Malawi drought: the cycle of hunger and poverty

Rose squats down and scrubs her cooking pot. The pots have never looked this clean now that she finds she has so much extra time on her hands.

Like many in Malawi, she has been affected by the recent drought which has caused crops to fail across the country.

“I usually provide for my family with maize from the fields,” says Rose. “But this year with the drought, it has been destroyed and we now have to live day by day.”

In a good year, Rose would manage to harvest around 10 bags of maize to feed the family. That was supplemented with money they got from working for others, but even that kind of work is hard to come by these days.

“With the extra time I have now, I hunt around for casual labour jobs to make some money for food,” says the 59-year-old mother of seven. “The last time I worked was last month, for two weeks, drawing water to make [mud] bricks for someone’s house.”

Rose is not alone in her difficulties. This year, three-quarters of her village have been unable to harvest their crops. Malawi has officially declared a state of national disaster after two years of a lethal combination of flash floods and droughts that have destroyed crops and left nearly three million people without adequate sources of food.

Rose is one of over 8,000 people in the district who are now surviving on monthly cash distributions provided by CARE that are aimed to help people buy basic food supplies such as maize, beans, lentils and cooking oil from their local market.

But now, even cash distribution is challenging. Cash recipients like Rose face challenges with rising prices for products like maize, which is the staple of most Malawian’s diets. More people are forced to buy maize where they would have previously grown it. With less maize available to sell, traders are increasing their prices.

As a result of the rising prices for seed, last month, Rose wasn’t even able to buy a full bag of maize with the money she received through CARE.

“Normally a bag of maize would cost 9,000 Kwacha (around $16 CAD), but now with the drought it is between 15,000 and 17,000,” notes Rose.

The family is trying to make ends meet, but it is difficult. Rose says she has seen a rise in the cases of sickness among the children.

“We try to always have one meal a day,” she says. “Last week for four days we skipped lunch and just had supper instead, because it can be hard to go to sleep if you haven’t eaten.”

“I foresee trouble,” Rose adds with a sigh. “We will wait for what will come, but it seems death could be imminent.”

Families like Rose's desperately need your help to ensure they have enough to eat.