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Flooding and heavy rainfall disrupts cropping and displaces households, increasing the number food insecure

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Malawi
  • February 2015
Flooding and heavy rainfall disrupts cropping and displaces households, increasing the number food insecure

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  • Key Messages
  • Areas Affected by Heavy Rains and Flooding
  • Key Messages
    • The rainfall received in January was double the amount that is typically received during this month, resulting in flooding that displaced households, and damaged and destroyed crops and other assets. This continuous heavy rainfall and flooding has disrupted livelihoods for large populations in the central and southern parts of the country. An estimated 1 million people in 15 out of the 28 districts in the country are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes. These outcomes are expected to continue until June, possibly extending into the next consumption period for some areas.

    • Current humanitarian assistance programming for flood-affected populations is ad hoc and average food prices across the country increased sharply in January because of increased demand. Because the flooding has disrupted livelihoods and limited income opportunities, people in the worst affected areas are experiencing food gaps due to constrained food access. 

    • Regional and local weather forecasts indicate that rainfall for the remainder of the season will be normal to above normal, raising the chances of more flooding and waterlogging conditions which could reduce the yield of the next harvest. 

    • According to reports from the Ministry of Agriculture, the country may face production shortfalls during the next consumption period. Current estimates indicate that over 105,000 MT of cropped maize has been lost due to the flooding and heavy rains across the country.

    Areas Affected by Heavy Rains and Flooding

    Lower Shire Livelihood Zone (Nsanje and Chikwawa districts), Lake Chilwa Phalombe Plain Livelihood Zone (Phalombe, Mulanje, Zomba and Machinga districts), Thyolo-Mulanje Tea Estates Livelihood zone (Parts of Mulanje and Thyolo districts) , and Middle Shire Livelihood Zone (Balaka district)

    Current Situation
    • Between January and February, several livelihood zones in southern Malawi that normally receive 200 to 300 mm of rain, instead received abnormally heavy rainfall that ranged from 400 to 600 mm.
    • Areas in the Lower Shire Livelihood Zone (LSH) experienced the most damage because of their proximity to the Shire Valley River basin and their downhill location. The flatlands in Lake Chilwa Phalombe Plain (PHA) were also hard hit since rivers tend to drain in these flat areas.
    • Due to the heavy and continuous nature of the rainfall and the quick overflow of the rivers, most villages and cropped land in these zones are either waterlogged or have flooded. The flooding caused fatalities, washed away crops and household assets, livestock, and demolished houses (Table 1).
    • The estimated impact of heavy rains and flooding according to a recent report by the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, District disaster reports, and the Ministry of Agriculture District reports include the following:
    • About 20 percent of the total population in these four zones are facing food access constraints due to a reduction and or total loss of their livelihoods due to the heavy rains and flooding. While most households rely on income from agricultural labor, charcoal and firewood sales, crafts and small businesses to purchase food, most these livelihood activities have been considerably reduced or cut off completely.
    • Usually households can access food from irrigated crops and may start to consume green foods by February, however these typical food sources for this period are not available due to the delay in crop maturity as a result of the late start of season, and the damage and destruction of crops that was caused by the flooding.
    • Food supplies that the national grain marketing board (GMB) are providing to most markets are extremely limited and consumers in areas like LSH are buying out market supplies within a few days of restocking. In addition, these ADMARC maize supplies are being rationed at 10 to 25 kgs per purchase. Maize is available in main markets but it is not available in the remote markets due to transportation issues caused by road damage by the heavy rains and floods.
    • National average maize prices increased from about MWK 79/kg in December 2014 to about MWK 93/kg in January, representing an 18 percent increase. The prices in January were about 36 percent below those registered last year at the same time, but 27 percent above the five-year average. Recent district agriculture reports are indicating that prices in flood-affected areas, especially in southern Malawi, have increased to as much as MWK 130 – 140/kg in January and February. These high prices are limiting food access among households that are already facing severely limited incomes during this period due to the flooding.
    • Based on community interviews, households in villages affected by flooding and in displacement camps are reporting severe food shortages, with most people consuming one meal or less a day, or having no meals some days.
    • Households identified as food insecure due to production shortfalls in the previous 2014 season are being provided humanitarian assistance. While households displaced by the flooding and heavy rains are receiving assistance ad hoc and as a result these households cannot meet their daily food needs.
    • Households identified as food insecure due to localized shocks in 2014 will continue to have improved food security outcomes from now until their humanitarian assistance programming ends in March. By April, some of these households in the south may still face acute food insecurity if their crops were also impacted by the flooding and if they lost assets.
    • Households affected by the heavy rains and floods will face acute food insecurity from February to June, and possibly beyond if irrigated crop production is poor this season. Irrigated farming usually takes place from April to July and harvest typically arrive between August and October.
    • Heavy rainfall is expected to continue in southern Malawi, and this will continue to promote further waterlogging of crops and flooding. These conditions will hamper normal crop development and any attempts to replant, which is likely to result in reduced yields this harvest. These heavy rains are also expected to possibly delay the start of irrigated crop production because most of the land is now covered with sand deposits, households have move away to temporary shelter, and many may not be able to afford the necessary inputs.
    • Private traders are expected to provide a steady supply of maize to the main markets. However, remote markets will have difficulty accessing these food supplies due to the damaged road networks.
    • Market will demand continue to increase due to the extended lean season, delayed harvests, and loss of household food stocks due to the floods. This will increase maize staple prices, constraining access to food market purchases due to limited income earning opportunities.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Households benefiting from humanitarian assistance due to production shortfalls in the previous season will face Minimal (IPC Phase 1!) food security outcomes in the presence of humanitarian assistance up to March 2015. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in April because the availability of green harvests and the main harvest will be delayed. These households will then transition to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes from May to June 2015 when they start consuming their own produced food. Households that were affected by heavy rains and flooding will continue facing acute food insecurity in the absence of a planned or consistent and funded humanitarian assistance programming. Households that have lost crops and household assets due to the heavy rains and floods will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes from February to June. These acute food insecurity outcomes could continue beyond June and for the remainder of the 2015/16 consumption season if alternative sources of production, such as irrigated cropping, do not produce enough food. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Table 1. Estimated impact of damage from heavy rain and flooding in four livelihood zones, Feb. 2015.

    Figure 2

    Table 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2


    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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