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Introduction to Country Context

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Malawi is a small, narrow, landlocked country in sub-Saharan Africa. It shares boundaries with Zambia in the west, Mozambique in the east, south and south-west and Tanzania in the north. It has an area of 118 484 square kilometres, of which 94 276 square kilometres is land and the remainder is water. The major water body in the country is Lake Malawi, which is to the southernmost of the Rift Valley and has a total surface area of more than 30 000 km square kilometres.


The country is divided into three administrative regions, namely the Northern, Central and Southern Regions. There are 28 districts: six in the Northern Region, nine in the Central Region and 13 in the Southern Region.

The Northern Region consists largely of high plateaus and is the least densely populated area, with a density of 63 persons per square kilometre. The Central Region has a population density of 155 persons per square kilometre and has low as well as high plateaus. The Southern Region has a mixture of extremely hot areas, the highest mountain in the country, and cool fertile shire highlands. It has a population density of 184 persons per square kilometre.

Malawi society is characterized by a patrilineal system in the Northern Region, and in two districts in the Southern Region, and by a matrilineal system in the Central Region and in the remaining districts in the Southern Region. Each district is further divided into traditional authorities, which are ruled by chiefs. The village is the smallest administrative unit and each village is under a traditional village headman. A group village headman oversees several villages.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a gross domestic product per capita of US$ 290 in 2009. Poverty levels are high: in 2009 the proportion of the population living below the poverty line was estimated at 39%, a slight drop from 40% in 2008. In rural areas, 43% of the population lives below the poverty line, while in urban areas this proportion is 14%.

Malawi is predominantly an agricultural country, with this sector accounting for about 35% of the gross domestic product, 93% of export earnings (primarily tobacco), and providing more than 80% of employment. In 2010, the Government of Malawi's budgetary allocation to the health sector was 12.2%, despite recommendations from the Abuja Declaration that governments should allocate 15% of their budget to health. The Government of Malawi is making great effort towards achieving the 15% mark.

Proportion of poor and ultra poor, Malawi 2004–2009[1]

According to the 2008 Population and housing census,[2] Malawi’s population was estimated to be 13.1 million and growing at the rate of 2.8% per annum. In 2011, the population is projected to be 14.4 million. This means that the population has almost doubled over a 20-year period, as in 1987 it stood at 8 million. The proportion of Malawi’s population residing in urban areas is estimated at 15.3%.

Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. The population density was estimated at 105 persons per square kilometre in 1998 and increased to 139 persons per square kilometre in 2008. Between 1998 and 2008 Malawi’s population grew by 4.2 million. This high population growth is predominantly due to the high total fertility rate (now estimated at 5.7) and the low contraceptive prevalence rate of 42%.[3] Almost half of the population is under 15 years of age and the dependence ratio has risen from 0.92 in 1966 to 1.04 in 2008.

The 2008 Population and housing census[2] also found that about 7% of the population in Malawi is comprised of infants aged under 1 year, 22% were children aged under 5 years, and about 46% were aged 18 years and above. Malawi is predominantly a Christian country (80%). According to the 2008 Population and housing census,[2] the national literacy was 63% for both sexes, and 59% for females and 59% for males.

Low literacy levels, especially among women, and the prevailing cultural diversity impact on the lives of Malawians, including their health-seeking behaviour and acceptance of new developments in the fields of agriculture, health and education.

References

  1. Welfare monitoring survey report, 2011. Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, National Statistics Office, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2008 Population and housing census. Preliminary report (pdf 194.86kb). Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, National Statistical Office, 2008
  3. Malawi demographic and health survey 2010 (pdf 3.85Mb). Zomba, National Statistical Office and Calverton, Maryland, ICF Macro, 2011