Thursday, December 27, 2007

Crocodiles Make Fetching Water a Life Threatening Experience

by Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Dec 24 (IPS) - Many communities around the world may take water for granted; but for those living along Malawi’s longest river, the Shire, water is something to die for. The 400 kilometre long river is the main outlet of Lake Malawi as it flows south into the Zambezi River.

While the Shire River is the most convenient water source for people living on its banks, it is also home to killer crocodiles. Women and children, required by tradition to fetch water for their households, are most at risk from the crocodile attacks.

"In one area in Machinga, locals estimate almost three deaths a month," states the United Nations Development Programme’s 2006 Human Development Report on Malawi.

Agnes Wilson, now in her late 50s, survived a crocodile attack seven years ago while fetching water from the Shire River in the south of the country. She escaped with her life but lost the use of her right arm.

"The crocodile attacked me just as I dipped the bucket I was using to draw water into the river. The beast tried to drag me to the deep end (of the) river, but I was luckier than others who have died. I was rescued by some men who were passing by," she recalls.

Despite almost losing her life, Wilson braves the crocodiles every day to fetch water. There is no other option for her and her community; the borehole nearest to her village is 15 kilometres away.

"I have just accepted the risk I face every time I go to the river. Either I die of thirst or die while trying to fetch water...I may die fighting for survival if a crocodile attacks me again," says Wilson.

There are no statistics available for the crocodile population in Malawi, but people like Wilson claim there are many, especially in the Shire River.

Traditional leaders in the south of the country, especially those from the Lower Shire Valley, have accused government of caring more about crocodiles than human beings.

Malawi is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which limits the culling of various animals, including crocodiles. Before the country signed up to CITES in 1982, it used to kill about 800 crocodiles annually; under the agreement, this number has now been reduced to 200 per year.

WaterAid, an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps the world’s poorest people gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education, indicated in a 2003 study that up to 44,000 people in the area had no access to safe water and had to resort to the crocodile-infested river for their water needs.

A programme officer for WaterAid in Malawi, James Longwe, says he knows of three women in Machinga who have been seriously injured by crocodiles while fetching water.

"One of the women lost an arm, while the other two have very deep wounds on different parts of their bodies following the attacks," says Longwe.

He says that some communities have lost count of the number of people who have been attacked by crocodiles.

Longwe adds that WaterAid, in partnership with local assemblies and a local NGO called Target for National Relief and Development, is helping communities at risk of crocodile attacks to have access to safe water by providing a gravity-fed water supply.

"We have managed to water to 18,000 people. We hope to reach every one of the 44,000 people in need of safe water by the year 2011," says Longwe.

Crocodile attacks are not the only dangers facing communities along the Shire River.

The water quality from the river is itself poor: waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and dysentery are perennial problems in the area.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recorded over 4,000 cases of cholera, a disease associated with poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene and access to potable water, in the Shire region over a three month period last year.

In its planned Humanitarian Action Report for 2007, UNICEF says it is supporting cholera prevention awareness campaigns, helping construct and rehabilitate wells and sanitary facilities in 400 schools and 150 community-based childcare centres, and undertaking sanitary surveys of water sources.

The agency also says that it is providing buckets with messages in local languages about the safe handling of water and disposal of excreta and solid waste, providing soap and detergents -- and disseminating hygiene messages on prevention of cholera and other diseases.

The Malawi Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Report 2007 indicates that the country is making good progress towards reaching the MDG target which calls for the reduction by half of the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

The report states that access to water resources has significantly improved, from about 47 percent in 1992 to 75 percent in 2006.

"At this rate of change, the projection shows that by 2015 about 94 percent of the population will have sustainable access to an improved water source, which is above the MDG target of 73 percent," says the report.

''Foreign Traders Are Taking Our Jobs''

By Pilirani Semu-Banda

LILONGWE, Dec 19 (IPS) - Foreigners working illegally as small-scale traders are increasingly being regarded as a threat to their local counterparts in Malawi. The outsiders are setting up businesses which, local Malawians believe, are displacing them.

Nadège Shabani, a refugee from Burundi, is a successful businesswoman plying her trade in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. She owns a thriving beauty salon, restaurant and a clothes shop.

She is an example of the foreigners who are being accused of ‘‘taking away’’ business opportunities from locals. Malawians believe that the foreigners possess business strategies and skills which most native traders lack.

‘‘I came to Malawi in 2004 to escape war in my home country. I used the money I came with to set up my businesses here,’’ says Shabani. She started her business with 6,000 dollars. Her ventures are now carting in a profit of about 2,500 dollars per month.

Shabani’s earnings seem like a fortune in a country where up to 45 percent of the population is classified poor, according to the 2007 Malawi Millennium Development Goal report.

When it comes to Malawian businesswomen, only five percent of them are aware of available trade opportunities, according to a 2007 study conducted on behalf of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) by the Federation of National Associations of Business Women in COMESA.

In contrast, Shabani is knowledgeable about different marketing methods and able to identify the most lucrative trade opportunities. ‘‘I am trying to make a living here so I have to be as shrewd as possible. I just have to work hard and employ every strategy which can see me live a better life,’’ she says.

But native Malawians are unhappy with people like Shabani. Grace Kalemera, who owns a beauty salon close to Shabani’s, complains that the Burundian ‘‘stole business from her’’ by establishing her shop so close to Kalemera’s.

‘‘Customers are more interested in sampling foreign services. They go to Shabani’s beauty salon because most of her employees are also foreigners,’’ claims Kalemera.

The Malawian businesswoman blames lack of vigilance by the authorities in effecting laws. ‘‘A lot of foreigners are left to take part in informal trade at the expense of indigenous business people,’’ laments Kalemera.

Trading spots that are close to refugee camps in Karonga in northern Malawi, Dowa (about 45 km north of the capital Lilongwe) and the capital itself are the most popular outlets among refugees.

Last month, police in the north of Malawi intercepted 71 illegal immigrants from Ethiopia on their way to the country’s capital.

But refugees are not the only group of foreigners perceived to be encroaching on small-scale businesses in Malawi. Nationals from China, Tanzania, Pakistan, India and Nigeria have also been accused of trading illegally in the country’s main cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu.

In October this year, the Malawian government launched an operation to address the problem of Chinese and Nigerian traders accused of operating unlawfully.

Trade and Commerce Minister Ken Lipenga was quoted in the media as saying the operation was ‘‘to flush out illegal foreigners’’ and that the influx of Chinese and Nigerian traders was causing a big problem.

According to the government, most of these traders are contravening business licensing procedures for investing in a business by foreigners. A minimum of 50,000 dollars is required before the issuance of a trade permit to a foreigner.

A number of shops owned by Chinese nationals have since been closed down in Lilongwe. ‘‘It is imperative that foreign traders follow the country's investment procedures,’’ Lipenga said.

Between November 26 and December 1, 2007, the immigration department arrested 90 illegal immigrants in a routine exercise which happens every quarter of the year.

The exercise took place in the capital and at the tourist destinations of Zomba and Mangochi in the southern region, according to the immigration department. Traders from Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, China and India were arrested in the operation.

The department says all the Rwandans and Burundians have since been returned to a refugee camp in Dowa as they were found doing business without permits. The remaining foreigners were sent to court to formally be charged with the offence of contravening permit conditions.

According to the immigration department, being found doing business without a legal permit is met with one of two legal responses: the foreigners could have their permits cancelled or they could be deported.

There are over 8,000 refugees in Malawi, according to deputy minister of home affairs, Vuwa Kaunda. He says most of them are in the 18 to 25 age group.

‘‘Our rough statistics show that Malawi has 2,400 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 3,600 from Rwanda, 1,840 from Burundi and about 1,000 Somalis,’’ says Kaunda.

The government, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has just concluded a verification and registration exercise of all refugees and asylum seekers residing in the country.

The purpose of the exercise was to collect and verify information about refugees and their families in the country to ensure that they are known persons to both the government and UNHCR.

All adults are registered and will be issued with identity documents confirming their status as refugees, according to Malawi’s ministry of home affairs.

These identity documents will, among other things, protect refugees and asylum seekers from being confused with undocumented or illegal immigrants,’’ states a press release issued by the government. (END/2007)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Obstetric Fistula: A Medical Nightmare for Malawian Women

December 5, 2007

Pilirani Semu-Banda

Veronica Yakobe has been living a nightmare for more than two decades. Twenty-three years ago, during a prolonged labor when giving birth to her fifth child, the unborn baby was pressed so tightly in her birth canal that blood flow was cut off and the surrounding tissues died. Then a hole or fistula broke through the vaginal walls between the bladder and rectum. Obstetric fistula is serious medical condition which usually occurs during home births or in poorly equipped local clinics when access to emergency obstetric care is not available. Unfortunately, that was the case for Veronica. She has been unable to control her bodily functions since, and leaks urine and feces uncontrollably. In a bitter irony, after all that struggle, her baby was still-born.

