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.