Malawi appeals for further humanitarian aid

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Africa

Bingu wa Mutharika, president of Malawi, has declared the massive food shortages in his country a national disaster. The declaration comes on the heels of mounting criticism from his opposition as well as church groups in Malawi that have urged him to do more to highlight the problem. Mutharika has also been criticised for denying reports of casualties from hunger-related illnesses. The United Nations World Food Program has welcomed the declaration, stating that he is finally acknowledging the seriousness of the situation. The UN estimates that five million people will be in need of aid in the coming year.

Map highlighting Malawi

The president has noted that all 28 districts of his country are affected and that, in addition to the 300,000 tons of food being imported from South Africa, another 144,000 will be needed.

"We are facing a national disaster affecting the lives of our people," he said.

The food shortages have been blamed on one of the worst harvests Malawi has experienced in over a decade as well as the growing HIV/AIDS crisis. Because Malawi is a landlocked country whose economy is almost entirely dependent on agriculture, poor harvests can have drastic impacts on the population. Most of the country feeds themselves through subsistence farming. Additionally, during the mid-eighties and nineties Malawi took in over a million refugees from Mozambique, which placed a significant strain on the economy but also opened it to foreign aid.

The United Nations has attempted to restructure Malawi's economy through programs from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Relief agencies have been scrambling to deal with the crisis. UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Per Engebak has said, "The numbers of malnourished children are many times higher than the normal emergency threshold."

It is predicted that the disaster will be worse than the humanitarian crisis that plagued the country three years ago. Admissions to Nutrition Rehabilitation Units, run by a coalition of aid agencies as well as the Ministry of Health, have risen by 25 percent.

Church groups in the country have been assisting in the emergency. The Council of Churches in Malawi, which brings together 22 denominations, has been applying pressure to the government. In addition to the food crisis, Rev Matiya Nkhoma has highlighted the problems of political instability in the country.

The food crisis is not just a danger to Malawi. The UN estimates that 12 million people are in need of aid in Southern Africa.

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