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One million children in Malawi face the worst food crisis since 1991


Geneva, 20 September 2005 - Children in Malawi continue to face high levels of vulnerability. This year, inadequate rainfall and a poor harvest have led to the worst food crisis since 1994. Approximately, 4.2 million or 34 per cent of the population will not be able to meet their minimum food requirements from now until the next harvest in March 2006. Of these, an estimated one million are children under the age of five and pregnant women.

The increased demand for food, especially maize, is beginning to force maize prices up. If prices continue to rise many more households, especially the poor, will be unable to meet their needs without assistance.

The current food crisis has been compounded by a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and chronic poverty. Poor health conditions and malnutrition needs to be addressed in tandem with food aid. All of these factors have exhausted the coping mechanisms of the most vulnerable households, while severely undermining their hopes of a more secure future. This year the production of maize, Malawi’s most important staple crop, decreased by 29 percent.

To address the humanitarian crisis in Malawi the United Nations firstly has to deal with the immediate food crisis and secondly, increase local production, which will help to minimise another food crisis next year.

Issued at the end of August, the UN flash appeal is for US$ 87.8 million of which US$ 51.3 million is for food aid and an emergency programme to meet immediate needs and US$ 36.5 million for farmers for the October planting season. As part of the flash appeal, UNICEF is seeking US$2.5 million to:

* Provide therapeutic feeding to severely malnourished children.
* Nutritional screening and surveys to identify malnourihsed in the communities
* Supply vitamin and mineral supplements to severely malnourished children and breastfeeding women.
* Support school feeding activities in 249 schools of ten districts.
* Distribute information materials on early sex, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, sexual rights, sexual abuse and exploitation at food distribution sites.
* Pre-position emergency drugs, including oral rehydration salts and chloride for water treatment, and supplies to counter any disease outbreaks, especially cholera.
* Protect children and women from sexual and economic exploitation resulting from the desperation of parents and guardians during this crisis period.

So far, UNICEF has received some $1.8 million from the appealed $2.5 million.

The preliminary results from the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey show a very poor nutritional status of children. Some 48 percent of children under five in Malawi are stunted; five percent are wasted or severely malnourished and 22 percent are underweight or malnourished.

Children’s nutritional status in 2004 was found to be virtually identical to the status in 1992 and 2000, indicating that there has been no
improvement in the nutritional status of children under five since 1992. The situation is aggravated by the impact of AIDS. One in three severely malnourished and two in five malnourished children in paediatric wards are HIV-positive.

Malawi has an extremely high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, which affects an estimated 16.4 percent of people aged 15 to 49 and accounts for some 70 percent of hospital deaths. Some 400,000 children under age 15 have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS; many of them now cared for by relatives who are already under economic hardship.


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