How one family is coping
with a food crisis

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Home > Food crisis: How one family in Malawi is coping

In June 2016, we visited rural communities in Malawi who are experiencing the region’s worst drought in over 50 years. Doreen Matonga from Unicef Malawi finds out how one family is dealing with the crisis.  

Meet the Dezmata family

Jolita Dezmata is a farmer in Malawi. Her husband passed away four years ago, leaving her to look after their six children. Ever since her husband died, life has not been easy as she struggled to tend the farm and look after the children. One of her sons recently returned from neighbouring Mozambique, with his wife and two children, because of a lack of food where they were staying. He brought his one-year-old daughter, Konja, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

“Her mother is 15,” said Jolita. “They came back four months ago because they needed help taking care of Konja.”

Since late last year, Konja has been having diarrhoea. “When they returned home, I noticed that her health was failing due to the diarrhoea that she had been having,” said Jolita. “She was frail and weak and this prompted me to take her to Dolo health facility for medical treatment.”

One-year-old Konja with severe malnutrition is captured at Dolo Health Centre. She is among many children who have been affected by extreme poverty and hunger in Malawi's southern district of Chikwawa.

One-year-old Konja with severe malnutrition is one of many children who've been affected by extreme poverty and hunger in Malawi's southern district of Chikwawa.
Unicef/Malawi/2016

A life-saving feeding programme

At the health centre, Konja was immediately admitted to a feeding programme, where she has been receiving ready-to-use therapeutic food. This is food that can be eaten straightaway and doesn’t need to be mixed with water. Although the therapeutic food is working, it’s a short-term solution and the food situation at her home is desperate. “We are surviving on water lilies,” said Jolita. “We can’t afford to buy maize on the market every day.”

Since maize is out of reach for Jolita’s family, she wakes up at 4am and walks over 25km with the other women from the village. This walk takes them through the crocodile-infested Shire River, where they collect water lilies and return late in the evening to prepare them for dinner.

“It’s scary. There are a lot of crocodiles in the river, but we don’t have a choice,” she said. “I cannot let my children and grandchildren die of hunger because of the crocodiles. I just have to be brave. The water lilies are scarce this year, and we don’t know what will happen once they finish.”

Jolita thinks back to when her husband was alive. “We have never had a case where any of our children was malnourished. We used to produce enough food but the past two years have been bad, maybe due to climate change.”

One-year-old Konja sleeps while her grandmother prepares water lilies for lunch. The water lilies are the only food they have access to since the drought in Malawi's southern district of Chikwawa.

Konja sleeps while her grandmother prepares water lilies for lunch. The water lilies are the only food they have access to since the drought began.
Unicef/Malawi/2016

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