These fortunate women await fistula surgery while many others go untreated. The destitute Yakobe, who comes from Malawi’s lakeshore district of Mangochi, became an outcast among her own community - no one wanted to get close to her because of the smell.
“I was forced to flee my own home. I settled on a plot adjacent to a cemetery on the outskirts of my village. I couldn’t stand the taunting from my own relatives and neighbors. Some were calling me a moving latrine,” says Yakobe. Despite her horrific medical condition, she has since given birth to three more children.

In this country where 40 percent of the adult population is illiterate, this middle-aged woman does not know how old she is.

What Yakobe does know is that in the last 23 years since the fistula developed, she has been to three government-run hospitals in the country trying to have the fistula repaired, but has been unable to find a competent surgeon.

Repairing a fistula is a delicate procedure that requires specially trained doctors. Then through a special initiative, a UN organization, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), began providing financial and technical support to some hospitals in Malawi to offer fistula repair. Finally, in June, Yakobe found salvation from the tortures the fistula caused.
Dr. Mark Linden of Nkhoma Hospital, a mission medical center under the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, restored Yakobe’s dignity through an operation. He was able to repair the damage that obstetric fistula had caused her.

“Some women have a combination of both these fistulas,” explains Linden. “They are leaking urine and/or stools continuously.” He worries, “They are often rejected by their spouses and community,”

Linden confirmed that obstetric fistula occurs due to prolonged pressure of the child’s head against a part of soft tissue between the mother’s pelvis. The soft tissue becomes necrotic (dies) from the lack of blood supply and breaks down.

The doctor says that obstetric fistula is preventable. So long as a laboring woman is monitored and transported to a suitable facility in the event of a problem, virtually nobody should have to suffer from it.

“Obstetric fistula is a serious problem in Malawi and repairs are only done in four referral hospitals: in Mzuzu, Blantyre, Lilongwe and Nkhoma,” says Linden. It is not known how many obstetric fistula cases there are, since no major survey has been carried out to assess its prevalence.

Fistula repairs started at Nkhoma in 2001. According to Linden, once they got UNFPA funding, they also began to get private donations and funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) which has enabled them to offer the treatment free of charge. He says the funds cover the patient’s hospital stay, food, and surgery as well as transport home.

Despite all the efforts by doctors like Linden, there is still some bad news: not all patients with obstetric fistula are successfully repaired. In 2001, Nkhoma hospital carried out repairs on 16 patients and 31 percent of those were not cured. Between 2002 and 2006, the hospital has recorded an average of 20 percent unsuccessful repairs.

In Malawi, where up to 65 percent of its 13.6 million people live below the poverty line, there was no means of transportation for 32-year-old Jostino Frank when she went into labor.

With UNFPA support, the Government of Kenya is working to integrate obstetric fistula into the country's ongoing Safe Motherhood programs. © Sven Torfinn/Panos/UNFPA •Frank lives in a village in Dedza, Central Malawi. The nearest hospital is a two hour walk from her home. Her mother-in-law assured her that she would help with a home delivery, but she could not handle the delivery when it became complicated.
“After struggling with labor pains for close to 12 hours, my mother-in-law eventually took me to a traditional birth attendant, but I had already miscarried by the time I delivered,” says Frank. This was Frank’s fifth pregnancy. She gave birth to her first child when she was 18.

Following her ordeal, Frank could no longer control her bladder; the government hospital closest to her home had no medical solution for her problem.

“[All they could do is tell] me to not have sex for six months but this did not solve the problem,” says Frank.

Just like Yakobe, Frank was shunned by her community.

“Only my husband was supportive. He took me to neighboring Mozambique to see a traditional healer but I wasn’t cured. It was only when someone in my village advised me to go to Nkhoma hospital that I got real deliverance,” she says.

It has been nine months since she received treatment and Frank is now three months pregnant. This time, she has vowed to leave her village and camp at the hospital as soon as she reaches her eighth month of pregnancy.

Doctor Linden advises women who have been repaired to undergo a caesarean section if they become pregnant again.

Nkhoma Hospital indicates that one of the major challenges in treating fistula repair is that so few communities are aware that the problem can be treated successfully.

Frank agrees as there are a lot of cultural misconceptions associated with the condition. She says most women with fistula and their families believe that they have been bewitched, which is why they are rushed to traditional healers.

Incredibly, some believe that women who get obstetric fistula are being dealt spiritual punishment for being too lazy to push out and deliver the baby. Others are accused of infidelity.

However the Director for Reproductive Health in Malawi’s Ministry of Health, Dr. Chisale Mhango, blames the high prevalence of obstetric fistula on early marriages that lead to too-early childbirth. He also cites the country’s inadequate infrastructure for childbirth as another significant factor.

We’re failing to cope with maternity cases in this country. Most women have no choice but to give birth at home with no medical care. They only go to hospitals after everything else has failed,” worries Mhango.

He says the government is trying its best to increase infrastructure for childbirth. A related statistic shows that currently 28 percent of mothers say they had not wanted a baby when they got pregnant. He says poor access to family planning services is what leads to this kind of situation.

Mhango says the country is only able to carry out caesarean sections on three percent of pregnant women per year, as opposed to the World Health Organization’s analysis that five percent of pregnant women need it. A developed country such as the United Kingdom in contrast, has gone to the opposite extreme by carrying out caesarean sections on 23 percent of pregnant women every year.

The UNDP says that Malawi is struggling with far too high a maternal mortality rate (over 1,100 per 100,000 live births) and a devastating infant mortality rate of 94 deaths per 1,000 live births.

20-year-old Londina Isaki sits in a waiting ward at Nkhoma Hospital as urine drips down her legs. Ten other women are also waiting to be repaired – some have waited for over two weeks.

Dr. Linden says fistula repair is only one of the many services offered at his hospital and that service delivery has not been easy since the hospital has limited operating time and human resources. Combined with the fact that Nkhoma is a mission hospital, it has difficulties making ends meet and depends on donors for financial support. The medical personnel at Nkhoma are overburdened with every kind of medical case, as it is the only hospital facility serving the needs of a population of 60,850

Malawi’s people suffer terribly from the country’s critical shortages of medical personnel. Up to 120 registered nurses leave the country every year for the US and UK for better-paying jobs. The ratios are staggering: currently, there is one nurse for every 50 patients, but there are even fewer doctors - one doctor is responsible on average for 64,000 patients.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 women develop obstetric fistulas each year and over two million women currently live with fistula injuries. In the meantime, the many women who begin first pregnancies when they are still just young girls and who endure baby after baby in rapid succession until their vaginal walls give out, must just get in line behind all the other Malawians with medical needs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Coffee Industry Gets Brewing Again

by Pilirani Semu-Banda
LILONGWE, Nov 21 (IPS) - Malawi’s coffee producers have come up with innovative plans to kick start the country’s sluggish coffee industry, including the marketing of specialty blends which are uniquely Malawian.

Despite the boom in coffee consumption in many markets, Malawi has in recent years been struggling to find buyers for its locally produced coffee. Out of a total volume of 2,500 metric tons produced last year for the international market, local farmers only managed to export 1,307 metric tons.

There has been a downward trend in Malawi’s coffee bean production every year since 1991, when the country reached a peak of 7,720 metric tons of coffee beans. Coffee growers only produced 3,703 metric tons in 2001, dropping to 2,500 metric tons in 2006.

The Coffee Association of Malawi (CAMAL), an organisation representing cooperatives and large and small commercial farmers, attributes the progressive decline in production to the departure of growers from the industry and the reduction in hectares under the crop.

‘‘Coffee used to be one of the major contributors of foreign exchange earnings but this is no longer the case,’’ says CAMAL’s technical and marketing executive, Peter Njikho. Currently, Malawi’s major foreign exchange earners include tobacco, cotton and sugar.

CAMAL wants to reverse the downward trend by pursuing higher value markets for its coffee. ‘‘Malawi has to search for buyers beyond its traditional reliance on the one or two commodity buyers that have regularly bought from here,’’ says Njikho.

The country’s traditional buyers have been the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany and South Africa. But this year, Malawi coffee has the potential of reaching other markets in Switzerland, the U.S., Canada and Japan.

CAMAL has managed to attract buyers from these countries. One of the selling points is that Malawian coffee tends to be softer on the palate and have lower acidity than its African counterparts.

To push for an increased market awareness of the quality of Malawi’s coffee, CAMAL has joined forces with the Malawi Investment Promotion Agency (MIPA), the United Nations Development Programme’s Growing Sustainable Business (GSB) programme and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

GSB broker Jan Willem van den Broek says Malawian coffee producers have become increasingly aware of the high quality of their coffee beans and the potential to sell in coffee specialty markets.

‘‘Since last year, measures have been taken by CAMAL to transform the country into one of the world’s premium specialty coffee producing nations,’’ says van den Broek.

He explains that Malawi has both the climate and altitude to produce high-quality coffee but that most of the country’s coffee is being exported as ungraded green beans.

Through the new initiative, CAMAL has embarked on processing its own local blends and brands. One such brand is the Mzuzu Coffee being produced in the northern region of Malawi by the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union.

