December 7, 2005

Two shot over food in Malawi as hunger worsens

By Mabvuto Banda

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - Two Malawian youths were shot and
wounded after police opened fire on a hungry crowd fighting to
buy government-subsidized maize amid worsening food shortages
in the drought-hit country, police said on Wednesday.

The shooting late on Tuesday marked the first confirmed
incidence of violence in Malawi's deepening hunger crisis which
has left an estimated 5 million people in need of food aid.

"The two went to the depot to buy maize, but before they
could get that chance people started fighting for maize and
police accidentally shot at the crowd, seriously injuring the
two," southern province police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said
by telephone.

Manjolo said police had meant to shoot over the crowd but
had fired too low.

The victims, a 13-year-old and a 20-year-old, were in
serious condition at the district hospital in Nsanje, a rural
town in southern Malawi about 170 km (106 miles) miles from

A local child welfare official blamed the shooting on maize
shortages in the district, ranked by U.N. agencies as the worst
hit in the country.

"The problem is that there is not enough maize. People
spend days and nights outside the depots waiting to buy maize
and when it arrives (the crowd) is uncontrollable," said Paul
Jofilisi, the child protection officer at the district welfare

Malawi is the worst hit of six southern African countries
facing their fourth consecutive year of poor rains, inadequate
supplies of fertilizer and seeds and a devastating AIDS
epidemic which is killing off subsistence farmers.

Last week government announced it had bought 60,000 metric
tones of maize for free distribution from South Africa to help
ease shortages in the southern African country.

Government and donors combined have pledged to obtain more
than 230,000 metric tones of maize and around $20 million to
cover distribution costs.

The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC), made
up of donors and the government, said Malawi would need 246,000
metric tones of maize between now and March 2006 to feed people
unable to buy enough food to meet their minimum requirements.

The United Nations World Food Programme said late last
month it was still $102 million short of $400 million needed to
help Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and
Zimbabwe until the next harvest in April 2006