NEW YORK — December 21 — The response plan designed by the United Nations and the Government of Malawi is a good effort, but the response in some regions is less than timely and insufficient in scope. This conclusion comes from recent screenings carried out by Action Against Hunger (ACF) teams in the Central district of Kasungu.
High levels of malnutrition
According to MUAC (middle upper arm circumference) screening done in Kasungu District (Central Region), 5.5% of 6 to 9 month-old children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and 8.6% are suffering from global acute malnutrition. These figures are already higher than in the hunger season (between January and March) of a ‘normal’ year. “We expect a progressive degradation of the population’s nutritional status over the coming months,” said Alicia Garcia, spokeswoman for Action Against Hunger.
Interviews in screened households have shown that the increase in vulnerability is related to access of less vulnerable households to enough ganyu (casual labor). Such results are reason for concern considering aggravating factors, particularly food insecurity and access to water and sanitation.
Moreover, admissions to ACF supported nutritional rehabilitation units increased by 15% in August 2005. Compared to the same month last year, admissions are already 70% higher in the Central Region.
Food insecurity in Kasungu district
According to a food security assessment carried out by ACF in September 2005, Kasungu is one of the three districts with the highest food insecurity in the country. The Food Insecurity Index (FII)* is 8 units higher than the September average for 2003 and 2004, reaching a value not seen until January in previous years. Kasungu (Central Region), Chiradzulu and Mulanje (South Region) have values over 60 in the FSI. According to the surveillance system, households’ grain stocks are much lower this year than in 2004: 41% of households in Kasungu have no staple food (47% in Chriadzulu and 57% in Mulanje, while no other district reports more than 28%).
In rural markets, maize prices are increasing rapidly: 1 kilo of maize currently costs 36.1 kw in Kasungu. One year ago, maize cost 15 kw per kilo. Access to maize has become the main problem for the population.
What has to be done?
“While the international community is concentrating its efforts in the Southern Region, many families remain without assistance in the Central Region. The media is barely covering the crisis and the public has not been mobilized or does not seem to care due to donor-fatigue”, says Manuel Sánchez-Montero, operations director for ACF in Spain.
“Lack of good management and hesitant agriculture policies increase the country’s vulnerability to drought and jeopardize fragile production structures,” explains Tony Martínez-Piqueras, desk officer for Malawi. “Moreover, in recent years, international support was around 70% of the national budget. This year, these funds will not be sufficient to respond to the crisis”.
Given these facts, Action Against Hunger advocates for:
1. An increase in public and private commitment to avoid a deterioration of the already alarming nutritional situation during the forthcoming months, especially between January and March.
2. Re-design of humanitarian intervention at field level.
ACF programs are currently financed with ECHO, OFDA and ACF-Spain funds. However, more support is needed to assist the vulnerable population of Malawi: food aid is urgently needed in Simlemba and other deeply affected communities.
The Action Against Hunger International Network calls on the international community to take action to prevent the crisis from deteriorating.
More information on the food crisis in Malawi can be found at:
Action Against Hunger in Malawi
- Food distribution (maize and soybean) for 30,000 people
- Agricultural rehabilitation (intervention based on crop diversification and nutritional education)
- Reinforcement of nutritional rehabilitation units for children under five years
- Nutritional and food security surveillance system
- Technical support to Minister of Health for Nutritional Survey