The union, which comprises of 3,200 smallholder farmers, produces some of the highest-quality coffee in Malawi.

‘‘The cooperative not only exports green beans, but also roasts and brands its specialty coffee under the name ‘Malawi’s Mzuzu Coffee’. In 2005, roasted Mzuzu coffee won the country’s first coffee cupping competition, and since then it has been showcased at numerous international cupping competitions,’’ says van den Broek.

The increased market awareness by CAMAL has also managed to attract international coffee experts and buyers such as David Roche from the Coffee Quality Institute in the U.S. and Craig Holt from Atlas Coffee Importers. The Coffee Quality Institute is a non-profit organization that works to improve coffee quality worldwide.

Roche and Holt recently met with Malawian coffee producers and made a presentation on improving the quality of the coffee.

The initiative by CAMAL is aimed at improving exports and thereby foreign exchange while boosting coffee producers’ profits.

Producers are worried that they, like producers in other African countries, are facing potentially harmful non-tariff barriers from the European Union (EU).

Some European conservationists are saying that transporting products by air to sell in other countries increases pollution and is therefore bad for the environment. This could frustrate Malawi’s efforts in opening new markets for its produce.

CAMAL is therefore also working hand-in-hand with nine other countries (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) to render their coffee globally marketable despite the barriers they may be facing from the EU.

The African countries are fighting the challenges as one front under an umbrella body called the Eastern African Fine Coffees Association (EAFCA). During a recent visit, EAFCA’s executive director, Philip Gitao, commended local coffee producers for their efforts to work together.

He was attending the ‘‘Test of Harvest’’ competition aimed at encouraging growers to come up with coffee that could compete on the international market. The winner of the competition received a full sponsorship to utilise laboratories in Geneva, Switzerland. The Mzuzu Coffee Planters Cooperative Union scooped up the first two positions. (END/2007)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lack of Running Water Puts Girls' Education at Risk

By Pilirani Semu-Banda

Rita Kalikokha of Dowa, a rural district in central Malawi, thinks about abandoning school every time she menstruates.

The hard-working, resolute 13-year-old attends a primary school that has no running water. All 350 pupils at Rita’s school have only two pit-latrines to share, and there is no tap where they can wash their hands after using the toilet.

Rita says she and other adolescent girls find these poor sanitation conditions even more awkward when it is time for their monthly periods: "It’s so difficult to concentrate in class when you know there is no water to clean up with at break time. I usually prefer staying home every time my menses come."

She says many girls in her school drop out as soon they reach adolescence as they cannot bear the inconvenience and embarrassment of having to do without water. Government statistics in Malawi show that that 10.5 percent of girls drop out of school each year as compared to 8.4 percent of boys. In addition to this, around 22 percent of primary school age girls do not attend school at all, while 60 percent of those enrolled do not attend regularly.

However, Rita’s problems concerning water are not confined to the school environment. Her village has no access to safe water. As the only girl in a family of five children, she is bound by tradition to fetch water to satisfy the needs of all four of her brothers and both her parents.

"There is very little time for me to do my homework as most of my days are taken up by my trips to fetch water."

She walks a distance of four kilometers to and from the nearest well. Her family uses this water for cooking, washing household utensils and drinking. Rita also has to ensure that there is enough water for herself, her father and mother to bathe. Her four brothers usually use a nearby stream to bathe – the same stream used by villagers as a toilet.

Child mortality is particularly high in the Dowa area, where almost every fifth child does not reach the age of five, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

But the problems with water provision and sanitation are not confined to rural areas in Malawi. Slums in towns and cities face similar difficulties as residents have to wait in long queues to buy water from kiosks or from boreholes.

In Ntopwa, a squatter area in Malawi’s commercial capital of Blantyre where most people eke out a living on less than a dollar per day, women resort to scooping out water from ditches of stagnant rain water. The troughs are their only water source, as they cannot afford to buy water from kiosks or boreholes. Waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea, dysentery and cholera are therefore very common in this area.

Many girls in Blantyre have similar experiences to Rita and other rural girls because the Ministry of Education frequently fails to pay water bills for local primary schools.

In the first six months of the year, more than 124,000 pupils had to use bushes around their schools to relieve themselves because Blantyre’s Water Board disconnected the water supply at 22 schools due to the government’s failure to pay bills.

Permanent Education Secretary Anthony Livuza had to plead with the Water Board to reconnect the water supply to avert an outbreak of diseases in the schools. The water supply company eventually reconnected the water, but asked the ministry to speed up paying for the service.

The United Nations Development Programme’s 2006 Human Development Report indicates that up to 33 percent of Malawi’s 12 million inhabitants have no access to safe water, while only 27 percent of the people have access to improved sanitation.

The country’s Minister of Water Development, Sidik Mia, says that having so many people without access to proper water and sanitation services jeopardises the socio-economic development of Malawi: "The effects of this go on to spread in the health, education and agriculture sectors."

He says government’s new national sanitation policy will give priority to the requirements of schools and will serve the public better with an integrated water resources management policy.

Meanwhile UNICEF is assisting in Rita’s Dowa region, where wells are being drilled for schools which currently have no water supply. The U.N. agency is in the process of installing hygienic latrines and washbasins in schools. It is also helping households in 30 communities to install hand washing facilities outside their pit latrines.

WaterAid, an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps the world’s poorest people gain access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education, is helping Malawians to influence government and other NGOs to allocate more resources to water, sanitation and hygiene.

A policy and advocacy manager for WaterAid in Malawi, Amos Chigwenembe, says the organisation aims to help 136,000 people have access to safe water and another 131,000 to gain access to sanitation every year by 2010.

Malawi’s potential in achieving MDGs

October 24 is the anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Charter in 1945. Malawi became a member of United Nations on December 1, 1964 and the UN has been a national development partner since. The UN General Assembly also instituted 24 October as the World Development Information Day, to draw the attention of the world to development problems and the need to strengthen international cooperation to solve them. Pilirani Semu-Banda reports on the UN’s activities in Malawi and reflects on the Malawi’s progress in achieving MDGs.

Patuma Suluma from Ntaja, Machinga, is a 37-year-old single mother of three. She is also a guardian of three other children left in her custody following the death of their mother -- Suluma’s younger sister -- two years ago.

Suluma’s husband died in 1997 after failing to obtain treatment for malaria.

“I helplessly watched him die. Hiring a car or even a bicycle to transport him to hospital was out of question because our children would have starved if we had used the little money we had,” says Suluma.

Soon after her husband’s death, Suluma moved back to her home village, because as a Standard 5 graduate, employment is difficult to come by.

Her livelihood is from subsistence farming and she also works for other people to supplement her income.

Her eldest son is 15 years old and still in primary school. He cannot attend school all the time, as he has to look after his siblings when his mother is busy with farm work.

‘‘All the six children in my household fail to attend school continuously as I cannot afford to cater for all their school needs,” worries Suluma.

Suluma and her six children live in a two-roomed shack. The pit latrine they use is almost full but she does not have time to dig another.

Sadly, Suluma’s daily struggles are not an exception in Malawi.

Today, as Malawi joins other countries in commemorating 62 years of United Nations, the UN family in Malawi is preparing the next five year programme that will continue to support the alignment of Malawi’s development resources behind a results-oriented, MDG-based national development plan.

People like Suluma are at the centre of their focus. The UN is fully committed in providing support to Malawi government’s efforts in attaining the Millennium Development Goals and improving the quality of life for its people, according to UN Resident Coordinator in Malawi Michael Keating.

“The UN has always been intimately involved in Malawi’s development agenda since the country gained independence in 1964. We want to be there every step of the way and want to see the development agenda translate more and more into better quality of life for every person,” says Keating.
He cites the development of the country’s Constitution, the establishment of constitutional bodies such as Parliament, the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Electoral Commission, the Law Commission and National Aids Commission as some of the major activities that the UN has been part of in Malawi.

In 2000, Malawi was among the 189 nations, which adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at eradicating poverty, fighting hunger and disease, promoting gender equality, access to education, encouraging investments in basic infrastructure and fighting environmental degradation. Malawi pledged to achieve the goals by 2015.

At the midpoint to the target date, Malawi government recently released the country’s MDGs Report, which indicates that 45 percent of Malawians are still living below the national poverty line. The good news is poverty levels have declined by 9 percent from about 54 percent in 1998. The government is confident that it will meet the goal to reduce extreme hunger and poverty by 2015.

Keating says the majority of Malawians must have access to health and education, their human rights must be protected and they must participate in the economy if the MDGs are to become a reality.

“It’s great that Malawi is taking MDGs so seriously but more needs to be done especially in the areas of gender, maternal mortality and the environment,” says Keating.
“The UN is more than a donor. We also have a great deal of global experience, policy expertise and coordination skills. Apart from the developmental work we do, our role is also to support Malawi in achieving good governance and accountability, gender equality, the well-being of children, access to information, the right to justice and the right to food,” says Keating.

