June 1, 2006

Population still as poor as 10 years ago

The Poverty and Vulnerability Assessment (PVA) on Malawi has shown that people are still as poor as they were almost 10 years ago, with more than half the population living below the K44 poverty line per day. According to a report jointly produced by the Malawi Government and the World Bank, there has been little or no progress in reducing poverty and inequality. The revelation comes barely after professor of agricultural economics at Bunda College of Agriculture, George Kanyama Phiri, disclosed that the poverty levels were so high in the country that people were living on less than K15 per day. According to Kanyama, there were two levels of poverty in Malawi —people who are described as average who live on less than a dollar (K135) per day, and people living in extreme poverty on less than K15 per day.

Unveiling the PVA report, World Bank country manager for Malawi, Timothy Gilbo, claimed that there was need for government to invest in long-term projects that will in turn change the economic status of most Malawians. Minister of Economic Planning and Development David Faiti pushed much of the blame to former President Bakili Muluzi’s administration for fiscal mismanagement during his two five-year terms of office. “In those 10 years agricultural production almost collapsed, forcing this government to come with quick interventions like irrigation projects and creation of employment for the rural people,” he said. However, opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) spokesperson Sam Mpasu said that government could not run away from its responsibilities by attacking innocent people, arguing that the Muluzi administration took over a collapsed economy, but managed to bring inflation from 98 percent to six percent. “The truth of the matter is that today the economy is worse than it was two years ago when President Mutharika came to power,” said Mpasu. “If Mutharika claims to be an expert in economics, he should have changed things within this period.”

But Faiti pointed out that the current trend would only change with economic empowerment programmes that would raise the living standards of people in rural and urban areas. He added that government planed to revive the rural growth centres which the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) had initiated under first president Kamuzu Banda’s economic policies. Faiti said the 2006/2007 budget had provisions for pilot rural growth centres in Chitipa, Neno and Dowa districts that are aimed at reducing the current pattern where there is substantial migration of rural people into urban areas, particularly in the southern part of the country.

The report shows that the highest shares of the poor are rural inhabitants of the southern and northern parts with the Central Region presenting relatively less poor indicators. The report also says HIV and Aids has put considerable pressure on the public sector, with only 31 percent of communities having access to a health clinic where drugs are not readily available. (The Nation / Lilongwe)

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