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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 22:03 GMT
Malawi 'on the brink of starvation'
Malawi map

By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

The Government of Malawi has said that thousands are at risk of dying of hunger-related diseases if food does not reach them in time.


Although I don't have the statistics, we have reached a crisis

Justin Malewezi
Malawi Vice President

It has appealed to donor countries, private companies and non-governmental organisations for urgent assistance as food shortages have reached "dangerous levels".

On Tuesday, Vice President Justin Malewezi said the government did not know how many were at risk.

"Although I don't have the statistics we have reached a crisis," he said.

Babies dying

Mr Malewezi recounted stories of babies dying on their mothers' backs as they stood in long queues waiting to buy corn at Domasi Township in Zomba, the former capital city, 70 kilometres from Blantyre - the commercial capital.

Hungry child
Hunger threatens the lives of thousands of children
Less than half of the 315,000 metric tons of corn expected from South Africa and Tanzania has reached Malawi.

Food distribution has been hindered by heavy floods in two successive years, damaging Beit Bridge on the South Africa-Zimbabwe border and a section of railway-line on the Nacala Corridor in Mozambique.

Mr Malewezi said that 600 metres of railway-line inside Malawi had been washed away.

Accused

The government has also been accused of mismanaging the country's food stocks, having sold a large quantity of corn to Kenya last year when there was a surplus.

Secretary for Agriculture Ellard Malindi told journalists that the food crisis had hit all the three regions of the country.

Hungry family
Children join parents in search of food
It is estimated that between 50 and 80 per cent of farming families in the country face starvation.

A number of schools, especially in the rural area, have closed following the crisis.

The few schools that are open have recorded a dramatic drop in attendance as children stay at home to help their parents search for food.

Survival

"Most families are resorting to selling house-hold items to survive," Mr Malindi said.

Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation Lucius Chikuni said that his department had asked the government for "about $1.4 million" to cope with the situation.

But the government could only afford $56,000.

The rest of the money was expected to come from foreign donors.

But recently several Western governments have ceased aid, accusing the government of corruption and overspending.

See also:

19 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi donors suspend aid
29 Oct 01 | Africa
Malawi facing food shortages
06 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
07 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Ancient lake's climate secrets
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