Children face harsh climate

Children face harsh climate

Farmers harvesting greenish maize in Chiradzulu District last weekend personified the desperation to beat biting hunger in the country.

Stricken by hunger, the growers have been hauling fresh maize home to dry it for their daily meal.

“I cannot keep maize in the field while my children are starving,” said Mainess Phiri, piling the greenish cobs in Mazuwa Village.

With deepening food scarcity, the mother of two did not want to lose her meagre harvest to thieves.

From her field the size of a football ground, she recalled how she had to replant thrice due to El Nino weather pattern ravaging southern Africa.

She recounted: “I planted with the first rains in November, but the crop wilted soon after germination.

“I planted again in January, but February brought scorching spells. Sadly, the third crop was ravaged by fall armyworm.”

The stuttering rains left Phiri’s field variegated with crops of different stages.

“This is the first harvest, with two more to come though there won’t be much to show for our toil and pricey fertiliser,” she lamented.

Malawi requires urgent food aid to avert the looming hunger and malnutrition following half a decade of devastating cyclones that scraped maturing crops across the Southern Region.

On Monday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) reported that multiple crises worsened by climate change threaten the lives of 45 million children across eastern and southern Africa.

The overlapping crises include cholera outbreaks, malnutrition, drought and floods.

Unicef regional director Eva Kadilli said: “The climate crisis is a real threat to children and communities in eastern and southern Africa.

“The very elements that children need to survive and thrive, including clean water, food, shelter, learning and safety, are being impacted by climate shocks”.

Unicef warns that extreme weather events result in children becoming malnourished or being forced to work to support income generation”.

“Challenges in accessing clean water expose children to disease, affect livelihoods and cause forced displacement,” said Kadilli

On Saturday, President Lazarus Chakwera declared the State of Disaster in 23 of Malawi’s 28 districts due to El Niño conditions.

Prolonged dry spells across the Southern Region and floods in Nkhotakota and Karonga  districts have severely disrupted food production in the country. Chakwera said the food crisis has affected two million homesteads with about nine million people, including 4.59 million children.

“Specifically, 749 113 hectares of maize have been affected, representing 44.3 percent of the national crop area. Other important crops like rice, soya beans, cowpeas and groundnuts have also been affected, as the full report from the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee will show when it comes out,” he said.

In neighbouring Zambia, President Hakainde Hichilema recently declared a national emergency over the drought that affected about 6.5 million people, including a million children.

This comes on the back of devastating floods that worsened the cholera outbreak which attacked over 22 000 Zambians.

Unicef supports governments in safeguarding malnourished children as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women with prevention interventions such as nutrient-dense food and micronutrient supplements, counselling and cash transfers.

It also supports efforts to build shock-responsive and resilient education systems to ensure learning continues during crises.

As extreme weather is expected to be the norm due to climate change, Kadilli appealed to partners to prioritise investment in climate adaptation and mitigation, including strengthening systems to withstand intensifying climate-related shocks.

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