Foreign aid is doing more harm than good in Malawi

<span>Photograph: Esa Alexander/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Esa Alexander/Reuters

Your article (Malawi president declares half of country damaged by cyclone, 20 March) fills many of us with despair. The conditions of Malawi, the poorest country in English-speaking Africa, have been gradually worsening over the last 40 years. This is in part due to global climate change, but also to too much aid, which has been misinterpreted as development.

Aid has discouraged local agency at all levels. According to the NGO Explorer website, there are over 900 NGOs working in Malawi registered with the Charity Commission in the UK. Then there are all the Irish, German and American NGOs and their projects. Floods and cyclones have affected the country in the last 20 years. Having more voluntary agencies coming into Malawi with their individual recipes to save the country is simply not going to help.

More aid to Malawi will not change the basic issues of infrastructural weakness. In the rich north, we have not understood that trees are the only form of fuel to heat homes and cook food. Trees prevent land erosion, the overflowing of rivers and destruction of habitats. No one is tackling this challenge.

Your editorial (19 March) refers to the lack of funds available to the World Food Programme to feed the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. While we all applaud its work in conflict areas, for which it received the Nobel peace prize in 2020, in Malawi and elsewhere it buys food from the richer farmers to give to the poorer communities. This has destroyed local agriculture and economic activity, and contributed to poverty. The WFP has become another agent that undermines food sovereignty among the world’s poorest communities. It is time for us all to stop confusing short-term aid with long-term development.
Benny Dembitzer
Director, Grassroots Malawi