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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 15:57 GMT
Malawi declares famine emergency
Malawi map
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By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

Malawi's President, Bakili Muluzi, has declared a state of national disaster because of widespread famine and reports of increasing deaths.

With 70% of the southern African country's population reported to be on the verge of starvation, the president said traditional leaders had told him that food shortages were becoming critical, particularly in rural areas.

The children shall starve to death if I keep them. They stand a better chance of surviving with other people.

Mother-of-five Margaret Phiri
Parents are reported to be selling their children to avoid the responsibility of having to feed them.

In a national address broadcast on television and radio, the president also warned that the food crisis was likely to continue into next year.

He said the crop harvest would be significantly reduced because people had begun eating "green maize" - or unripe corn - instead of keeping it for planting.

'One death a day'

In one desperate case, a mother in central Malawi is reported to have offered to sell her five children to raise money for food. Her sixth child died of malnutrition.

"The children shall starve to death if I keep them," Margaret Phiri, 30, told the state-run Malawi news agency. "They stand a better chance of surviving with other people."

Hungry child
Children are particularly vulnerable
In the southern town of Balaka, police say at least one person is starving to death each day.

Reports from rural areas say people are dying almost daily after eating tubers or leaves.

Old people are simply starving to death.

Vice-President Justin Malewezi told visiting officials from the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday that the government needed an estimated $21.6m to avoid disaster, but has secured only $1.6m.

Government blamed

The United Nations World Food Programme says it is targeting 2.4 m hungry people in southern Africa - in Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as in Malawi.

Malawi's Government appealed to donor countries, private companies and non-governmental organisations for urgent assistance earlier this month, warning that thousands could die if food did not reach them in time.

Hungry family
Children join parents in search of food
Food distribution has been hindered by heavy floods in two successive years, damaging Beit Bridge on the South Africa-Zimbabwe border and a section of railway-line on the Nacala Corridor in Mozambique.

The government has also been accused of mismanaging the country's food stocks, having sold a large quantity of corn to Kenya last year when there was a surplus.

Several Western governments have cut aid to Malawi, accusing the government of corruption and overspending.

See also:

19 Feb 02 | Africa
Famine stalks Southern Africa
19 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi donors suspend aid
06 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
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