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Unprecedented rainfall deficits exists across most of Malawi, despite onset of rains in January

  • Key Message Update
  • Malawi
  • January 2022
Unprecedented rainfall deficits exists across most of Malawi, despite onset of rains in January

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • After an unprecedented poor start to the 2021/22 rainfall season, Malawi started receiving significant rains through most of January, with rainfall in multiple 10-day periods exceeding long-term means. However, parts of central and northern Malawi continued to receive below-average rainfall. Further, in southern Malawi, below-average rainfall was recorded in this period, reversing the relatively positive start to the 2021/22 rainfall season for the region. Despite improvements in the current rainfall performance, remote sensing data suggest that all three regions are facing near historic cumulative rainfall deficits to date. The October 2021 to January 2022 period is reported to be one of the driest periods for the country since 1970, with the central region of Malawi experiencing one of the worst droughts on record. FEWS NET science partners and other international forecasts indicate rainfall deficits are likely to continue through the remainder of the 2021/22 season, further increasing the risk of a below-average harvest in March and April 2022.

    • Between January 24 and 26, southern and parts of central Malawi experienced torrential rainfall from Tropical Storm Ana, leading to widespread flooding. According to Rapid Satellite imagery analysis by World Food Programme (WFP), the flooding has impacted approximately 67,000 people and damaged about 22,000 hectares of cropland. Initial reports indicate the impact is reportedly highest in the southern region, notably the districts of Nsanje, Chikwawa, Mulanje, Phalombe, and Machinga. However, field assessments are just starting with many areas still inaccessible due to floodwaters, destroyed road networks, and governance system disruptions caused by the tropical storm. Overall, the damage to infrastructure, cropland, and disruption to livelihoods will likely negatively affect poor households in southern Malawi.

    • FEWS NET price monitoring and projections show that retail maize prices are increasing at expected seasonal trends but remain below the five-year average and 2021 prices. Price trends were split across FEWS NET monitored markets, with prices increasing by between 6 and 24 percent in half while remaining stable in the rest. Despite seasonal increases, the prices trended between 12 and 28 percent below their 2020 prices and between 15 and 27 percent below the five-year average. Notable markets where prices have increased include Jenda and Karonga in northern Malawi; Lilongwe, Ntheu, and Mitundu in central Malawi; and Phalombe and Lunzu in Southern Malawi. December 2021 maize prices ranged from 130 to 175 MWK per kilogram, with the lowest prices in northern markets followed by central markets and highest in southern Malawi markets. In comparison, last year’s prices were much higher ranging from 160 to 220 MWK per kilogram.  Given the poor performance of the rains and concern of a below-average harvest in March-April, traders are likely holding supplies, which may put upward pressure on retail prices in the coming months. However, current prices remain favorable for market-dependent households, maintaining the relatively high food access experienced in 2021.

    • Very poor households in the Lower Shire livelihood zone districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje have received cash-based humanitarian food assistance since late-December through January 2022. The humanitarian assistance program is covering 20 percent of the population in each district, targeting very poor households that were expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance. Each of the targeted households is receiving the cash equivalent (currently 18,000 MWK) of a monthly food ration. The humanitarian food assistance program is programmed to continue through March 2022.

    • Malawi experienced harsh drought conditions in the October to December 2021 period, with a high likelihood of below-average rainfall through the January to March 2022 period, marking the rainy season's end. However, in January, the country continued to register favorable food security outcomes, with most poor households facing No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1) due to the higher supply of maize in households and markets from the preceding favorable season, and lower than average prices for the maize staple, mitigating the negative impacts of below average agricultural labor opportunities. In the Lower Shire livelihood zone, improvement from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) with ongoing and planned humanitarian food assistance. Overall, the March/April 2022 harvest will still lead to seasonal food security improvements across the country, and the most severe impacts of the poor seasonal will occur after the current projection period during the 2022/23 lean season, but food assistance needs will begin to increase in late 2022.  

    This Key Message Update provides a high-level 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. Learn more here.

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