June 8, 2005

Drought, HIV and weak economy undermine food security

The impacts of drought, HIV/AIDS and a weak economy have combined to undermine already vulnerable households in Malawi's rural areas. James Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, highlighted this 'triple threat' on a recent visit to the region that included a stop in Malawi, where he called for a renewed international response to the crisis. Chikwawa district, south of Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre, is one of the areas affected by the prolonged dry spell that has decimated the maize crop, a staple food. The impact of HIV/AIDS has meant that many children in the district are forced to fend for themselves, at a time when hunger threatens large parts of the country. Penelope Howarth, head of the World Food Programme (WFP) suboffice in Blantyre, informed that many villages in the district had "harvested next to nothing" that year and people were surviving on wild vegetation and seeking out ganyu (piece work) across the border in Mozambique. "Others are diving for water lilies - the danger is that there are a lot of crocodiles in the river," she added. Sam Sheku, a WFP field liaison officer, said people had to dive to the riverbed to get the edible roots of the lilies, and Howarth noted that "six members of a family died recently because they ate the wrong kind of lily". She added that "even those with money have not been able to buy sufficient maize on the markets", as traders were "selling small amounts of maize at a time", and pointed out that "two kilograms of maize will last about a day for the average family". (IRIN)

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