MALAWI – Malawi has declared a state of emergency due to worsening food shortages caused by severe drought, raising concerns about a hunger crisis spreading across much of southern Africa.

President Lazarus Chakwera announced on Saturday, March 23rd, a state of disaster over drought in 23 of its 28 districts, emphasizing the urgent need for over US$13.67 billion in humanitarian assistance.

This declaration comes barely a month after neighbouring Zambia appealed for help due to drought.

According to the Malawian leader, close to 2 million farming households and 749,113 hectares of maize, representing 44.3 percent of the national crop area, have been affected by the harsh conditions.

“The initial estimate is that close to 600,000 metric tonnes of maize valued at 357.6 billion Kwacha (over US$13.67 billion) will be required for the humanitarian response programme,” Chakwera stated.

Chakwera explained that the declaration follows his tour across the country in recent months to assess the effects of the harsh conditions exacerbated by climate change.

He noted that other important crops like rice, soybeans, cowpeas, and groundnuts have also been affected. The president appealed to both national and international organizations, such as the United Nations family and the World Bank, as well as all other well-wishers, to offer assistance.

Malawi is the latest country in the South African region to have its food supply crippled by a severe dry spell linked to the El Nino weather phenomenon.

This declaration for urgency in food aid follows concerns raised by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) last year, indicating that numerous nations in southern Africa were on the brink of a hunger crisis due to the impact of El Niño.

The WFP highlighted that nearly 50 million people in southern and parts of central Africa were already facing food insecurity even before one of the driest spells in decades hit.

USAID, the U.S. government’s aid agency, stated that more than 20 million people in southern Africa would urgently need food aid in early 2024, partly due to the El Niño effect.

According to the WFP’s seasonal monitor, last month was the driest February in 40 years for Zambia and Zimbabwe, while Malawi, Mozambique, and parts of Angola experienced severe rainfall deficits.

Millions in southern Africa rely on the food they grow to survive, and corn, the region’s staple food, has been badly affected by the drought.

Before the national disaster announcements by Malawi and Zambia, the WFP and USAID had already launched a program to feed 2.7 million people in rural Zimbabwe facing food shortages, nearly 20% of that country’s population.

British charity Oxfam reported this month that more than 6 million people in Zambia—30% of its population—are now facing acute food shortages and malnutrition, with the next crop growing season a year away.

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