Much as it is distressing that 52 years after independence we should continue talking about food scarcity in Malawi, it remains a fact that 6.5 million lives are at stake and need food aid this year up to early next year due to natural disasters that befell us.
According to the 2016/2017 Food Insecurity Response Plan which President Peter Mutharika launched two weeks ago, the total response plan requires $395 million.
Of this, $307 million is for assisting the affected people with relief food.
We are also told that so far the available funding is $116 million, out of which $50 million has been contributed by Capital Hill—meaning that there is still a funding gap of $303.8 million to meet the cost of the whole response plan.
But despite this shortfall which government is still sourcing, it gives hope to see Vice-President Saulos Chilima back in the thick of things launching the distribution exercise in Nsanje on Thursday while assuring that his Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) was in control.
I would give Chilima’s assurance the benefit of doubt because he has been in these muddy waters before and managed to come out clean in 2015.
He rolled out an unprecedented response plan while his department managed to account for the money given—well, at least so far there has not been any serious scandal from last year’s response efforts.
The department also made information easily available to the public mainly through the press.
Like he said in Nsanje, the exercise has started with Nsanje because it is the worst hit district and that soon the same initiative will roll out to other districts depending on impact.
We have been told by the Vice-President that government has engaged World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Non-governmental Organisation consortium led by Save the Children to implement the response programme through local NGOs operating in the respective affected districts.
We are also told that some of the affected people will be assisted with food while others will be assisted with cash which they will use to purchase food.
Here is where caution has to be taken seriously, Mr. Vice-President. We want these food items and the cash to be in the hands of the beneficiaries.
Chiefs should not hijack the process and steal from the hungry. Party cadres must stay away. Government officials should not steal these resources.
Your department, just like in the previous operation, must once again show us that it can be transparent with both the resources and information.
And because you will be providing cash to some beneficiaries, we take your assurance that government will ensure that maize is available in all Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) deports seriously otherwise it will be a mockery for one to be given cash and has nowhere to buy food.
So, we are here watching as the government embarks on the noble task once again, but let us keep reminding each other that 52 years after independence as a nation we need to sort out the food crisis once and for all—with or without disasters.
Yes, as a country, we could be here blaming the natural disasters, but surely there is still something that we are getting wrong for us to be perennial beggars.
I am forced to end with a quote by Amakobe Sande, Acting United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator during her speech when President Peter Mutharika launched the response plan that the food insecurity crisis in Malawi is weather and climate change related, but it is also exacerbated by failed policies.
“The importance of functioning markets for both food security, nutrition, as well as agriculture growth [cannot be overemphasised]. Legal frameworks and policies should be in place to protect both producers and consumers. In order to protect the very vulnerable people, it is vital that these policies are enforced as well. At the moment, both the production and the consumption side are heavily subsidised”. n