El Nino drought forces Malawi to declare a food emergency: urgent action needed

The international community must act swiftly and decisively on the Malawi Government’s “declaration of emergency” where people are facing worsening hunger because of El Nino-related drought and country-wide crop failures.

Oxfam, Concern Universal, Concern Worldwide, Save the Children and GOAL said the Government of Malawi’s declaration was a much-needed acknowledgement of the scale of the problem and should send a strong signal to donors to act quickly.                                                                    

John Makina, Oxfam in Malawi’s Country Director said: "Yesterday’s declaration of emergency recognises the severity of the situation in the country. Ordinary Malawians should not have to go to bed hungry every night. All of us - government, NGOs and international donors - need to work together to ensure that everyone has access to enough food for themselves and their families.”

President Peter Mutharika declared the emergency following a crop assessment process conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. This indicates that maize production will be down 12 percent from last year’s poor season, or 33 percent less than the five year average.

The 2015 harvest has been ruined by extensive flooding in parts of the country, and poor rains elsewhere. At the end of 2015, 2.8 million people were facing hunger and food insecurity. This year’s El Nino weather phenomenon, supercharged by climate change, has again left harvests decimated across the Southern Region in particular.

“Climate change will make future weather events like these kinds of drought more frequent. In the face of this - the new normal - we must support people to build their resilience against climate shocks and weather events like El Nino,” said Paul Armour, GOAL Malawi’s Country Director.

The impacts of this El Nino are likely to last until the next harvests in March 2017.

“It is imperative to protect lives in the short term but also to find ways of ensuring that people’s resilience to devastating drought is increased, such as through climate smart agriculture. Greater political accountability and transparency in the investment of funds for food security is also key,” said Concern Worldwide’s Country Director, Caoimhe Debarra.

Malawi is not alone in facing the consequences of El Nino. Much of Southern Africa has been affected, which has brought drought across large parts of the region, and in some areas, flooding. In March, SADC’s Council of Ministers endorsed a decision to declare a regional emergency in response to the drought.

“Together with the government, we will do all we can to support ordinary Malawians,” said Matthew Pickard, Save the Children Country Director. “We need the immediate, swift and generous support of donors and international partners."

Contact information

Daud Kayisi, in Lilongwe: dkayisi@oxfam.org.uk / 00265 999 375 560