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Action needed now to avert starvation

Feeding programmes to assist the poor should begin soon to prevent starvation, and possible death, by the end of the year, World Vision relief manager for Malawi, Elton Ntwana, warned on Wednesday.

His warning followed the release of a World Vision nutrition survey conducted in part of the Machinga District from 2-8 October. The survey, using a height-for-age formula, found a global acute malnutrition rate of 31.8 percent among children between six months and five years old.

Using the same formula, a severe acute malnutrition rate of 8.8 percent was recorded. According to the survey, the malnutrition rates in the area could reflect nutrition levels elsewhere in the country too.

"If people will only act when the malnutrition rate is very high, children will die. If any assistance is needed, programmes should start now so that by December people can get food," Ntwana told IRIN. According to the survey, about 75 percent of respondents at the Nayuchi Area Development Programme in Machinga, where the survey was conducted, had no food reserves. Only 20.8 percent had food until December.

Flooding and drought earlier this year led to Malawi, a maize-deficit country, experiencing severe shortages of the staple food. The government said in September that it would need to import at least 180,000 mt of maize to meet the shortfall and said early in October that it planned to distribute about 60,000 mt of free maize to the most vulnerable. Already, the government, in conjunction with aid partners, had begun distributing free seeds and tools to boost next year's harvests.

Lucius Chikuni, Malawi's Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation, told IRIN on Wednesday that the free maize would be distributed once a vulnerability assessment being conducted by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and his department was completed.

"Ideally we should have started in November, but we are in the process of doing the assessment. Definitely, by the beginning of December we should be on the move," he said.

"The distribution has to run for six months ... We will be targeting extension planning areas which are, according to FEWS (USAID's Food Early Warning Systems) data have shown severe food shortage situations. Currently there are 28 such extension planning areas," he added.

Chikuni said while it was still unclear where the 60,000 mt of maize would come from, it was hoped that WFP and the government would pool their resources and come up with the food. Other maize being imported is headed for Malawi's commercial markets.

According to World Vision's survey, however, Malawi's children need more than just food aid to grow and develop healthily. The survey said the proportion of stunted children was "extremely high" at 31.8 percent, reflecting ongoing problems. "Some of the causes may include inadequate dietary intake and frequent infections such as malaria, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and HIV/AIDS," the survey found.

To deal with this problem, it added, more long term development programmes were needed to alleviate the living conditions of people in Nayuchi. It also recommended the implementation of food-for-asset programmes for families with no food until the next harvest, the strengthening of WFP supplementary feeding programmes and the continued monitoring of the precarious food security situation in the country.

For more details on Malawi's food shortage click here

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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