May 21, 2002

European Commission gives Malawi emergency food aid

The European Commission (EC) has given disaster-stricken Malawi 95,000 mt of food aid to help the country cope with crippling food shortages. The news comes amid calls from aid organisations that unless assistance comes quickly millions will starve in Southern Africa.

In February, Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi declared a disaster and although Malawi's harvests have provided a glimmer of hope for the short term, experts warn that up to three million people will need help until the next harvest.

"The European Commission expresses its sympathy and solidarity with all Malawians facing hunger and malnutrition in this very difficult moment. The EC is therefore determined to assist Malawi in its struggle to alleviate the suffering of its people," a statement said. "The sole objectives of the EC food aid is to save lives during the emergency period, to provide vulnerable groups with safety net interventions and to facilitate the transition between relief, rehabilitation and long term development."

According to the agreement with the Malawi government, 15,000 mt of maize will be distributed between April and September among the most vulnerable. It will give 3,000 mt of Likuni Phala (a maize and porridge mix) to 475,000 children under five and 5,000 mt of fortified maize to 100,000 pregnant and lactating mothers. During the second half of 2002 7,000 mt of maize will be distributed as nutritional support to under-five children, the elderly and lactating mothers.

The EC will reallocate the funds already earmarked in the framework of the current Food Security Programme (FSP) to replenish the Strategic Grain Reserve with around 40,000 mt of maize locally purchased. "This intervention intends to stimulate local production and prevent an outflow of maize due to the regional food needs."

As requested by the Malawi government, the EC will provide around 30,000 mt of food aid "to reinforce the national capacity of response to the current food crisis". This will be complemented with the financial reserve of around US $2,7 million for further purchases around 10,000 mt of food.

The EC is also supporting the nation-wide monitoring of the nutritional status of under five children combined with a food security assessment to provide any relief intervention with up to date and reliable data. The latest intervention, worth US $26,7 million, adds to the current EC US $38,6 million already pumped into a three-year food security programme. The EC announcement comes as other donors closed their purses on Malawi in the face of allegations of bad state expenditure. On May 15, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it would hold back US $47 million of a promised US $55 million until the government presented a revised budget in July. Britain said it would only release the first tranche of funds from a three-year US $109 million deal until the IMF budget approval comes through. Chigomezgo Mtegha, World Food Programme information officer, said the latest intervention by the EC would help alleviate the current crisis. She said a portion of the food aid would be channelled through the UN's children's fund UNICEF and WFP for supplementary and therapeutic feeding centres. The results of a WFP multi-agency regional food assessment is expected to be released in June. (IRIN)

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