He says the functions of the UN touch the areas of capacity development and resource management, which are crucial for national development.

The UN Resident Coordinator says development is about giving everyone equal opportunities. For Malawi, according to the government report on MDGs, the poverty gap ratio has only increased by two percent from 1992 to 1996.

To ensure that MDGs are an integral part of national priorities in Malawi, the UN is tracking progress of the goals, assisting the government to develop policies and improving national capacity to implement development efforts, collaborating with development partners to enhance momentum in the country and is also providing assistance to address constraints to progress.

Keating is mostly concerned with the women’s share in wage employment in the non-agriculture sector and also the lack of access to credit for women. He also worries that the quality of education needs attention and particularly for girls.
The indicators in the MDG report show that the proportion of pupils starting Standard 1 who reach Standard 5 is projected to reach 87 percent by 2015, below the MDG target of 100 percent.

Other distressing indicators facing Malawi include the high maternal mortality rate, at 984 deaths per 100,000 live births, the proportion of land area declining from around 41 percent in 1990 to around 36 percent in 2006 and up to 97 percent of the population using solid fuel.
Over a third of Malawi’s population does not have access to safe water causing annual problems with waterborne diseases. HIV/Aids are also among the major challenges that the country is facing as at least one in every 10 people is infected. But this is also an area that realising good results in some issues. The country has managed to increase the number of people accessing ARVs from less than 4,000 in 2004 to over 80,000 in 2007, but more attention is needed to reverse the infection rates.

Other areas making inspiring progress is the fight against infant and child mortality. Deaths of children, under the age of 5 have declined by 29 percent in just four years since the year 2000.

This major achievement is attributed to simple but high impact interventions including immunisation campaigns against measles, tetanus and polio, breast feeding, increased use of safe water and sanitation and the use of bed nets to prevent the spread of malaria, according to Unicef Resident Representative Aida Girma.

“If the current trend continues, Malawi will attain the MDG on reducing child mortality as soon as 2013,” says Girma.

She however warns against laxity. Girma says despite this achievement, one in every 10 children are still dying of easily preventable diseases and that Unicef and other UN agencies will continue to partner with government to see an end to this.

The Malawian government through Minister of Economic Planning and Development Ted Kalebe pledges in the MDG Report to continue with its commitment to achieving the MDGs. Kalebe states that the Malawi government has already oriented its work around the goals.

“In Malawi, the MDGs will be implemented through the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), which is an overarching medium term development strategy to run from 2006 to 2011,” states Kalebe.

UN’s Keating applauds this commitment saying the problem in Malawi has been the different agendas of development partners.

“The idea is that Malawi should have its own agenda and that development partners should be able to support that particular agenda,” he says.

Keating says the Growth Strategy gives every development partner a common point of departure and that the UN is always ready to coordinate this partnership to ensure that the consolidated effort is done well for the growth of the Malawi nation.

The UN in Malawi is currently producing its next five-year United Nations Development Assistance Framework. The UNDAF is part of United Nations reform agenda and forges greater coherence within the United Nations agencies, to maximise the impact of resources and skills by implementing one measurable national development programme.

The programme plan which will run from 2008, is focused on five priority areas namely; economic growth, protection of vulnerable people, provision of basic social services, HIV/Aids and good governance.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Waste Not, Want Not

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Apr 10 (IPS/IFEJ) - In many parts of Malawi, discussing human excreta is taboo. The mere mention of faeces, in any of the country's 10 official languages, makes those taking part in the conversation uncomfortable. But, excreta could be about to gain respectability.

Recent years have seen farmers start to use human waste for fertilizer: faeces and urine, combined with wood ash and soil, are serving as a replacement for chemical fertilizers. This came as farmers who could not afford the standard fertilizers went in search of alternatives to increase the size of their yields.

Chemical fertilizers cost up to 11 dollars for a 50 kilogramme bag -- a hefty expense in Malawi, where over 65 percent of people live below the poverty line of a dollar a day, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Estimates from the International Labour Organisation indicate that farmers and their dependents make up 85 percent of Malawi's 12 million strong population.

"My family and I use the type of latrine where we are able to add ashes to our excreta every time we visit the toilet, and this in turn ends up speeding decomposition. The decomposed product is mixed with soil after about six months, and that makes a very effective fertilizer," says Patrick Moyo, who farms in the northern district of Mzimba.

Moyo told IPS he no longer spends money on chemical fertilizers, and that his annual maize and fruit yields have doubled since he started using fertilizer produced from human excreta. Communities in six of the 27 districts in Malawi have now made the switch from chemical fertilizers.

The Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, a leading protestant church in Malawi, has joined forces with an international non-governmental organisation -- WaterAid -- to promote the recycling of faeces.

Sangster Nkhandwe, director of the synod's development department, says the transformation of human waste into fertilizer is termed "ecological sanitation", and that it poses little danger concerning the transmission of disease through excreta.

"We've done several scientific studies on this technology and have found that there is no threat to human health at all…as micro-organisms are treated immediately ash is added to the human excreta," he told IPS.

"Human excreta contain valuable nutrients for agricultural use, but most of this is lost after the traditional pit latrines fill up and get abandoned…hence the use of eco-latrines, which are being used to reverse this situation."

According to a policy and advocacy manager for WaterAid, Amos Chigwenembe, three types of eco-latrines are being used in areas that have turned to waste recycling: the Arborloo, Fossa Alterna and Skyloo.

The Arborloo, he says, is the simplest of the three, in that it involves the smallest adjustment on the part of the community that is using it. The only thing required is for people to plant a tree in a conventional pit latrine after it has filled up with excreta.

"The tree grows and utilises the compost to produce large, succulent fruit. After a few years of latrine movement, the result is an orchard that is producing fruit with real economic value," Chigwenembe told IPS.

With the Fossa Alterna, two shallow pits are dug. One is used for defecation, while the other stores waste as it matures and develops into compost.

Chigwenembe explains that a thin layer of soil placed on the maturing pit is ideal for growing tomato or pepper plants, and that watering of these plants helps the composting process. This pit is emptied to receive the contents of the defecation pit when this becomes full, with the composted waste being used as fertilizer.

The Skyloo works on the same principle, using brick enclosures -- or "vaults".

"The faeces drop through a squat hole into the vaults and are left to mature. The vaults are rotated in a similar manner to the Fossa Alterna. After a suitable retention time, the contents of the vaults are placed on the garden or farm," said Chigwenembe.

Eco-latrine designs may use a round, domed slab as a seat for toilet users. This also suits the needs of low-income communities, as the slab does not contain any iron reinforcement bars, which are expensive and only available in Malawi's major cities. The weight and size of the slab makes it relatively easy to carry using the limited means of transport available to poor families, such as hand carts.

In addition to being eco-friendly, these technologies are also woman-friendly.

Nya Kaunda recalls that when her traditional pit latrine became unusable after her husband died in 2000, she resorted to relieving herself in nearby bushes as she could not manage to dig another latrine. Pit digging is very hard work, as the holes normally have to be big enough to accommodate ten years' worth of waste; as a result, this task is traditionally taken on by men.

But with the introduction of eco-latrines, Kaunda has been able to dig one pit latrine after another.

"It is not difficult to dig an eco-latrine because the pit is shallow, and building a shelter for it is no big deal. I am now able to use my toilet comfortably without fearing that some little kid will find me relieving myself as it was when I was using the bushes," she told IPS.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tobacco Industry Going Up in Smoke

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Mar 31 (IPS) - Tobacco prices and production levels are dropping amid pressure from the anti-smoking lobby and the general downturn in agricultural produce markets. But Malawi has still not made adequate progress in promoting crops to replace its primary foreign exchange earner.

Green gold is the term that Malawians use for the country's tobacco. The nation derives up to 70 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from the crop and 80 percent of the country's labour force works in the tobacco industry. Historically, the leaf has been regarded as an economic lifeline in a country without rich mineral endowments.

The southern African country is a major tobacco exporter in the world, accounting for five percent of the world's total exports and two percent of world's total production. In terms of burley tobacco, Malawi produces about 20 percent of the world's total, according to the World Bank.

The Tobacco Association of Malawi (TAMA), which promotes and protects tobacco farmers' interests, says that the leaf also accounts for 13 percent of the country's gross domestic product and makes up 23 percent of the tax base.

The crop is treasured because of historical associations. Commercial production can be traced back as far as 1889 when it was introduced by settlers from Virginia in the United States.

However, in recent years the tobacco industry has been struggling for survival. It is fighting global anti-smoking campaigns led by public health activists, backed by the World Health Organisation. Poor auction prices and a dearth of buyers are also among the challenges that Malawian tobacco producers are grappling with.

Caught in the middle of these challenges are the country's small-holder tobacco farmers. One of them is 55-year-old Dongo Msiska. All his life he has known nothing but tobacco cultivation.

At the age of 24, he took over a 50-hectare farm from his father. Since then the livelihoods of his family and those of his 33 employees have depended on the production of the leaf.

