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Hunger sends early warning signs

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ANXIOUS—Brown (right) holding one of her children

There are fears that some 2.7 million people in Malawi will be food insecure this year which is around 140 percent of the number that faced starvation last year. And as MATHEWS KASANDA writes, in some urban areas, the food insecurity pinch is already being felt.

IT is a warm Monday afternoon in Maganga Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Somba in Blantyre rural. A 58-year-old single lady, Chrissy Mapanga, is sitting in front of her house, her hands resting on her legs.

She silently watches us we approach her modest home in the location that covers part of Blantyre south.

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Mapanga and other four family members have not eaten anything since the previous midday and now their only hope is in the fresh pumpkin leaves boiling in a pot on the veranda of their wind-blown house.

“We often go to bed on empty stomachs. It is a struggle and things will obviously get worse soon. I don’t have money and I cannot engage in any business because I have difficulties walking,” Mapanga laments.

Her grandchildren look up to her for daily meals which do not always come.

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Still, this family is lucky to have some maize flour in the house even though getting nutritious and sufficient relish remains a huge challenge.

But for Esnart Brown’s home in the same village, there is just less than a kilogramme of maize flour in the house which they want to use for preparing porridge for the day’s lunch.

Her husband is not home; he has travelled to seek petty jobs from which he expects to earn a little something for meals. With the Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted into significant reductions in businesses is hitting hard even those seeking piece works.

And elsewhere in Simeon Mtambo Village, T/A Somba, a 79-year-old widow, Edna Saidi, is carrying five small dry fish which she expects to cook for her seven grandchildren.

“One of my children has given me some money that I have used to buy utaka, while another one has given me a small portion of flour that I will use for cooking msima for the day,” Saidi says.

It is a familiar kind of life that several households in this part of the commercial city endure for months prior to the next growing and harvesting period.

Some men who fail to stomach the pressure of providing for their families dump them and travel to other areas, leaving their wives with the huge responsibilities of taking after their children.

Mphatso Maxwell and Rodrick Ngwira told this reporter that as men, they have been greatly paralysed financially since they cannot find petty jobs which were readily available in abundance before the pandemic struck.

The two say some of the villagers are into vegetable farming but their efforts are being challenged by lack of financial support to use for buying pesticides.

“One lady told me that her husband left her after the Covid-19 outbreak which has resulted in economic challenges. Even marriages are breaking up. Some of us remain here with our wives because this is our home village. We have lived here all our lives and cannot move elsewhere,” Ngwira said.

Then we also meet some seven ladies who are on their way from Limbe where they had gone to search for piece works which they never found.

“We departed at 4 am and walked to Limbe where we arrived at 6 am. We went around asking for any kind of job but to no avail,” one of the women, Lenny Banda, explained.

The food challenges that the urban poor are facing are expected to get worse in weeks to come as most of their sources of income have been blocked by the pandemic.

In the meantime, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) is waiting for an assessment report on the food situation in the country expected to be released any time soon by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac).

“We will come up with a response programme to assist food insecure households basing on the report on the food situation by [Mvac],” Dodma spokesperson, Chipiliro Khamula, said.

According to a report published by the committee on October 16, 2019 over one million Malawians were expected to face food gaps and required two to five months humanitarian assistance within the 2019/2020 growing season.

In another report published in the same year, Mvac indicated that the districts that were hit most by the food shortage were in the Southern Region of the country.

For those that have already been hit by hunger like Saidi and Mapanga, any delay in assistance flowing to their side can be dangerous. They don’t know where their next meals will come from and hope the government will come to their rescue as soon as possible.

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