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 …

Weekend Witness - - News -

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.

PHOTO: AP

UN Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon and Malawi Pres­i­dent Bingu wa Mutharika.

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