In the past three years, Msiska's income has dwindled rapidly in the face of poor auction floor prices. He has since been forced to cut production by half.

''I could not afford to buy enough production inputs with the little money I got for last year's crop. I had to reduce production and have since had to let some of my workers go,'' he says.

Msiska's woes were a result of last year's catastrophic decline of 15 percent in tobacco sales. Sales figures from the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) indicated that the crop raked in 162 061 893 US dollars in 2005 but only 137 834 528 US dollars in 2006.

Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika, himself a farmer, has admitted that the tobacco industry is not as viable as it used to be.

He and the ministries of agriculture and trade have urged tobacco farmers to consider diversifying production to cotton, cassava, pigeon peas, ground nuts, soya, dairy products, beans and rice as alternatives to tobacco.

Up to 40,000 farmers have heeded the calls to diversify in the past six years and have since abandoned tobacco production, according to the TCC.

But despite his calls for diversification, Mutharika has continued to fight for the survival of the tobacco industry. Major buyers of Malawi's tobacco were last year ordered by the president to leave the country or offer better prices on the auction floors. He accused them of running a cartel and fixing prices.

Mutharika imposed a minimum price of 110 cents per kilogram and, for higher grade leaf, 170 cents per kilogram but the buyers boycotted the market, forcing the government to concede defeat. The president has no kind words for the buyers and has since branded them ''thieves'' and ''exploiters'' for defying his price setting.

Meanwhile, Malawi is pursuing a deal that addresses issues of collective marketing as well as value-adding with the other tobacco-producing countries of Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. They aim to position the industry better in the world markets so that the countries can reap more from the crop, says the trade ministry.

The government is optimistic that handling the problems dogging the tobacco industry at a regional level will yield more positive results than working in isolation.

Despite the pressure on the industry the majority of Malawian farmers, through TAMA, have resisted a diversification strategy that excludes tobacco because the commercial value of the crop still remains the highest.

TAMA executive secretary Felix Mkumba argues that the leaf has a readily available market which is well guaranteed since everything that they produce is still sold, despite the low prices. ''Accepting total diversification will be suicidal.''

David Mkwambisi, a lecturer at the Bunda College of Agriculture at the University of Malawi, disagrees with TAMA. He does not consider tobacco to be the backbone of the country's economy anymore.

This is because the government and stakeholders have failed to introduce measures which would enhance crop production, he argues. The growers have been penalized with taxes which have not been ploughed back into the sector.

Therefore Mkwambisi contends that the global problems besetting the tobacco industry are not the primary concern. Domestic politics is the source of much of the tobacco industry's difficulties.

He also has questions about how the government is approaching the issue of diversification. ''Even though cotton was identified as a crop to replace tobacco, nothing has been done to promote cotton.

''Why did the president rush to announce the diversification towards cotton? Do we have markets for cotton, cassava, soya and beans? Why should we expand cultivation to those products if we have not found the markets yet?'' asks Mkwambisi.

He says that even if tobacco was not facing the current public health campaigns, it is extremely bad planning to depend on one crop for economic growth. ''As a country we have been standing on a slim edge economically by relying on tobacco only,'' warns Mkwambisi.

Meanwhile Malawi's tobacco production levels are plunging. The TCC has indicated that tobacco yields this year (2007) are down by 18 million kg from 158 million kg last year. The country's international buyers are demanding 170 million kg, which means that the supply from Malawi is short by 30 million kg. (END/2007)

''Deux éléphants piétinant l'herbe''

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE , 29 mars (IPS) - L'adage africain selon lequel ''lorsque deux éléphants se battent, c'est l'herbe qui en souffre'' se confirme actuellement dans la politique du Malawi.

La brouille et la lutte pour le pouvoir qui s'en est suivie entre les deux plus grands leaders du pays -- le président Bingu wa Mutharika et son prédécesseur Bakili Muluzi -- ont affecté négativement un groupe spécifique de personnes : les citoyens touchés par la pauvreté qui constituent plus de 65 pour cent de la population.

Le pays ploie sous une pauvreté abjecte, une question qui préoccupe beaucoup Ulemu Kaziputa, un petit exploitant agricole. ''Avec toutes les difficultés économiques dans ce pays, nous avons besoin de dirigeants appropriés. Nous ne pouvons plus supporter des jeux politiques qui nous coûtent nos droits humains'', souligne Kaziputa.

Depuis février 2005, lorsque le conflit entre les deux leaders a éclaté, le Malawi a connu une tension politique qui a donné lieu à une scission dans les débats parlementaires et le système judiciaire.

La querelle entre Muluzi et Mutharika a atteint son paroxysme après que ce dernier a pris fonction sous la bannière du Front démocratique uni (UDF) -- qu'il a ensuite quitté pour former un nouveau parti politique. Mutharika n'a pas par la suite acquis un soutien dans les rangs de l'opposition et dispose d'une minorité au parlement.

La bataille entre les deux leaders a probablement contribué à amener le président du parlement Rodwell Munyenyembe à souffrir d'une grave attaque et d'un arrêt cardiaque en juin 2005. Il s'est effondré alors qu'il tentait de calmer une intense bagarre verbale qui a éclaté entre des forces rivales au cours d'un débat parlementaire.

Ceci intervenait juste après qu'il a décidé qu'une motion d'impeachment (mise en accusation en vue d'une destitution) ne pouvait être entendue à l'Assemblée nationale. Le président du parlement n'a jamais repris conscience. Il est mort quatre jours plus tard dans un hôpital sud-africain et la session parlementaire a été suspendue pour une durée indéterminée.

Cette suspension inattendue a fini par retarder un vote budgétaire vital qui aurait dû débloquer une aide financière pour s'attaquer à la famine affligeant quelque cinq millions sur les 12 millions d'habitants du pays. Un rapport des Nations Unies indiquait que des hôpitaux étaient débordés de patients souffrant de maladies liées à la malnutrition.

L'hostilité actuelle entre les deux leaders a également conduit à plusieurs affaires judiciaires. Ces procès politiques ont pris le pas sur d'autres procès parce qu'ils impliquent le procureur de la République du pays, le procureur général ou le Bureau anti-corruption -- contrairement aux affaires traitées par des juges ordinaires.

Un procès politique qui domine actuellement les tribunaux est celui où le gouvernement accuse le vice-président du pays, Cassim Chilumpha, et l'homme d'affaires Yusuf Matumula de trahison et de conspiration pour assassiner Mutharika.

Chilumpha a été arrêté en avril dernier avec 10 autres individus pour avoir soi-disant recruté des hommes pour tuer son patron. L'Etat a depuis abandonné les charges contre la plupart des personnes arrêtées, excepté le vice-président et Matumula, tous deux de proches alliés de Muluzi.

Il y avait d'importantes chamailleries entre Mutharika et son adjoint depuis la rupture entre le président et Muluzi. Plusieurs hauts responsables de l'UDF l'ont suivi lorsque le président a quitté le parti qui l'a amené au pouvoir, mais Chilumpha est resté loyal à l'ancien président.

Un peu avant que le gouvernement n'accuse Chilumpha de complot pour assassiner le président, Mutharika a annoncé que son vice-président avait démissionné de ''façon constructive'' de son poste en ne prenant pas part à plusieurs réunions du cabinet. Le président a également accusé son adjoint d'insubordination et de gestion d'un gouvernement parallèle.

Cette question a créé une autre longue bataille juridique qui a, en fin de compte, vu Chilumpha être rétabli dans ses fonctions en tant que vice-président du Malawi.

Les Malawites croient que ces batailles juridiques perpétuelles ont contribué au retard dans l’examen des affaires judiciaires. Les prisons du Malawi sont pleines à craquer.

Selon la Réforme pénale internationale, le pays fait partie des nations africaines dont les prisons connaissent les pires niveaux de surpeuplement.

L'une des nombreuses personnes affectées par le retard dans les procédures judiciaires est Glady Zolima (45 ans). Son mari a été arrêté depuis plus d'un an parce que soupçonné d'avoir tué sa nièce. Elle doit parcourir 20 kilomètres à pied chaque jour pour apporter à manger à son mari parce les prisons n'offrent qu'un repas par jour à ceux qui sont en détention préventive.

''Je sais que mon mari est innocent, mais on lui a refusé la libération sous caution à cause de la gravité de l'accusation contre lui'', affirme Zolima. L'affaire ne va pas en audience parce que les tribunaux sont submergés ''d'affaires plus importantes''.

''Le gouvernement amène au tribunal ses petites affaires impliquant des politiciens plutôt que de juger des affaires de meurtre. Beaucoup d'innocents languissent dans les prisons du pays et se voient refuser la justice'', déplore Zolima.

Un groupe de défense des droits civiques, le Centre pour les droits humains et la réhabilitation, a condamné la bataille juridique entre les leaders puisque cela coûte cher aux contribuables malawites. Le centre a également attiré l'attention des Malawites sur les dangers de raviver l'animosité politique.

