According to the UN World Food Program (WFP), up to 5 million people in Malawi need food, with extreme hunger expected to peak in December and January. Malawi is the hardest-hit of six southern African countries suffering a food crisis.
Malawi's HIV/AIDS epidemic, which affects 15 percent of the population, has been exacerbated by a drought that has cut the output of maize, the staple food, by a quarter. Malawi's Mulanje district, with an HIV infection rate of 29 percent, has an especially critical food shortage. John Makina, program director of Oxfam in Mulanje, said families are unable to cope when breadwinners fall ill and cannot work or when households must care for family members with AIDS.
Oxfam currently provides food to 34,000 families in the Mulanje district, and it plans to increase the aid to reach 55,000 by January. Ellen Gama, head of the nutrition rehabilitation center for children at Mulanje Mission Hospital, said the current food crisis is the worst she has seen in 22 years on the job. The hospital has been forced to turn away all but the most malnourished children due to lack of funding. An AIDS orphanage that opened two years ago takes in ten to 15 babies per month until relatives can claim them. "The situation with the orphans is becoming uncontrollable," said Gama.
WFP said over 11 million people in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Swaziland -- countries with some of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world -- face hunger in the coming months.