March 14, 2002

Hunger has claimed lives

About 100 people have died from hunger-related illnesses since the beginning of the year, Malawi's Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation, said on Thursday, March 14.

"Yes, there have been reported deaths which are hunger-related. To date that number stands at about 100 since January," said Lucius Chikuni. He said his department was working with aid organisations, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), on an intervention plan following the government's declaration of a food emergency last month. He said an assessment was under way to determine how many people needed help.

WFP said this week that while it was distributing some food to people in need, it hoped to soon broaden its reach with the launch of a new emergency operation, for which it would raise money from donors. While the government and aid agencies plan a broader response to growing hunger, cholera has broken out in parts of the country. Chikuni said hunger in rural areas had forced people into cities, prompting an outbreak of the disease. "Some people from the rural areas are moving into some urban centres in the hope of finding food assistance there and because (of) so many (people being) in one place, the sanitation is very bad. That has caused outbreaks of cholera, mainly Salima, Kasungu and Dedza in central Malawi," he told IRIN. He also said that it seemed as though the situation had improved in the southern regions of the country, where most of the maize had matured by the time the rains stopped about two weeks ago. But in the central region, he said, most of the maize was just beginning to tassle, when the rains stopped about two weeks ago, and crops are now being stunted by drought. "There hasn't been a tangible response (to the government's emergency appeal) yet because the donors have been waiting for credible data and that can only come out of a proper assessment of the situation. What we are doing right now is an assessment," Chikuni said.

Malawi, which usually produces enough maize to meet its needs, is facing one of its worst food shortages. Only about 60,000 mt of the 150,000 mt of maize imported from South Africa has so arrived, mainly because of transport problems. Chikuni said that about 30,000 mt of the staple bought in Tanzania last year was now in the country and would help ease the situation. In addition, a railway line between Mozambique and Malawi had been fixed after six weeks, making it possible to transport about 400 mt of maize at a time. (IRIN)

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