Malawi Declares State of Disaster Amidst Severe Drought Crisis

Malawi has declared a state of emergency as the Southern African country faces drought in 23 of its 28 districts. This declaration of emergency comes barely a month after their neighboring country Zambia also appealed for help due to unfavorable conditions for production that can cater to the population’s needs. Malawi’s plea for assistance is underscored by President Lazarus Chakwera, who cites the need for up to $200 million to address the current calamity.

The severe drought spell has been attributed to shifts caused by the impact of El Niño, which has consistently led to dry spells based on its phenomenon. The severity is compounded by the fact that a majority of people in Southern Africa rely on food they grow for their sustenance, with corn being a major staple food. However, with low yields, up to 20 million people are anticipated to face dire food insecurity by the end of 2024.

These impacts are widespread, affecting both humans and ecosystems, as well as wildlife, as evidenced by a report from a Zimbabwe national park attributing the deaths of about 100 elephants to the drying up of waterholes. This also indicates adverse damage and degradation to ecosystems due to low to no rainfall in the region.

According to Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, due to continued drought issues, 44% of Malawi’s corn crop has failed, resulting in losses affecting more than 2 million households. “Malawi, with a population of 20 million people, urgently requires about 600,000 metric tons of food aid from international sources to solve the problem at hand before it escalates,” said President Chakwera.

A woman takes maize meal at World Food Programme distribution center in Neno district southern Malawi, Sunday, March 24, 2024. photo by/Kenneth Jali

The factor of drought in Malawi has been mainly attributed to the occurrence of El Niño, which has been causing floods and droughts from the greater horn of Africa to the north and the wider continent as well. El Niño entails a continuous weather phenomenon whereby there is warming of the sea surface in parts of the Pacific Ocean, with impacts felt globally.

Occurrences like these are essential for consideration, especially with operationalized loss and damage, as they openly indicate how the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries are experiencing the worst effects of climate change, even as they contribute the least to global emissions.

According to the World Food Program (WFP), up to 50 million people in southern and parts of central Africa were likely to be facing food insecurity even before one of the driest spells in decades hit. As highlighted by their seasonal monitor, WFP revealed that Malawi, Mozambique, and parts of Angola had “severe rainfall deficits.”

It is important to note that before the national disaster announcements by Malawi and Zambia, the WFP and USAID had already launched a program to feed 2.7 million people in rural Zimbabwe facing food shortages — nearly 20% of that country’s population.

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