Aid chief warns of looming Malawi disaster

HUNGRY Malawians have resorted to eating ants and poisonous roots in a desperate search for food across their country.

An expert visiting Ireland said the threat of famine remained serious and as many as five million of the country’s 12 million people still faced starvation.

Ernest Misomali, Malawi country director with Irish development agency Self Help Development International, said the international community needed to step up its emergency aid.

Malawi normally has a rainy season running from November to March, but last year the rains disappeared in January and the harvest was halved, leaving food supplies critically low.

The government set up food distribution centres but supplies were so low that most people had at least a day’s walk to a store followed by a 4-5 day wait for a meal.

It is the rainy season once again now, but rainfall has been below normal and many of the farming communities who should be planting now have left the land to gather around distribution centres.

Mr Misomali said: “During the rain, the ants come out of the ground and people are taking them as a meal... Some people are eating only mangos for every meal.

“I know of one family that went to the forest and took up a tuber to cook. It was poisonous and all six people in the family died.

“Elderly people die in their sleep and if you go into any hospital, the children’s wards are full of children who are suffering malnutrition.”

Mr Misomali said the Malawian government was partly to blame by failing to call for help before last October when the scale of the impending crisis was evident as early as May.

“We are saying everybody must get involved. Let us not just depend on donor aid,” Mr Misomali said.

“If the international community helps now with this emergency, it will, I hope, be the last time.”

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