HC Deb 05 April 1950 vol 473 cc143-4W
77. Mr. Rankin

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the famine situation in Nyasaland.

Mr. J. Griffiths

The food shortage in Nyasaland resulted from the serious and prolonged drought of 1948–49. This led to a general shortage of food throughout the country and latterly to famine conditions in parts of the Central and Southern Provinces.

During the Autumn of 1949 shortages gradually spread and it became clear that the critical period would probably be from January to March, 1950. In the Northern Province it seemed probable that the people would be able to tide over until the next harvest without extensive relief measures but it was realised that in the Southern Province and limited areas of Central Province that the position would be critical. This had been foreseen from the time of the drought and the necessary preparations were made in good time. Approximately £500,000 was spent on imported food. An African Foodstuffs Commission was set up to organise supply and distribution. Food reserves and distribution centres were provided wherever shortages threatened: relief works were started to provide money for the purchase of food: food was sold at reduced prices and in necessitous cases free issues were made under control: and when the situation in some areas worsened in January feeding camps were opened for those unable to fend for themselves. A feature of the relief campaign has been the voluntary assistance given on a great scale by the Missions, British Red Cross, and other voluntary bodies as well as many private citizens.

On the production side the Government inaugurated an extensive planting campaign in the Autumn to ensure that maximum food supplies should become available from the early 1950 harvests (from March onwards).

In January a rapid deterioration in the condition of the people in some areas of the Southern Province occurred. This deterioration was aggravated by the fact that most of those concerned were affected by debilitating diseases. In some areas the African custom of caring for dependants broke down. Largely as a result of this breakdown a number of deaths occurred amongst old people, middle-aged women with children and others who would normally be cared for by their families or tribes. The number of deaths arising indirectly from famine conditions cannot be accurately estimated but it may have been in the region of 200. To meet this position feeding and reception camps were set up to relieve those who could not look after themselves. These camps undoubtedly saved many lives during February when the famine reached its peak. Early in March the position improved and the worst difficulties were past in nearly all the famine areas.

Demands on distribution centres fell steeply as new crops became available and all the centres will have been closed by the middle of April when the food situation should be normal. The last feeding camp will close on 8th April.

The drought and food shortage have undoubtedly been a major setback in the post-war progress of Nyasaland and our sympathy must go out to the people who have suffered from this stroke of ill fortune. From the evidence I have seen it is clear that the Nyasaland Government have tackled a very difficult situation with energy and ability. In this they have been greatly helped by the local voluntary organisations and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my deep appreciation of the help so generously given by these public-spirited people and of the efforts of all concerned in the relief campaign.