The Department for International Development’s programme in Malawi has contributed to poverty reduction, improved health outcomes, larger harvests and more effective governance in the country, according to a report by the National Audit Office. It is difficult, however, to gauge how much of this progress can be attributed directly to DFID’s aid. Progress has been uneven across the country, some has been slower than planned and there are opportunities to obtain better value for money.
DFID is the largest single donor to Malawi and has provided £312 million to the country between 2003–04 and 2007-08, representing 21 per cent of all aid received by Malawi. DFID is well regarded by the Malawian government and scores well against international aid principles. DFID has reduced the running costs of its operations in Malawi by 25 per cent. It has cut staff numbers from over 100 to 40, whilst increasing its aid from £54 million to £70 million per year.
Poverty and hunger have reduced in Malawi in recent years, and DFID has made well-informed choices on the design of its programme. However only 61 per cent of the June 2008 targets that DFID set for its programmes were achieved on time with a further 14 per cent of these within the subsequent year. And programmes had weak measures of value for money.
DFID’s programmes to improve health have been well designed and have contributed to positive trends in health outcomes of Malawians. Access to anti-retrovirals for AIDS patients has greatly increased and child mortality has shown sustained decline. Maternal mortality has fallen substantially from its peak in 2000, but has not recovered to 1990 levels and Malawi remains amongst a group of five countries ranked ninth equal in terms of being worst affected. Greater DFID efforts to direct its support for health workers to areas of greatest need, and to secure improvement in drug procurement and distribution, would improve value for money.
DFID has also contributed to increased food security through supporting the Government of Malawi’s Agricultural Input Subsidy Programme. Rates of malnutrition have decreased and maize production has exceeded consumption. The cost-effectiveness of the Programme is heavily dependent on securing good prices for fertilizer and on its efficient distribution. Addressing weaknesses in the targeting and timely distribution of coupons and fertilizer would improve value for money.