UN’s pride in a sea of poverty
IN 2000 the United Nations (UN) set eight goals aimed at freeing the world’s poorest countries from the grip of poverty within 15 years. ANDRÉ LE ROUX writes that achieving these goals by the target date of 2015 is going to be very difficult indeed …
IT’S Sunday and hundreds of singing and dancing women in colourful dresses sponsored by a cellphone company and bearing the image of President Bingu wa Mutharika are lining both sides of the dusty road.
They are acting as a guard of honour for United Nations (UN) secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who is coming on a visit.
Mwandama, something between a small farm and a traditional village, is situated about 30 km from Malawi’s former capital, Zomba, in the far south of the country.
The hub of the village is a store similar to the kind one will find on any medium-sized farm in South Africa. It contains two tractors and a few hundred UN bags of seed and fertiliser.
Outside there is a tent clinic, a mobile bank, a cellphone kiosk, a few thatched stalls indicating the market, and communal water points scattered among mud-brick homes and patches of ploughed land.
A little way away there is a neat little farm school, and that is where Ban’s 4x4 convoy makes its first stop.
Ban is addressed by the principal for 15 minutes. Then follows a photo shoot as about 50 excited primary school children receive a soccer ball, their first ever, from the UN chief.
Mwandama is a humble little place, but it is the pride of the UN.
It is one of the UN’s 14 “Millennium villages” in 10 African countries.
The criterion for the establishment of these small villages in deep rural Africa is hunger danger points where 20% or more of the children suffer from malnutrition.
These Millennium villages are experimental. The goal is to establish development hubs, with financing from the world’s richest countries, where the quality of life of people in the immediate area is improved.
If this works, it is expected that the development will ripple outwards to a larger community.
The main driving force is the establishment of agricultural projects encouraging food production for the initial community. Integrated into this are health services focused particularly on womenand children and basic school education, for adults as well as children.
In Africa’s sea of poverty these scarce project villages function well — especially if Mwandama’s performance is compared with Malawi’s general lack of performance on the basis of the UN’s development goals:
- Elimination of hunger: Yield per hectare is 4,5 t of grain compared with the Malawian average of 0,8 t.
Thirty eight percent of children in Mwandama still suffer the effects of malnutrition, but in Malawi as a whole it is 46%.
- Primary school education: Attendance is 100%, compared with 88% in Malawi.
- Community health: 85% of pregnant women have been tested for HIV/Aids and are receiving treatment, compared with the national average of 40%.
More than 60% of children in Mwandama sleep under mosquito nets; the national average is 14%.
The mortality rate of children under five is 80 per 1 000 of the population; in the rest of Malawi it is 100 per 1 000.
- Environmental conservation and technological development: 60% of Mwandama’s residents have access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation, as opposed to the 30% of other Malawians.
More than 33% of Mwandama’s residents have cellphones; the national average is three percent.
But it is when one leaves the enriching experience of Mwandama that the reality of Africa hits you once again.
Africa’s long-term problem is clearly visible through the window of Ban’s UN aeroplane as it flies from Zomba to Entebbe in Uganda.
The hope brought by Millennium villages like Mwandama remains restricted to the 35 000 people in and around those villages.
The air route north to Uganda is potentially one of the most spectacular in Africa; however, in the midst of the beauty of Africa one sees the tragedy.
Whirls of dust are visible on the patchwork fields of subsistence farmers in the area between the northern end of Lake Malawi and the southern shore of Lake Victoria.
The first signs of the desertification of the tropics in Africa are unmistakable. The infrastructure to transfer water from two of the world’s largest sources of natural freshwater to agricultural projects simply does not exist.
A UN official has acknowledged that it took three years of negotiations with the Malawian government to make the land for Mwandama available to the UN.
Despite its disadvantages, Malawi is one of the success stories of Africa.
Besides South Africa, Malawi was the only African country that was able both to meet its own food needs and to export food. But, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi lags far behind when it comes to achieving its Millennium development goals by 2015.
Ban did not come to Malawi to praise it, but to try and measure Africa’s large-scale lack of progress for himself. He has consequently arranged an emergency conference of the world’s heads of state at the UN in New York in September to consider the parlous condition of a development plan on which more than $25 billion of their money has already been spent in emergency aid since 2000.
UN SecretaryGeneral Ban Kimoon and Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika.