Malawi is a young democracy with a constitution that enshrines separation of powers, independence of constitutional bodies like the judiciary, upholds the rule of law, and a human rights charter that entrenches the right to equality, liberty and development. Despite this enabling policy environment, systems of democratic accountability, access to justice, and the delivery and quality of social services at both national and district levels remain fragile. Service providers are not sensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable, who are deeply impacted by inefficient and inaccessible social service systems.
Malawi attained the Highly Indebted Poor Country completion point in September 2006. This signalled the Government's commitment to restoring fiscal discipline and improving macro management of the economy. The top leadership has taken an uncompromising stand against corruption and a more enabling environment now exists for investors. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), the country's economic and development blueprint, recognises the need for greater leadership and accountability from Government, as called for by the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, and has signalled its intentions to make the right investment choices for the country to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
The challenge facing Malawi is how to leverage improved fiscal discipline and the promise of the MGDS to promote economic growth and reduce poverty. For all the strides made in recent years, the country still ranks among the poorest in the world. More than half of the country's 13.2 million people live in poverty, earning less than a dollar a day. The prospects for child survival however have improved over the past few years, thanks in part to prudent economic management, stable macroeconomic conditions and soaring agricultural production.
The country's bumper harvets in the last few years, brought about by favourable weather and the Government's policy to subsidise fertiliser to smallholder farmers, have reduced the country's dependence on food imports. These harvests, however, have not completely eliminated hunger, which is still prevalent in some areas. Malnutrition rates in Malawi remain among the highest in Africa. The prevalence of chronic diseases like malaria and diarrhoea among children mean that a sustained effort is still required if Malawi is to remain on course to achieve the MDG Goal number 4 of a two-thirds reduction in young child deaths.
Gender inequality remains unacceptably high, reflecting profound inequalities in ownership of assets and access to services and opportunities. The richest 10 per cent of the population has a median per capita income that is eight times higher than the median per capita income of the poorest 10 per cent, the majority of whom are women. These inequalities have resulted in low female literacy, high HIV infection rates among girls and women, and intolerable incidences of gender-based violence. Girls and women are also subject to discriminatory cultural practices such as early marriage and the loss of inheritance when orphaned or widowed.
Since the introduction of multiparty democracy in the early 1990s, Malawi has seen the growth of a robust and independent press. The media has often been critical in ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs. It also continues to play an active social role, often partnering with UNICEF and the entire UN family in creating awareness and advocacy.
Photo essay: Cash transfers for the ultra poor
Learn more about the plight of ultra poor households in Malawi and what UNICEF is doing about it, depicted through photos.
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VIDEO: Cash transfer programme helps the poorest families in Malawi survive
7 September 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Kusalo Kubwalo reports on a cash transfer programme reaching out to impoverished families in Malawi.