Almost two million people have now been affected in just three months by an epidemic of malaria in Burundi, according to the nation's health ministry.

On Monday (13 March), Health Minister Josiane Nijimbere declared there was an outbreak of the mosquito-borne infectious disease, which has mostly affected the East African country's northern regions, including the provinces of Cankuzo, Gitega, Karusi, Kayanza, Kirundo, Muyinga, Ngozi, Rutana and Ruyigi.

The minister confirmed that "about 700" people have died from the disease so far this year – an average of almost 10 deaths every single day.

Between 1 January and 10 March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said authorities have registered 1.8 million infections across the country, which is home to around 11 million people.

Nijimbere said these figures represent a 17% rise over the same period in 2016. Last year, an estimated 8.2 million people were infected, with about 3,000 dying from malaria.

The WHO declared the epidemic an "unprecedented crisis", and UN officials and medical sources quoted by AFP said Burundi's stock of anti-malaria drugs is nearly empty. Appealing for international financial aid, Nijimbere estimated the cost of fighting the epidemic at $31m (£25.3m).

While the minister attributed the epidemic to climate change and the spread of rice cultivation in marshlands, food insecurity may also be linked to the rise of malaria.

A deteriorating economy coupled with the violent aftermath of the 2015 elections that left some 1,400 dead, caused displacement and disrupted how people manage their livelihoods has inflamed food insecurity in Burundi. The United Nations in January warned that 3.8 million people – 40% of the population – were in need of food assistance, worth more than $73m.

"When someone has not sufficiently eaten his body becomes weaker and does not resist to outside attackers so it can be linked," Nijimbere said. Burundi's northern regions mostly hit by malaria are also the most food insecure.

With people pushed to move by the food crisis, malaria has spread to previously spared areas, especially at higher altitudes.