From bad to worse. That is the situation Malawi finds itself in following projections in the latest Oxfam report on the food situation in the country.
The report estimates that at least two million people will struggle to find enough food for their survival at household level.
The Oxfam report comes about three months after President Peter Mutharika appealed to development partners, local and international well-wishers to assist government in mobilising resources to feed 2.8 million Malawians facing starvation.
The November report titled Entering Unchartered Waters: El Niño and the Threat to Food Security reads: “Floods followed by drought have cut Malawi’s maize production by more than a quarter. Between two and three million people may face food security crises by February.
“It was the drought that did the most damage to staple food production. Maize production is 30 percent less than last year at 2.78 million metric tonnes [MT]. As the national consumption requirement is three million MT, this means a maize deficit of over 223 000 million MT.”
Reacting to the Oxfam report, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza, while acknowledging that he was yet to see the report, said the hunger situation is a national problem and should be dealt with in a collective manner.
He said: “What you must be saying is what the individuals are doing about that. This is a national problem. It is a national disaster, and what are they doing about [it] because almost every farmer has a piece of land? Government cannot do anything for everybody. That is for sure.
“When there is a calamity, everybody rushes to government. Government can only help wherever it can. ”
Chiyembekeza said government is in the process of procuring inputs for distribution to households to lessen the impact of hunger. He further dismissed reports that government is underutilising water from Lake Malawi.
However, the minister said government has instituted a lot of irrigation schemes which are currently not working due to shortages of water.
The report also comes against a background of erratic rains currently being experienced nationwide, with some areas having prolonged dry spells.
Ellina Kululanga, head of public weather services and spokesperson for the Department of Climate Change Management and Meterological Services, said El Nino seasons bring dryness in the southern part of Africa and wetness in the eastern part of the continent.
In an earlier interview, she said: “Malawi, lying on the peripheral of the east and southern Africa, the Southern Region would continue to experience dry spells while the Northern Region and some parts of Central Region would receive normal rainfall because of proximity to the eastern part.”
Last week, some agricultural development divisions (ADDs) The Nation talked revealed that with prolonged dry spells in some districts such as Chikwawa and Chiradzulu in the Southern Region, the country should brace for another sharp agriculture output drop in 2016 after the 30 percent slump in the 2015 season largely due to combined effects of floods and drought.
In October 2015, World Food Programme (WFP) pledged to provide food to 2.4 million of the 2.8 million households facing hunger nationwide, representing about 85 percent of the needy.
Under the WFP package, 1.9 million people are receiving food assistance and 431 000 were targeted for cash to buy food.
Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) estimates showed that 2.8 million people require humanitarian food assistance for a period of eight months from October 2015.
In January 2015, Malawi experienced a combined effect of drought and floods that caused damage estimated at $448 million. n