More than $9 million boost to meet food shortages

Drought-stricken Malawi, which has suffered its worst harvest in a decade, is to benefit from more than US $9 million in aid donated by the United Kingdom.

The government will use a portion of the much-needed funds to secure 60,000 mt of maize from South Africa; the remainder will go to helping the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) feed 3,500 severely malnourished children aged under five each month, and subsidising the sale of high-yield maize seeds to 700,000 farmers, said a British government press release on Tuesday.

At least 4.2 million Malawians, or 34 percent of the population, are at risk of food shortages. Drought and late delivery of fertilisers and seed have caused the latest food crisis in Malawi.

Hilary Benn, the British Secretary for International development, noted, "The UK has now provided over $82 million of humanitarian relief to Southern African countries this year, including Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. We are also looking at proposals for Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. I have written to my EU counterparts to urge them to contribute in response to the UN appeal to this developing problem."

The British donation is in response to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's appeal to 27 heads of state, the European Commission and the African Development Bank in early August, to raise the alarm over urgent funding to "avert a catastrophe" in drought-stricken southern Africa, particularly Malawi.

According to the World Food Programme, at least 10.7 million people in the region will need food aid in the lean season, which runs from December to March.

"At the Millennium Review Summit I will be putting forward the case for a standing fund to deal with humanitarian crises. The UK is willing to give up to $100 million to get it started," Benn announced.

Goodall Gondwe, Malawi's Minister of Finance, welcomed the British aid, saying, "Our planning to deal with food shortages started in March and food distribution has already begun. We are organised to pick up the pace as the need develops during the year.

"This further aid from Britain means that we can reserve additional supplies of maize in case the situation worsens, and distribute subsidised seeds alongside the subsidised fertiliser already included in our budget."