La lutte entre les camps de Muluzi et de Mutharika n'augure rien de bon pour la démocratie du pays. La tension règne parmi les partisans des deux leaders, avec toutes sortes de menaces planant tout autour chaque fois que l'un des dirigeants prend la parole à un meeting.

Dans son discours de nouvel an à la nation, le président Mutharika a déversé son courroux sur les membres du judiciaire et les journalistes et les a accusés d'être de connivence avec l'opposition pour renverser son gouvernement. Il a également averti qu'il prendrait des mesures non spécifiées contre Muluzi pour le faire taire.

Le politologue Noel Mbowela reconnaît que les batailles politiques entre le président et son prédécesseur sont désastreuses pour la démocratie du pays et nuisibles à son programme de développement.

''Elles favorisent également la haine entre les Malawites au lieu d'œuvrer pour des valeurs démocratiques comme l'unité. Le pays est peu à peu divisé à cause de ces deux leaders'', souligne Mbowela.

La Commission des affaires publiques, un regroupement d'organisations œcuméniques, travaille à réconcilier Mutharika et Muluzi. Cela semble ne pas marcher puisqu'aucun des deux ne veut faire de compromis. (FIN/2007)

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Scientists predict that global fish stocks are falling so swiftly that, unless drastic measures are taken, many species will disappear from our plates within the next 40 years. In Malawi, there are signs that it may already be happening
by Pilirani Semu-Banda


Malawi hit the world's headlines last October when David Banda was adopted by Madonna. Prior to this, few people outside of Africa knew much about Malawi, apart perhaps from the fact that it has the fifth largest lake in the world.

But like the turmoil in the Madonna case, which saw human rights activists fighting against David’s adoption, Lake Malawi is in turmoil with its fish stocks diminishing and the fishing industry suffering low catches.

Lake Malawi contains the most diverse lake fish fauna in the world with an estimated 1,000 species. (1) But Maldeco Fisheries Limited, the only industrial fishing company operating in the country, is currently producing just over 30 percent of the fish it produced 10 years ago. (2)

Income lost

One person who is suffering the effects of the declining fish stocks in Lake Malawi is 44-year-old fisherman Samson Chelinda from the lake district of Mangochi. He laments his gradual loss of income from fish sales.

“My whole livelihood and that of my family comes from fish sales but now I struggle to make a living since I don’t catch as much fish as I used to. I now struggle to pay school fees for my children and I can no longer afford basic necessities,” said Chelinda.

Lake Malawi is a crucial source of income to many Malawians. According to the country’s 2006/2007 national budget, about 1.6 million out of 12 million Malawians are dependent on the fishing industry. In addition, more than 300,000 people make their living from activities related to the lake and its fish (3). These activities include fish processing, marketing of services and products, boat building and engine repair.

The industry also has a much wider importance. Fish provides over 60 percent of the dietary animal protein intake of Malawians and 40 percent of Malawians’ total protein supply. (4)

However, the budgetary report also confirmed the sharp decline in fish caught in Lake Malawi. The last available data shows that the quantity of fish delivered fell from 69,100 tonnes in 1998 to 44,849 tonnes a year later.

The plunging fish stocks is also negatively affecting Malawi’s tourist industry. With its deep, clear waters and mountain backdrop, the Lake Malawi national park is a natural aquarium and is among the most popular tourist destinations in the country (5).

Tour guide Maxwell Chefasi says the evidence is unequivocal. “There are some fish species which you don’t see anymore when you visit Lake Malawi. The fish stocks are slowly diminishing,” says Chefasi.

Time to act

The primary reasons for the shrinking fish stocks are unsustainable fishing practices and non-compliance with fishing regulations, according to Malawi’s Department of Fisheries. (6)

Malawians agree that something needs to be done to arrest and reverse the decline of the Lake Malawi. Indeed, the Malawian government has implemented several initiatives to boost fish stocks and to re-establish Lake Malawi as a sustainable resource.

The first is a ‘Fish Restoration Strategic Plan’ that involves Lake Malawi’s most popular species, called chambo (Oreochromis karongae). This once prolific species is on the brink of extinction and the programme involves restocking the lake with chambo bred outside the lake and then re-introduced.

The government has also placed a ban on the use of high-yield fishing gear in Lake Malawi between October and December, the crucial spawning season. Communities living on the shores of the lake are encouraged to police this initiative.

In addition, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika launched a fish breeding programme for the export market in 2006. Under this programme, fish are bred and raised in cages which allows greater control over the population.

However, talking about initiatives and changes in policy is one thing, making them work and sustaining the initiatives is another. Only if Malawians adhere to the plans might there be hope that fish stocks will recover.

Worldwide problem

In Africa, declining fish stocks are not unique to Malawi. The fishing industry in neighbouring South Africa also had a turbulent 2006 which was characterised by low catches, smaller fish and longer trips to fertile fishing grounds. (7)

It is a similar story across the globe. A recent study of more than 100 fishing regions, published in the journal Science, suggested that if current trends are maintained, every seafood species will have collapsed below commercially viable levels by 2048. (8)

The report blamed the problem on over-fishing, pollution and habitat destruction — mostly on coastlines and in coral regions. Researchers assessed catch numbers recorded by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Sea Around Us Project, at the University of Columbia. The stark conclusion was that fish stocks will collapse in the next 40 years.

They also analysed human impact on 12 regions, including the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic Sea, examined archives and sediment cores over a thousand-year period and looked at initiatives designed to promote species recovery.

Action required

The study by Science also found that the global cod catch has decreased from 3.1 million tonnes in 1970 to 950,000 tonnes in 2000, that and that fish stocks in North Atlantic are one sixth of levels 100 years ago.

On a positive note, the researchers stated that once marine ecosystems receive protection, they quickly recover. Increases in biodiversity were associated with large increases in fisheries production and with increased and lucrative, tourism, they reported.

It is clear that individual countries need to forge regional and global partnerships to ensure that the battle against the declining fish stocks is fought as a united front. This needs to happen soon but political commitment is still feeble.

Nowhere is the degree of urgency more apparent than on the shores of Lake Malawi. The worried looks on the faces of returning fishermen sum up the desperate plight of their traditional natural larder. Unless the tide is turned soon, the lake may become little more than pretty, yet lifeless, tourist attraction.



1- United Nations Environment Programme -

2 - Maldeco Fisheries Limited Annual Report – 2006

3 - Malawi National Budget 2006/2007 – June 2006

4 - International Institute for Environment and Development - December 2004 -

5 - UNESCO World Heritage -

6 - Department of Fisheries in Malawi Report 2006 - Ministry of Environmental Affairs
7 - Business Report - January 16 2007 -

8 – The Times – November 3 2006 -


© Pilirani Semu-Banda - February 2007

''Two Elephants Trampling the Grass''

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Mar 20 (IPS) - The African adage that ‘‘when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers'' is currently particularly apt in Malawian politics.

The fall-out and subsequent power struggle between the country's two foremost leadersùPresident Bingu wa Mutharika and his predecessor Bakili Muluziùhas been detrimental to one specific group of people: poverty-stricken citizens who make up over 65 percent of the population.

The country is staggering under abject poverty, an issue that is of great concern to small-holder farmer Ulemu Kaziputa. ‘‘With all the economic hardships in this country, we need proper leadership. We can no longer do with political games that are costing us our human rights,'' Kaziputa insists.

Since February 2005, when the conflict between the two leaders emerged, Malawi has experienced political tension which has spilt over into parliamentary proceedings and the court system.

The quarrel between Muluzi and Mutharika reached a crescendo after the latter took office under the banner of the United Democratic Front (UDF)ùwhich he then left to form a new political party. Mutharika has subsequently failed to gain support within opposition ranks and has a minority in parliament.

The wrangle between the two leaders possibly contributed to the speaker of parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe suffering a severe stroke and cardiac arrest in June 2005. He collapsed while attempting to douse an intense verbal battle that had erupted between supporters of the warring forces during a parliamentary debate.

This was just after he had ruled that a motion to impeach Mutharika could not be heard in the national assembly. The speaker never recovered consciousness. He died four days later in a South African hospital and the parliamentary session was suspended for an indefinite time.

This unexpected recess ended up delaying a vital budget vote which would have unlocked aid money to address the starvation afflicting an estimated 5 million of the country's 12 million people. A United Nations report indicated that hospitals were over-flowing with patients suffering from malnutrition-related illnesses.

The ongoing hostility between the two leaders has also led to numerous legal cases. These political cases take precedence over other cases because they involve the country's director of public prosecutions, the attorney general or the official Anti-Corruption Bureauùas opposed to cases handled by ordinary lawyers.

One political case that is dominating the courts is where the government is accusing the country's vice president Cassim Chilumpha and businessperson Yusuf Matumula of treason and conspiracy to assassinate Mutharika.

Chilumpha was arrested last April together with 10 others for allegedly hiring men to kill his senior. The state has since dropped the charges against most of those arrested, except the vice president and Matumulaùboth close allies of Muluzi.

Squabbles were prominent between Mutharika and his deputy ever since the split between the president and Muluzi. Several senior officials of the UDF followed him when the president left the party that put him into power but Chilumpha remained loyal to the former president.

Just before the government accused Chilumpha of conspiracy to murder the president, Mutharika announced that his deputy had ‘‘constructively'' resigned from his position by failing to attend several cabinet meetings. The president also accused his deputy of insubordination and running a parallel government.

This issue created another long court battle which eventually saw Chilumpha being reinstated as Malawi's vice president.

Malawians believe that these perpetual court battles have contributed to the backlog in court cases. Malawi's prisons are packed beyond capacity. According to Penal Reform International, the country is among those in Africa experiencing the worst levels of overcrowding.

One of the many people affected by delayed court procedures is Glady Zolima (45). Her husband was arrested over a year ago on suspicion that he murdered his niece. She has to walk about 20 km everyday to provide food to her husband because the prisons only supplies one meal per day to those in custody.

‘‘I know that my husband is innocent but he was denied bail because of the gravity of the charge against him," says Zolima. The case is failing to go to court because the courts are flooded with ‘‘more important cases''.

‘‘Government would rather take its petty cases involving politicians to court than try murder cases. A lot of innocent people are languishing in the country's prisons and are denied justice,'' worries Zolima.

A civil rights group, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, has condemned the court wrangle between the leaders as it is costing the Malawian tax payer dearly. The centre has also alerted Malawians to the dangers of reviving political animosity.

The fight between Muluzi's and Mutharika's camps does not augur well for the country's democracy. Tension reigns among supporters of the two leaders, with all sorts of threats flying around every time either of the leaders addresses a rally.

In his presidential new year's address to the nation, Mutharika unleashed his wrath on members of the judiciary and journalists and accused them of conniving with the opposition to pull down his government. The president has also warned that he would take unspecified action against Muluzi to silence him.

Political analyst Noel Mbowela contends that the political fights between the president and his predecessor are bad for the country's democracy and detrimental to its development agenda.

‘‘These two are promoting hatred among Malawians instead of working towards democratic values such as unity. The country is slowly being divided because of these two leaders,'' Mbowela points out.

The Public Affairs Committee, a grouping of religious bodies, has been working to reconcile Mutharika and Muluzi. This seems not to be working as neither of the two wants to compromise. (END/2007)

Malawi Struggles With Environment MDG

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Dec 27 (IPS) - Chicken was once considered a delicacy which rarely graced tables in Malawi. Now fish has taken over this position, despite Malawi being famous for its lake -- which is the fifth largest in the world by volume and contains an estimated 1,000 fish species.

‘‘It is terrible that fish is becoming rare and expensive when we have Lake Malawi right here. I do not know how this has happened,’’ says Kondwani Kabati, a restaurant chef in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.

The answer to Kabati’s query can be found in an economic report which forms part of Malawi’s 2006/2007 national budget. It indicates a sharp decline in fish caught in Lake Malawi. The last available data is for the years 1998 and 1999. In 1998 the lake delivered 69,100 tonnes of fish which dropped to 44,849 tonnes in 1999.

Moreover, Maldeco Fisheries Limited, the only industrial fishing company presently operating in Malawi, indicates that it is currently producing just over 600 tonnes of fish annually, compared to 2,000 tonnes a year, a decade ago.

Someone who has direct experience of the decreasing fish stocks in Lake Malawi is 44-year-old fisherman Samson Chelinda from the lake district of Mangochi. He laments the gradual loss of income from fish sales over the years.

‘‘My whole livelihood and that of my family comes from fish. But now I struggle to make a living since I do not catch as much fish as I used to. I now struggle to pay school fees for my children and I cannot afford basic necessities like before,’’ says a worried Chelinda.

The lake is central to the livelihoods of many Malawians. According to the government’s economic report, about 1.6 million out of 12 million Malawians are dependent on the fishing industry. More than 300,000 people make their living from activities related to the lake and its fish.

These activities include fish processing, marketing of services and products, boat building and engine repair.

The industry is also of wider importance. Fish has been providing over 60 percent of the dietary animal protein intake of Malawians and 40 percent of Malawians’ total protein supply.

The primary reasons for the shrinking fish stocks are unsustainable fishing practices and non-compliance with fishing regulations, according to Malawi’s Department of Fisheries.

The depletion of fish stocks in Lake Malawi presents Malawi with a critical challenge which could be addressed through the United Nations’ seventh Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on environmental sustainability.

In committing to MDG seven, governments have promised to integrate the principles of sustainable development into policies and programmes aimed at reversing the loss of environmental resources.

The Malawian government has embarked on several initiatives to reverse the decline of fish stocks and to re-establish Lake Malawi as a sustainable resource.

The first is a ‘Fish Restoration Strategic Plan’ that involves Lake Malawi’s most popular species, called chambo (Oreochromis karongae). This once prolific species is on the brink of extinction. The programme involves restocking the lake with chambo. Juveniles of the chambo species are bred outside the lake and then re-introduced.

The government has also placed a ban on the use of high-yield fishing gear in Lake Malawi between the months of October and December, when fish spawn. Certain fishing practices disrupt the spawning. Communities living on the shores of the lake are encouraged to police this initiative.

Further to this, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika launched a fish breeding programme for the export market earlier this year. As part of the programme, fish are reproduced in cages after successful studies in 2003.

Regarding the other targets contained in MDG seven, the government has taken steps to address the issues of sanitation and safe drinking water.

The 2006 Human Development Report (HDR) indicates that the country has shown some movement towards halving the proportion of Malawians without access to safe water. Presently 67 percent of the population have such access.

The figures for sanitation are less encouraging as only 27 percent of people have access to basic sanitation. The HDR report estimated that the country will require another 8.28 million dollars annually if it is to achieve the target for water and sanitation by 2015.

Irrigation and Water Development Minister Sidik Mia says that having so many people without access to proper water and sanitation services is an impediment to the socio-economic development of Malawi. The effects can be felt in the health, education and agriculture sectors.

The government is determined to redress these imbalances. Mia indicates that the development of water resources is among the government’s top developmental priorities. Budgetary allocations for water resources will be increased.

The government is also preparing an integrated water resources management policy and will soon be adopting a national sanitation policy. (END/2006)

Violence Threatens Women’s Meagre Gains

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Feb 2 (IPS) - Chanju Mwale is a true role model. Not only does the 28-year-old possess good academic credentials as a lawyer, landing her the job of the Malawi Defence Force’s legal officer, but she is also the only female officer in the force who holds the rank of captain.

All of these accolades to her name did not protect Mwale against assault. She is recovering from serious wounds to her face after she was attacked by a junior officer at an end-of-year party in 2004.

A number of scars on her face bear witness to her ordeal—a painful reminder that even before the attack she did not receive the respect that she deserves from her fellow officers and soldiers. This encumbered her in the fulfilment of her duties as a captain which involved commanding a platoon of soldiers.

‘‘The lieutenant beat me up because I refused his sexual advances. This defiance of my authority happened in the presence of some very senior officers in the army but I have not had much support from the army,’’ says Mwale.

She has had ‘‘a terrible time’’ with the injuries. Three major operations were needed. But still a defence force disciplinary hearing only awarded her 72 US dollars in compensation for the injuries. She has sought court intervention outside the army. The matter is still in the courts.

‘‘The problem is that the army is a male-dominated institution which does not take kindly to women being in high positions. The Malawi Defence Force was used to being an all-male team until 1996 when women were allowed to join the army. They just cannot accept that a woman is capable of working as hard as they do,’’ Mwale points out.

Despite everything, her encounter with the lieutenant has made her even stronger and more determined.

‘‘People thought I would leave the army following the assault as I was badly injured and got little support from my superiors but I am staying. I will work at changing the perceptions. I know it is an uphill battle but I will not tire,’’ says a resolute Mwale.

One would have thought that women like her would not have to fight so hard. After all, Malawi was seen as a leader among the Southern African Development Community (SADC) states when they adopted the regional indicative strategic development plan (RISDP) with its commitment to gender equality.

The plan committed SADC governments to achieving 30 percent representation of women in decision-making positions by 2005; and repealing gender discriminatory laws and policies and enacting laws that will guarantee substantive gender equality, also by 2005.

Relevant for Mwale’s case, heads of state also committed governments to reducing acts of violence against women with 50 percent by 2007 and eradicating all forms of violence against women by 2015.

Malawi also acceded to the United Nations’ millennium development goals (MDGs) which have tasked countries globally with promoting gender equality and empowering women. Malawi is far behind as the percentage of women recruited by the Malawi Defence Force still only stands at three percent, according to Mwale.

Malawi has also missed the RISDP’s 30 percent target. The low level of women’s representation is not only confined to the army. Of the country’s 193-member parliament only 27 are women. At cabinet level the picture looks better with 6 women out of 22 ministers but among deputy ministers only one out of 14 is a woman.

Moreover, these statistics have not improved much since the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

The statistics for the civil service are dismal as only five permanent secretaries out of a total of 51 are women while a mere three out of 16 diplomatic missions are headed by women. The judiciary has a paltry figure of four women judges out of 25.

