The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that it faces critical funding challenges in scaling up food and cash-based aid to millions of people facing hunger in Malawi and Southern Africa at large.
This is bitter news to nearly 14 million people in the region facing hunger as the El Niño weather pattern, the worst in over three decades, exacerbates drought, making it even more difficult for people to plant cereals.
Worst affected countries by last year’s poor rains are Malawi with 2.8 million people facing hunger, Madagascar with nearly 1.9 million, and Zimbabwe with 1.5 million people in need of food aid.
In a statement released on Monday, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin expresses concern with the increasing prices of maize in Malawi.
“Food prices across southern Africa have been rising due to reduced production and availability. The price of maize – the staple for most of the region – is 73 percent higher in Malawi than the three-year
average for this time of year.
“I am particularly concerned that smallholders won’t be able to harvest enough crops to feed their own families through the year, let alone to sell what little they can in order to cover school fees and
other household needs,” said Cousin.
WFP suggests that the number of people without enough food could rise significantly over coming months as the region moves deeper into the lean season, the period before the April harvest when food and cash stocks become increasingly depleted.
There is more bad news! One particularly worrying symptom of Southern Africa’s vulnerability to food and nutrition security is the alarming rate of chronic malnutrition, according to WFP.
“Levels of stunting among children in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia are among the worst in the world. This affects children’s physical growth, cognitive development, as well as their future health and productivity,” it says.
Since October 1 2015, WFP it has reached out to about 1.6 million out of the 2.83million food insecure people across the country with lifesaving food and cash assistance.
However, in an update on the hunger response issued last Friday, WFP expressed concern with reports suggesting a worsening food security situation. It said the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee
(MVAC) already instituted a food security monitoring exercise to understand if and how the food needs are evolving.
“Any changes in the food security findings will be used to adjust the response, and the funding requirements as well. As the food and nutrition security situation continues to evolve, WFP also started an innovative real time food price and coping strategy monitoring work,” it said.
According to WFP, with high food and nutrition security needs, the response still requires US$ 21 million (about K14.8billion) to fully meet the most vulnerable until March 2016.
The cyclical El Niño pattern of devastating droughts on some regions and catastrophic floods in others that can affect tens of millions of people around the globe, is already leading to even worse drought
across southern Africa, affecting this year’s crops.