IMF  Famine   Food as a Weapon of War

Malawi told by IMF: sell grain to pay debts

Fund accused of responsibility for famine
From David Pratt, Foreign Editor, in Malawi

The International Monetary Fund instructed the government of Malawi to sell its emergency grain reserves to repay a paltry debt of 9 million, and to pursue a disastrous policy of mass privatisation, pushing the country to the brink of the worst famine in its history.

The allegations were made last week by the UK relief agency ActionAid in a special report entitled Death By Starvation In Malawi.

In what has been called the worst humanitarian crisis to hit Africa in a decade, more than 13 million people face famine across six African countries: Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Seven million of those under threat are in Malawi, which is worst hit as a result of financial mismanagement and climatic conditions.

'Ultimately, it appears from evidence that the priority focus of the IMF was the pursuit of fiscal policy reform and this was at the expense of vulnerable communities,' states the ActionAid report.

It says policy directives by the IMF showed aid conditions and bad directives to the Malawi government that played a damaging role in causing famine and death at the beginning of this year. To punish Malawi for failing to accept its advice, the IMF withheld a further $47 million (30m) last month.

Private traders also profiteered from the sale of the grain reserve, buying maize cheaply and hoarding it until prices rose before reselling it for exorbitant profits.

The IMF has denied that it recommended the sale of Malawi's strategic 167,000 metric tonnes of maize reserves just before a crop failure occurred.

'We have no expertise in food security policy and we did not instruct the Malawi government or the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) to dispose of the reserves,' the IMF representative in Malawi, Girma Begashaw, said.

Malawi president Bakili Muluzi declared a state of national disaster in April and has asked for 14m in international assistance for food relief to avert widespread starvation within the next two months. 'The IMF is to blame for the biting food crisis. They insisted the government sell maize from its reserves and requested we abandon our starter-pack agricultural subsidy system,' claimed Muluzi.

Already hundreds of people have died in Malawi and the country has seen outbreaks of cholera.

According to Devline Mosowoya, project co-ordinator at the Alinafe Rehabilitation and Nutrition Centre run by Concern Worldwide in central Malawi, time is running out for relief agencies to respond.

'The window of opportunity during the few remaining months of post-harvest stocks is now all but gone,' he warned.

As he spoke, women nearby carrying tiny, malnourished babies queued at a supplementary feeding station to receive the daily ration that would keep them alive. It is a scene repeated across much of Malawi, while in outlying bush communities and villages nobody really knows the extent of the suffering.

The ActionAid report said: 'The tremendous power wielded by international finance and development institutions such as the IMF, the World Trade Organisation and bilateral agencies makes them duty- holders in the traditional sense of having obligations and responsibilities to the people of Malawi.'

The IMF has countered that Malawi sold the maize after advice from a food consultant, hired by the government in a European Union-funded project.

The ActionAid report comes as a collective of UK humanitarian agencies, the Disasters Emergency Committee, prepares to launch an appeal in a bid to stave off the impending southern Africa famine. Organisations involved as well as ActionAid include Concern Worldwide, Save the Children and Oxfam.

The UN World Food summit ended in Rome on Friday amid criticism at the US's triumph in forcing through policies favourable to genetically modified foods produced by the West to tackle world famine. The summit also criticised the failure by developed countries to end hunger in Africa.

Today Unicef launches its Day of the African Child to promote the cause of children across Africa.

'When children were measured as part of our screening, mothers simply thought they were being measured for their coffins'

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