Climate change puts 3 million Malawians at risk of starvation

Madalitso Kateta, CNS Correspondent, Malawi
Photo credit: Alina Saba
Millions of Malawians risk starvation unless concerted measures are taken to revert the effects of the food crisis, that is worsening in many parts of Southern Malawi. While the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) estimated that 2.83 million people will experience acute food insecurity during the 2015-16 lean season, I found that in three Southern Malawi Districts of Balaka, Neno and Chikhwawa the hunger situation has reached its worst point with people now surviving on wild tubers and unripe mangoes, as the country is also experiencing one of its worst economic situations.

Mercy Bonongwe from the Southern Malawian district of Neno said in an interview that most families in her village have been going without food from right after the harvest time. “Most of the families did not harvest enough food following the floods that hit the country early this year and many families are surviving on wild tubers and green unripe ‘mangoes,” she said. She was also worried that the wild tubers that they were consuming were dangerous as they are poisonous if not carefully prepared.

According to a World Food Programme analysis of the food situation in Malawi, women are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity as their extensive home-based workload and care work does not usually translate into economic gain, limiting their ability to afford a balanced diet. The World Bank data indicates that 84% of Malawi’s 16 million-strong population lives in rural areas and it is these people who are at the frontline of the effects of climate change and are suffering from the effects of the floods.

Earlier this year, Malawi President Peter Mutharika declared more than half of the Southern Malawi a disaster zone following the floods that hit Malawi and parts of Mozambique and called for ‘urgent assistance’ with relief efforts, as most of the poor Malawian families are currently suffering from hunger. In his international appeal for humanitarian aid, Mutharika said that the impact of heavy rains on Malawi’s crop yields was a major concern. “The floods have also damaged hectares of crops, washed away livestock and damaged infrastructure such as roads and bridges. The government alone cannot afford to help so I appeal to the international community for urgent assistance,” said President Mutharika.

Jeffrey Luhanga, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security said that while Malawi harvested a bumper 3.9 million tonnes of the staple maize crop in the 2013-2014 growing season, and had a surplus of almost a million tonnes. But a combination of poor rains at the start of 2014-2015 season, followed by the heavy floods that hit the country early this year have had a devastating impact on the food situation in the country. “Delayed and overall below-average cumulative rains at the start of the 2014- 2015 growing season and the prolonged heavy rains that resulted in floods adversely affected the 2015 harvest of the staple maize,” said Luhanga.

Meanwhile, James Okoth, Resilience Programme Officer at the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said that the effects of climate change in Malawi were hitting women, children and the sick most adversely. “The effects of climate change are hitting most on women children and those who are ill and the only way we can bring dignity to resolving these people’s problems is to incorporate gender and HIV in climate change project,” he said.

Okoth infromed that FAO has started a Euro 5,000,000 programme which seeks to strengthen community resilience to the effects of climate change in four southern Malawian districts of Neno, Zomba, Phalombe and Blantyre, which are greatly affected by climate change. “The project seeks to increase the capacity of Malawian communities to adapt to adverse effects of climate change and contribute to poverty reduction in rural areas,” he said.

The 2030 agenda for sustainable development (comprising of 17 goals and 169 targets), that was recently adopted by the UN, envisages to end hunger (goal 2); achieve gender equality and empower (goal 5) and take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact (goal 13), amongst other things. Member countries, including Malawi, have now to get down to serious work to transform words into action and live up to the commitments they have made.

Madalitso Kateta, Citizen News Service - CNS
October 24, 2015