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Improved transport infrastructure in Malawi is key to rural development

Article source: The Daily Times, Malawi.

My Point of View -Make rural development a reality
BY Harry Chilambe (
14 March 2008)



In many developing countries, poverty is the number one enemy that has to be fought and defeated. In particular, poverty tends to be pervasive in the rural areas where most people live and farming is the main source of income.

The extremely poor (with income of less than $ 0.50 per day per person) live in remote areas-furthest away from roads, markets, schools and health services. Developing infrastructure for such communities is a perquisite of fighting poverty.

Transport infrastructure is essential, if farmers are to get their goods to markets in time. However, it does not only serve marketing purposes, roads are also relevant in other respects. For example recently people have been starving in most of the areas, and the government claims that this is the case due to poor road networks. Still more, inadequate transport infrastructure presents a serious health risk.

Too many patients die because they do not make it to a hospital in time, as a result our beloved country Malawi like any developing countries have high maternal and infant death-rates.
Some children have to walk for miles to get to school through the wilderness, exposed to snakes and other dangerous animals. Naturally, they are exhausted by the time they arrive and their absorptive capacity is reduced. It is no wonder that absenteeism is common among rural children. Therefore the process of building human capacity which is the most important developmental task is not realised. Education and health services are indispensable for this purpose and progress in both sectors depends not least on transport infrastructure.

It is very dismaying to hear that a public school like Luchenza Secondary School runs out of water for some months. “Water is life” holds true for the survival of plants, animals and human beings, therefore investment in irrigation and water management are essential. On top of irrigation, rural areas need water for household chores and drinking.

Too many children and women walk long distances to fetch water, children miss school or are too tired to attend school and this is an example of health and education issues being closely linked to infrastructure.

A much discussed issue in many rural areas is whether the private sector should participate in the provision of water.

Water being a communal property, I would rather love that it should be provided by the government.

The fear being that the private sector will demand abnormally high tariffs beyond the reach of the poor. On the other side of the coin, it will also be better if the private sector is encouraged to participate in developing infrastructure.

Energy is another field. Better infrastructure has a high pay-off for rural dwellers. A set of critical energy needs are those that satisfy basic human needs, fuel for cooking, heating and lightening, energy for pumping water and electricity for health and education services.

Wood fuel and charcoal have been the main source of energy for cooking in most rural areas and they still remain in use even in some urban households. The consequences are health problems particularly for the women concerned. The felling of trees for fuel has also led to massive deforestation and deterioration of natural environment in general.

If poverty is to decline in remote areas of our country, the communities will need transport and communication opportunities as well as water and electricity. Better infrastructure, more over has an immediate bearing on the performance of the health and education sectors.

Due to inadequate communication and roads, markets in rural areas are not intergrated, while food prices are high in the urban areas they are very low in rural areas. Farmers are unable to get their produce to the more rewarding markets in time. Perishable commodities rot in the villages even though they would find buyers in the city.

Another cause of on going rural poverty is that farmers typically sell their goods immediately after the harvest, when supply is ample and prices are low.
There are several reasons for farmers doing so, including the need to meet the current transactions. However the lack of adequate storage facilities also plays an important role. Farmers sell the goods before they perish because they are unable to store their goods longer.

My point of view is that if we are to make rural development a reality, rural infrastructure intervention should aim at empowering the poor to make use of locally available resources to increase both production and income.



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