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Analytical summary - The physical environment

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Urbanization in Malawi is growing at 6.3% per annum due to high rural–urban migration and population growth. This has resulted in increasing urban poverty, manifested in the growth of slums that continue to develop in and around the cities and towns. These settlements are characterized by poor access to physical infrastructure such as roads and electricity, poor access to social services such as health and education, and poor housing conditions.

The goal of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy 2011–2016[1] is to create a sustainable, economically and socially integrated urbanizing system. The Government of Malawi intends to:

  • implement strategies to provide support to processes of urban renewal and slum development;
  • support the development of utilities and structures in local authorities and urbanizing systems in the provision of urban infrastructure;
  • enforce rules and regulations on land use and physical plans.

The energy sector in Malawi has not fully reached its potential due to a number of structural, operational and institutional challenges. The high cost of electricity is a deterrent to most households, especially in rural areas.

The majority of households therefore use solid fuels (approximately 98% of the rural population and 85.3% of the urban population). This can put children at higher risk of respiratory infection, especially asthma and bronchitis, if rooms are not well ventilated. Regarding sources of lighting, 6.9% of households reported using electricity for lighting; this was higher in urban areas (30.2%) compared with rural areas (2.2%). Only 2% of the population used electricity for cooking in 2009.

In 2008, 67.3% of Malawian households had access to clean water, 20% from piped water and 44% from protected wells. The proportion of households with safe drinking water was much higher in urban areas than rural areas. In 2008, 13.5% of households had no toilet facility. The majority of households in Malawi had a traditional pit latrine. The proportion of households with soap to use at critical times was quite low (45%).

The health sector may be affected by climate change. Increasing temperatures, prolonged droughts and high rainfall may favour the breeding of disease vectors, including mosquitoes and tsetse flies. Prolonged drought may lead to food insecurity and malnutrition. If measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change are not put in place, the country may not be able to contain the outbreaks of diseases that may occur.

Malawi does not have a certified plant for the management of toxic substances. Factories use different methods to dispose of toxic substances. Some plants or factors bury these in closed pits while others treat toxic substance in oxide ponds.


  1. Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (2011─2016) (draft). Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, 2011