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Sunday 26 February 2006
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MALAWI: Top UN officials see for themselves

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Farmers planted, but the rains failed

MALEMIA, 27 May (PLUSNEWS) - The remote village of Malemia, in drought-stricken southern Malawi, had never seen anything quite like it as a convoy of vehicles, accompanied by a police escort with sirens wailing, arrived in a cloud of dust.

Although fairly large, Malemia, about 100 km from Malawi's main commercial capital of Blantryre, does not get many visitors. On Thursday, however, it played host to James Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, and the newly appointed UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Ann Veneman.

They had come to see the work of the 'Village to Village AIDS Community Better Life Organisation' - which targets orphans, vulnerable children and people living with HIV/AIDS - and assess the impact of Malawi's looming food crisis.

Part of the community-based initiative they visited was a child care centre, funded by UNICEF, which has 828 children aged under five on its books, and dishes out two meals a day of maize porridge, with groundnuts and bananas for added nutrition.

"It is because of hunger that they are here. Their families cannot afford to feed them - the centre acts as their parents," said Chaliza Matola of the Association of Professional Playgroups in Malawi.

"The situation here is serious - usually we grow our own crops to feed the children but now, with drought, we have nothing to give them, and our only hope lies in the donors and other well wishers," she said.

Crop estimates indicate that Malawi's harvest could drop by around 25 percent this season, with the number of people in need of food aid climbing beyond last year's 1.3 million.

The UN delegation met people living with AIDS, who, despite taking antiretroviral drugs administered through the community programme, told the UN officials they were hungry - and, indeed, they seemed frail. "It is important that you eat well - this will also help you live longer," Morris told them.

Malawi has an HIV prevalence rate of 14.2 percent, and an estimated 900,000 people living with AIDS. Around 30,000 children have been orphaned by the epidemic.

The special envoy's visit was the fifth to the region, aimed at drawing attention to the "triple threat" of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and weakened government capacity that has affected Southern Africa since 2001.

Morris and Veneman arrived in Malawi from Zambia, and will go on to Botswana and Zimbabwe, which are struggling with food insecurity and some of the highest adult prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in the world.

After touring the care centre, the UN team left for a World Food Programme distribution point about 25 minutes' drive away, along a dusty, unpaved road.

There, scores of people were queueing for free food. Villager John Tebulo said the community had harvested "nothing because of the drought" - a catastrophic dry spell between mid-January and March that caught crops at a key growing stage.

"I only hope that government is listening to our call for assistance. People here planted on time, but the maize withered before maturity," he told PlusNews as he stood in line.

The Malawi government has set aside an undisclosed amount of money for maize purchases, and has requested financial assistance from the international community to help cover the food deficit, but has not yet issued a formal emergency appeal.

"The problems that I have seen are enormous," Morris told reporters. "Children are without food, and HIV/AIDS is taking its toll."

Although saddened by what he saw in Malawi, he was quick to point out that the situation was "similar in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland".

"Southern Africa needs food diversification; there is also need to follow conservation practices and grow drought-resistant varieties."

Veneman said she was impressed with the way communities were "working hard to assist each other in times of need".

"Despite the little resources that these people have, we have seen that the desire to help the children, and those suffering from AIDS, is there," she commented. "UNICEF will support such initiatives by the communities."


Recent MALAWI Reports
Project aims to put the brakes on spread of HIV/AIDS, 29/Nov/05
New child welfare plan gives stakeholders common platform, 21/Jun/05
Drought, HIV/AIDS weak economy undermine food security, 8/Jun/05
ARV delays could derail national rollout plan, 24/May/05
Impact of hunger hastens spread of HIV/AIDS - new study, 19/Apr/05
AIDS Media Center
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
International HIV/AIDS Alliance

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.

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