Established in 1891, Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. It is a country roughly the same size as Pennsylvania, with a population of about 12 million people, of which one million are orphans. Most orphans have lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic.
From 1964 to 1994 Malawi was ruled by Hastings Kamuzu Banda. In 1994 Malawi held multiparty elections and created a constitution. Current President Bingu wa Mutharika was elected in May 2004.
Corruption, population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, and the spread of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for the country. Life expectancy has been reduced to less than 38 years, mainly because of the increase in HIV/AIDS. This is down from 45 years just a decade ago. The median age is less than 17 years old. 45% of Malawians are under 6 yeas old. Almost 1/2 of the children in Malawi are stunted in growth. Landlocked Malawi ranks among the world’s least developed countries.
Malawi has very few natural resources. While surrounding African countries contain vast amounts of gold, diamonds and other resources, Malawi does not. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is just $650 per person, per year. To put this in perspective, the Gross Domestic Product for an American is over $ 40,000 per year. It is extremely difficult for the people of Malawi to escape the cycle of poverty because options are incredibly limited. By producing the cloth grocery bag, the Malawians can create an economy for themselves. They can then provide for themselves instead of having to rely on charity. The Malawian citizens will be empowered to change their lives for the better.
Lake Malawi, one of the countries few natural resources, makes up almost 20% of Malawi’s area and runs along most of Malawi’s eastern border. Lake Malawi is one of the ten largest lakes in the world with over 500 species of fish. This lake has the largest variety of fresh water fish of any lake in the world. Due to the lack of resources available to the people of Malawi, the lake is being over fished and many of the 500 species of fish are facing endangerment.
The economy is predominately agricultural, with about 90% of the population living in rural areas. Agriculture accounted for nearly 36% of GDP and 80% of export revenues in 2005. Tobacco accounts for over 60% of exports. The economy depends on substantial inflows of economic assistance from the International Monetay Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and individual donor nations. In late 2000, Malawi was approved for relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program. The government faces strong challenges, including developing a market economy, improving educational facilities, facing up to environmental problems, dealing with the rapidly growing problem of HIV/AIDS, and satisfying foreign donors that fiscal discipline is being tightened.
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 categorized as ultra-poor. Malawi is part of sub-Saharan Africa. In this part of Africa the average per capita income is less than it was in 1960. African countries in general hold the bottom 27 places on the human development index, which is a measure of health income and literacy. Malawi ranked 166 out of 178 countries. The plight of Malawi has been described by some as the perfect storm of human deprivation. It has a combination of climatic disasters, impoverishment, the AIDS pandemic, malaria, schistosomiasis and other diseases.
A poverty and vulnerability assessment on Malawi released last year by the Malawi government and the World Bank also shows that the 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.
Malaria kills someone in Africa every 30 seconds. It also impairs economic development through its debilitating effects on families. Malaria is the most frequent cause of morbidity and mortality in Malawian children under five years of age, and is the cause of over 40% of deaths in children under two. Children under five suffer more than 9 malaria episodes per year, while adults suffer over 6 such episodes. The human and economic costs are enormous. In addition to the expenses of consultation, treatment, hospitalization, and travel, malaria often leads to low productivity and lost income from missing work. The cost of malaria to the average Malawian household has been estimated at US $35 annually, or 7.2% of average household income. Malaria accounts for half of all hospital admissions in Malawi. Malaria is treatable and preventable. Drugs are available to treat the disease and insecticide treated bed nets are also widely available. Unfortunately for most of the people in Malawi, the minimal cost of treatment or bed nets is too high.
Over a third of Malawi’s population does not have access to safe water. As a result, people are dying from diarrhea, cholera and other water-borne diseases. Tuberculosis has doubled in the past 10 years. At least 1 of 7 people in Malawi is carrying the HIV virus or living with AIDS, and more than 70,000 children are currently infected with HIV. More than 265 people a day become infected with the HIV virus. 230 Malawians die each day from AIDS. There is still a large social stigma associated with having HIV/AIDS that prevents many from even getting tested to see if they have the virus.