The help promised to Malawi and similar countries cannot wait any longer

Just a few days ago, the governments of the world met in Marrakech in Morocco for the latest United Nations' talks on climate change.

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland
Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland

That they did so in Africa is highly significant and painfully timely. Across the continent, climate change – made worse by the weather phenomenon known as El Niño – has driven tens of millions of people into hunger this year alone.

The cruel irony is that those paying the appalling human price for climate change did barely anything to cause it, unlike those of us living in developed countries like Scotland.

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A year ago at the Paris climate talks, rich countries agreed to support poorer countries adapt to climate change – but the level of funding committed falls far short of what is needed. Yet the level of need is urgent and rising as I saw for myself on a recent visit to Malawi, a country battling southern Africa’s worst drought in 35 years.

Right now, 6.5 million people are hungry – more than the entire population of Scotland. Maize crops, an essential source of food in a country in which nine out of every 10 people rely on rain-fed farming, have been devastated by the drought.

In April, the government of Malawi declared a state of emergency. Oxfam launched an emergency appeal in July to raise the funds we need to respond to the crisis, and all donations are being doubled by the Scottish Government. Right now, the focus is on relieving immediate food insecurity. We are giving families cash to buy food imported to the worst affected areas.

Yet climate change means the number of droughts and floods are predicted to increase in Malawi and with them the need to build the resilience of the country’s farmers to it.

In Liundi village in Balaka district, I saw how even a small amount of support can prevent hunger whilst helping the villagers to develop more sustainable incomes. I met mum of six, Patouma Alisen, who has always grown maize.

“The rainfall has drastically changed and it is unreliable,” she told me. “Last year the rains were poor and I only managed to harvest one bag of maize, and that only lasted for one month.

“I had never experienced hunger before. I used to have enough food throughout the year. Not any more.”

This year, Patouma received vegetable seeds, fertiliser and training as part of an Oxfam project. She no longer goes without food and also grows enough crops to sell some.

Further north, a Scottish Government-funded project near the capital, Lilongwe, has supported the installation of solar powered pumps to help farmers use water from the Lumbadzi River to irrigate their crops.

“We can talk about irrigation but to irrigate you need to have water,” explained Peter Nthenda from Oxfam’s local partner in Balaka, where water is particularly scarce. “So we also need to look at water conservation.”

It makes the training farmers are receiving to trap what little moisture exists in the soil through improved field design all the more urgent.

It is clear that in their battle for survival, the people of Malawi, and elsewhere, can afford no more delays in delivering the help they have been promised. They are suffering from a problem they did not cause. Those who did, including us, must do much more to help.

Oxfam’s Malawi Food Crisis Appeal:
Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland