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