The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, has made a fresh appeal for "urgent donations," to help feed 1.6 million hungry Malawians, saying it was faced with a funding gap of $30.8 million (K862 million).
"Faced with a funding gap of $30.8 million for the relief operation, WFP is appealing for urgent donations so that food can be procured and pre-positioned ahead of the rainy season when remote areas become hard to access," the WFP representative and country director Abdoulaye Diop, said in a statement.
The WFP said last month it needed a total of $48 million (K1.3 billion) to distribute food aid to 1.6 million Malawians who face hunger, especially during the lean periods from December to March, due to crop failure and high food prices.
"We need more funding urgently to get the food in place before the rains and before prices hike," said Diop.
He added: "So severe is the situation that an estimated 1.6 million Malawians will need food assistance in the coming months, eight times as many as during the last lean season."
Britain was the first donor to bankroll the programme, contributing $4.7 million (K132 million).
The WFP said the United States "is making an in-kind donation of pulses and super cereal-a fortified cereal blend- valued at $7.8 million."
As an initial response, the Malawi Government has donated 25,000 metric tonnes of maize, sourced from its strategic grain reserves, targetting the most affected areas.
The first phase of the operation has targeted 200,000 people in three southern Malawi districts of Chikwawa, Machinga and Nsanje, distributing rations of maize, pulses and super cereal.
The current food shortage in Malawi has been blamed on prolonged dry spells, high food prices and economic difficulties. Half the population of 14 million people is said to live below the poverty line and earns less than one dollar a day.
A study conducted by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, a grouping of several government departments, the United Nations, embassies and humanitarian agencies, showed that 1.6 million will be "food insecure" during the lean season between December and March.
Only 200,000 people required food aid last year.
The committee, which recommended a "swift response" to the problem, reported that 15 districts in the centre and south of the country were affected.
Malawi had avoided famine in recent years since late president Bingu wa Mutharika implemented an expensive subsidy programme giving poor villagers access to fertilisers and inputs.