Child hunger climbs as Malawi drought lingers

An boy walks through failed crops and farmland. PHOTO:

An boy walks through failed crops and farmland.<br />PHOTO:

Food shortages are growing worse in Malawi as the yield from this year’s disappointing harvest runs out for many small farmers. Across southern Africa, El-Nino-induced drought and flooding since last year have left over 30 million people in need of food aid.

In Balaka, 47 per cent of residents are facing food shortages. That is the highest figure of all the affected districts across the country. Many people here are down to one meal a day, said 
Anne Matebule, a single mother of four children. She said because of the drought, she only managed to harvest only one 50-kilogramme bag of maize this year. She usually harvests 25 bags and relies on doing gardening and other odd jobs to feed her children.
She said, “my children are suffering. We usually only eat once a day. We can eat twice a day only when I am given sweet potatoes as payment for doing some day labour.”

Thomas Biseck, a health officer in the district, told VOA the number of malnourished children has quadrupled.
“The levels of malnutrition in Balaka are a bit alarming compared to last year. The very same period last year, we had about 12 per cent. But this year, it’s about 52 per cent, which means that as were are scaling up towards March next year, the situation will be a bit out of our control,” he said.

The effects of child malnutrition can last a lifetime. They can lead to stunting and developmental delays and even impact of child’s future earning potential.

The United Nations World Food Programme is funding supplemental feeding programmes at all 13 health centers in the Balaka district.
The beneficiaries receive 4.5 kilogrammes of corn soya blend every two weeks.

Chrissy Mkwamba said she started getting soya flour for her two-year-old daughter because she was underweight.
She said: “Now I can see some improvements.” She added that her daughter has gained one kilo and now weighs six kilogrammes.

WFP Country Director, Coco Ushiyama, said the agency is also encouraging farmers in Balaka to diversify their crops.

“If they can get the message across that it’s not only maize that’s food and that there is other nutritious food that people can eat, these are areas that we have a big momentum to move forward,” said Ushiyama.

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