Malawi - Infrastructure, power, and communications

Malawi's infrastructure is in urgent need of attention. Its road and rail networks are inadequate both in their quality and extent, a problem made more serious by the country's reliance on land transport to compensate for its lack of sea access. While the road system has been expanded by 44 percent since independence in 1964, Malawi's population in the same period has doubled; of its 28,394 kilometers (17,647 miles) of road, only 5,833 kilometers (3,265 miles) are paved (18.5 percent). The poor condition of the roads has contributed to Malawi having one of the worst road accident rates in the world— despite its very low car-to-person ratio of 2 per 1,000. Rail, too, is in considerable disrepair, having been very badly affected by Mozambique's long civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, which closed off Malawi's access to the Indian Ocean ports of Nacala and Beira, once the distribution hubs of 95 percent of all Malawian trade. Starved of this traffic, on which it relied heavily, Malawi's national railroad was forced into bankruptcy in 1993. However, the company's sale in 1999 to a U.S.-African consortium is aimed at bringing new investment and reviving services. Malawi has 788 kilometers (490 miles) of track, all of which is narrow gauge.

Malawi has 2 international airports—at Lilongwe and Blantyre—and is served by a variety of international carriers. Malawi has 44 total airports, only 5 of which

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Malawi 3 249 2 N/A 1 0.1 N/A 0.00 10
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Dem. Rep. of Congo 3 375 135 N/A 0 N/A N/A 0.00 1
Zambia 12 121 137 N/A 1 0.1 N/A 0.48 15
a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( ) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

have paved runways. Between 100,000 and 200,000 passengers typically pass through each airport annually. The government plans to privatize Air Malawi and the introduction of a second airline is also being discussed.

Malawi's principal source of energy—providing an estimated 90 percent of all its energy needs—is wood fuel (firewood and charcoal), about 44 percent of which comes from non-sustainable sources. Demand is growing too, at a rate of some 6 percent per year, placing severe pressure on Malawi's already depleted forests. Electricity generation comes mostly from the 4 hydro-electric power stations on the Shire River begun in 1989. But irregular water flow on the river, especially in the dry season, and problems with silting (build up of sediment) often make power supplies unreliable, a problem particularly damaging to industry. Coal is imported to supplement local production, which because of under-investment is mined below capacity. All petroleum stocks are imported.

Telecommunications is also an underdeveloped sector, with a mere 45,000 landlines, or 1 for every 230 Malawians. There are hopes, however, to triple the number of lines by 2005 with the proceeds of the sale of the state-owned Malawi Telecom in 2001. A cellular system was launched in 1996, and the licensing of more networks is planned. Malawi had 1 Internet service provider as of 1999.

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