Although the Malawian government has officially declared Nkhata Bay North to be food secure, our experiences over this past year have shown high levels of hunger and food insecurity. In order to discover just how badly the area has been affected by drought, we’ve recently completed a survey of households in the communities we support. Worryingly, here’s what we found:
Increasing Food Prices
As expected, food prices have risen. Maize – the staple food of the area – now ranges from 3,500 MWK (£4) to 5,000 MWK (£5.70) a bag. Other foodstuffs have also suffered similar price increases, with basics like potatoes now costing around 4,000 MWK (£4.60), and cassava 1,500 MWK (£1.70).
Of course, families still need to buy all the usual necessities, such as toiletries, so putting even further strain on already overstretched household budgets.
Lack of access to food
Lack of infrastructure in the region also increases problems with food access. Not only is less food delivered to the area, but people also need to spend longer travelling to find food. Limited transport is why many people pay extortionate rates for food or just go hungry.
Hunger and malnutrition
An immediate response to the lack of food was to eat less and skip meals: whilst this means that what food there is lasts longer, it has also led to increased levels of malnutrition. We’re concerned that, as lack of food impacts on people’s health, outbreaks of disease will increase, worsening the pressure on already strained local healthcare systems.
Whilst some families have relatives living elsewhere who are able to send them money, others are less fortunate.
In order to make ends meet, many people – including children – have turned to piecework as an alternative source of income. As well as being inherently insecure, such work is often very physical – meaning that those who are elderly or disabled find it hard to do, so increasing the pressure on their families to provide for them.
By working to support their families, rather than going to school, children’s education is at risk, with long-term implications for opportunities to break the poverty cycle.
People are also trying to generate an income by fishing, selling their livestock and household items, or working general labouring jobs. Even where there is opportunity for employment, however, wages are remaining stagnant despite rising food prices.
The repercussions of this food crisis go far beyond the immediate impact of hunger.
For some families, the stress of trying to support a household in such difficult times has led to increased domestic problems and marriage breakdowns. Many of those we surveyed also reported rises in theft and prostitution, showing just how dire the situation is for some.
Support our work
Although we provide services focused on HIV, education, agriculture and forestry, and microfinance, we are not a relief organisation. Neither are we large enough to be able to support these communities by ourselves – so, please consider either donating or fundraising to help us continue our invaluable work in the Nkhata Bay North area.