James T. Morris, the U.N. Special Envoy for Southern Africa, on Saturday praised the Government of Malawi, UN agencies, and non-government organisations (NGOs) for helping to stave off food crises in the last few years but urged all actors to now embrace other challenges facing the country.
Malawi, like the rest of southern Africa, walks a tightrope every year waiting to see whether rainfall is plentiful enough to ensure a good harvest
James T. Morris, the U.N. Special Envoy for Southern Africa
Malawi was one of the worst drought-affected countries in the region in 2002, when nearly five million people faced starvation.
Over the ensuing years, some improvements were recorded but in 2005/6 the country’s resolve was again tested following an extended dry period that caused widespread crop failure, primarily because of a dependence on rain fed agriculture and a lack of adequate irrigation.
Rich in water resources
“Malawi is rich in water resources and needs to find sustainable solutions so that when rains are erratic there is a system in place to fall back on,” said James Morris, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa.
“This region already faces major challenges because of HIV/AIDS, if we could take food insecurity out of the equation then real development objectives could start to be met.”
Malawi’s maize production this year totalled 2.6 million tons, which was an historic high and a 100 percent improvement on the 1.3 million tones produced the previous year.
The turn around was attributed to favourable weather conditions and subsidised agricultural inputs scheme.
Despite the better harvest, 833,000 people will need assistance due to chronic poverty and the impact of HIV/AIDS.
In addition, 148,000 people are at risk of not meeting their food needs if the household economy deteriorates further.
Because of the lower number of people in need of food assistance, Malawi now has a rare window of opportunity to examine ways of mitigating and preventing crises from occurring.
During his trip to Malawi, the second leg of a five country visit, Morris met with government ministers, agencies of the United Nations system, NGOs, and donor representatives.
The Special Envoy also noted that the country would not have succeeded in averting these food crises if it were not for a well coordinated UN and NGO sector working in close collaboration with Government and donors.
Morris, who is on his eighth and final trip to southern Africa, arrived in Malawi on the eve of Human Rights Day.
“Malawi, like the rest of southern Africa, walks a tightrope every year waiting to see whether rainfall is plentiful enough to ensure a good harvest but attention must also be paid to ensuring clean water, sanitation, agricultural reform, education, healthcare and the environment do not lose out,” Morris said.
Basic human rights
“Access to all of these areas should be considered basic human rights and a priority for children and those affected by HIV/AIDS,” he added. “Now is the time to look forward and put long-term solutions in place.”
An estimated 44 percent of children under the age of five are stunted due to chronic malnutrition. In addition, there are about one million orphans in Malawi, half of whom have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.
Morris noted the impressive progress that has been made in increasing antiretroviral rollout in Malawi, from 8,000 people receiving the drugs in January 2005, to 70,000 people this month.
Lower life expectancy
Average life expectancy has declined to 37.5 years of age, primarily because of the impact of HIV/AIDS and the increased availability of these drugs will help keep people alive and families together for as long as possible.
Morris was appointed UN Special Envoy for the region in July 2002, several months after being appointed Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. He will retire from both posts early in the New Year.