A World Bank gender profile of Malawi shows some improvement in the education sector. Adult literacy among women has moved up from about 36 percent in 1990 to 54 percent at present. School enrolment of girls increased to 60 percent from 47 percent in 1990.

The youth literacy rate of females aged between 15 and 24 years has also improved from 75 percent in 1990 to the present 82 percent.

But, as Mwale’s case shows, violence against women threatens these achievements. This is true for all spheres of life. Subsistence farmer Dora Malimelo sees no reason of holding hopes that the situation will improve much for the average woman.

‘‘Violence against women is a growing tendency in this country because there is a total lack of respect for women in our community. In the past five years we have started to see ritual killings where women’s private parts are removed.’’

According to Malimelo, ‘‘domestic violence has escalated to such an extent that women are mutilated by their own husbands’’. Malawi has in recent times reported numerous cases where women are kidnapped, murdered or trafficked for prostitution and hard labour. (END/2007)

Outlook Remains Bleak for the Poor

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Feb 21 (IPS) - Grace Kafere is tired. She has been on her feet for close to five hours, bending over as she moves up and down in a forest gathering twigs and branches to sell as firewood.

The 45-year-old single mother of five children lost her job as an administrative assistant three years ago. The firm where she was working went through a restructuring process. She has been unable to secure another job since then.

To survive she has had to sell most of her household goods, including a small electrical stove, to raise money for school fees. Her eldest child is 16 years old and in secondary school.

‘‘I have sold all the valuables I have ever owned and am trying small-scale business in order to keep my children in school. I sell everything I can lay my hands on—including wood which I sell to my neighbours who are also struggling to make a living,’’ says Kafere.

She can no longer afford basic food items such as bread and sugar on a regular basis. Most times, her family only has one meal a day as opposed to the three a day which they used to have before she was declared redundant at her workplace.

Kafere and her family also had to move from the three-bedroom house she was renting in a low density area to a one-bedroom shack in the densely populated outskirts of Malawi’s commercial capital Blantyre. She shares the bedroom with her three daughters and, at night, her sons turn the living room into a bedroom.

As if their living conditions were not bad enough, the Kafere family shares an outdoor kitchen, a toilet and one bathroom with seven other families who stay in similar shacks.

Kafere’s neighbour, Jackson Malire, also decries the poor standards of living. It is becoming worse as the years go by, he says. His family of six people survives on the proceeds from his job as a night-watchman where the pay is only about 20 US dollars per month.

‘‘I had a bicycle which I bought five years but I had to sell it a year ago because I needed money to pay for hospital bills for my wife. I cannot afford to replace that bicycle. It seems life is getting tougher,’’ says Malire.

Without the bicycle he has to walk to and from his workplace which is 25 km away from where he stays.

The dismal experiences of Karefe and Malire are not confined to their neighbourhood. Most Malawians are struggling in similar ways as poverty has worsened in Malawi, according to the most recent Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Between 2005 and 2006 Malawi dropped one position from number 10 to number 11 on the list of the world’s 30 poorest countries. The country is ranked 166th out of 177 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index.

In 1997, Malawi was ranked at number 161 which means it has slipped five places in the last decade. The HDI, according to the UNDP, measures countries’ performance with regard to human development and includes the measurement of standard of living.

Over 65 percent of Malawi’s 12 million people live below the poverty line of less than 1 US dollar a day while 22 percent of the population is categorised as ultra-poor.

Some of the more distressing indicators include a maternal mortality rate which is over 1,100 per 100,000 live births and the deterioration of child mortality rates and access to sanitation and clean water.

A poverty and vulnerability assessment on Malawi released last year by the Malawi government and the World Bank also shows that people’s standard of living has not improved in the last 10 years. The assessment report shows that there has been little or no progress in reducing poverty and inequality.

Over a third of Malawi’s population does not have access to safe water. As a result people are ill or dying from diarrhoea, cholera and other water-borne diseases. HIV/AIDS is also among the major challenges that the country is facing as one in every 10 people is infected.

At an average of 39 years, Malawi has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world, UNDP resident representative Michael Keating points out. The crises in livelihoods are derailing the country’s progress towards achieving the first UN Millennium Development Goal.

MDG 1 requires that countries halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and also halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

While acknowledging that the country is failing to achieve prosperity, government officials contend that Malawi is better off in other areas than other African countries. These include the immunization of children against measles and tuberculosis and primary school enrolment.

The Malawian government is positive that the economy will improve since the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cancelled most of Malawi’s external debt of about 2.97 billion US dollars in September 2006. The country had completed economic reforms in adherence with these institutions’ conditionalities.

Malawians are also placing their hope in a promise by the country’s main donor, the British government. The British pledged 560 million US dollars in aid to Malawi over four years. (END/2007)

Malawi On Track to Meet Child Mortality MDG

Pilirani Semu-Banda

BLANTYRE, Dec 14 (IPS) - Looking at Patience Ziyenda, 37, one would say that she is a jovial woman. But deep inside, Patience is sad. She is among the many women in Malawi who have been struck by the catastrophe of child mortality.

Patience lost three children under the age of five within a period of six years.

"My eldest child, who was four years old, has just died. I am so devastated because I thought she would live longer than her younger siblings," she says, as tears well up in her eyes. Her other two children died at the ages of six months and two years respectively.

Patience is explaining her ordeal while fetching water from a kiosk with eight of her friends. Her story is not unusual in Malawi. Although the women in the group seem to have no care in the world as they laugh at jokes, six of them lost children younger than five.

Katarina Temani, 27, a friend of Patience, says that she has one child left who is eight months old. Her two other children only reached the ages of four and three years. They died within a space of three weeks of each other.

"I am not sure if the baby I have left will survive. We leave it in God's hands," says Katarina.

Despite such tragic experiences, Malawi is among the few countries in Africa which are on track to meet the United Nations (U.N.) Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on reducing the under-five mortality rate. The fourth MDG is to cut this rate by two-thirds, by 2015.

Malawi's under-five mortality rate declined to 133 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004, which translates into a 43 percent reduction in 12 years. The British government's Department for International Development is positive that Malawi will meet the 2015 target.

A U.N. report released on Nov. 22, 2006 indicates that despite sub-Saharan Africa being the most dangerous place in the world for newborns, Malawi is faring better than many of its counterparts in addressing infant mortality.

According to the report, published in Johannesburg and Geneva, more than a million babies in the region die each year before they are a month old because of a lack of essential health care.

Malawi, together with Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda, is regarded as having made significant progress in reducing infant deaths over the last 10 years, thanks to increased government spending on basic health care.

Currently infant mortality stands at 94 deaths per 1,000 live births in Malawi. A decade ago, the infant mortality rate was pegged at 146 per 1,000 live births.

The Malawian government has intensified the promotion of low-technology and cost-effective measures such as vaccines against child illnesses, antibiotics to treat respiratory infections, and oral rehydration therapy against diarrhoea.

Other measures include the provision of free insecticide-treated bed nets against malaria, and education in improved family care and breast-feeding practices.

These measures form part of the integrated management of childhood illnesses programme which, together with the expanded programme of immunisation, has shown success in improving child survival. Illnesses such as polio and neonatal tetanus have been virtually eradicated.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is supporting Malawi's efforts to reduce child mortality, along with the Japanese government.

As one of Malawi's development partners, Japan is committed to helping the Southern African country attain the MDGs, including goal four on child mortality. Tokyo could be just the right partner to have when it comes to reducing deaths amongst children: Japanese figures show fewer than two deaths per 1,000 live births.

Kyoji Mizutani, resident representative of the Japanese International Co-operation Agency, describes the child and infant mortality rate in Malawi as "intolerable". Tokyo has provided financial aid for the procurement of drugs and preventive materials.

"Although Malawi has made some progress in reducing the death tolls of pregnant women and of infants, the situation still remains unacceptable," says Mizutani.

Annually, about 73,000 children in Malawi die from preventable diseases. One in every five children dies before she or he is a month old, and one in every eight dies before her or his fifth birthday.

Malnutrition is associated with 54 percent of all children's deaths in Malawi, says the country's former advisor for health, Wesley Sangala. According to him, seven in 10 deaths of under-five children are attributable to diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, measles, malaria and nutritional deficiencies.

His words are echoed by Kusali Kubwalo, assistant communication officer in Malawi for UNICEF. She points out that malnutrition rates among Malawian children have not improved significantly since 1992.

Almost half of all children under the age of five (48 percent) are stunted, 22 percent are underweight, 59 percent suffer from vitamin A deficiency, and 80 percent are anaemic. "We have a very worrying situation and we have to accelerate our efforts to ensure child survival and development," says Kubwalo.

Malawi's Ministry of Health aims to accelerate progress towards achieving the fourth MDG. This will provide hope to Patience, Katarina and many other Malawian women. (END/2006)

Pilirani Semu-Banda

Pilirani Semu-Banda