the number of cholera cases has plummeted by some 75 percent due to tireless monitoring and water sanitation interventions by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Yet much more is needed to continue combating the crisis in Malawi. Some US$73.5 million is still required against the United Nations 2002/2003 Consolidated Appeal (CAP), including US$63.5 million in food aid and US$9.9 million in non-food items. Many agencies in Malawi are mainstreaming HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support into their programmes.

Floods caused by Cyclone Delfina earlier this month have wreaked havoc across Malawi, displacing tens of hundreds of thousands of people, causing widespread damage to homes, roads and bridges, and severing food supply lines to millions of people. This season's crop production has also been affected, with 30,000 hectares of maize, rice and tobacco having been destroyed.

Contingency planning measures by UNDP and WFP successfully prevented flood-induced disaster in three districts hit by the cyclone.

During their two-day trip to the country, Morris and Lewis, along with other mission members, visited a number of projects in Salima District to see women's economic activities related to the crisis and HIV/AIDS.

They also met with President Muluzi and various ministers to discuss pressing humanitarian issues facing the country including the importance of HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy.

While on a week-long mission through the southern Africa region, Morris and his team are placing a special emphasis on the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and, in particular, looking at how the UN system and the international community can more effectively assist women, whose lives are most at risk from the disease.

The mission will also review current responses to the humanitarian crisis and follow up on the findings of the first mission in September, which highlighted the role that HIV/AIDS has played in exacerbating the current crisis.

The Special Envoys are also visiting Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator for UNDP and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, is among the mission members, which also include representatives from SADC, UNICEF, WFP, UNAIDS, OCHA, WHO, and FAO.

Special Mission Itinerary:

Lesotho: January 22-23

Zimbabwe: January 23-25

Malawi: January 25-26

Zambia: January 26-28

Johannesburg: January 28-29

For more information contact:

Justin Thundu
Tel: 265 1 773 500, ext. 225

Ade Bayo Fayoyin
Tel: 265 1 770 788 (office); +265 9 922 743

Abdelgadir Musallam
Tel: + 265 1 774 666 (office); + 265 9 964 469

Jennifer Abrahamson
Tel: + 265 1 774 666 (office); + 27 83 300 4954

Brenda Barton (traveling with the S.Envoy)
Tel: + 27 83 460 1775

For a virtual tour of the Special Envoy's trip, visit

Note: The Special Envoy is holding a closing press conference in Johannesburg at 10:30 am on 29 January at the Rosebank Hyatt