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Oiling lives with cash transfers

AFFECTED—Covid-19 has affected rural livelihoods

CHITSULO—Covid-19 has affected us

Agnes Divala of Mpiyana village, in the Area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Mchiramwera in Thyolo District does not remember the year or day she was born.

What she remembers is that, back then, food was not an issue to her and most households in her community.

But growing up, she says food and other basic necessities were not easy to come by.

Divala has for some years now been a beneficiary of the government initiated Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP).

Yet, due to old age, her daughter, Patricia Chitsulo, has for a long time been receiving financial, food and other support under the programme on her behalf.

Divala is unable to walk long distances.

“From what she [Divala] has been receiving through the programme, we started a small business. Over time, she managed to buy a goat”. Chitsulo said.

But that was a year ago before the Covid-19 pandemic struck Malawi.

Following the advent of the pandemic in March this year, the government announced restrictions to movements, social gatherings and enforced mandatory wearing of face masks in public spaces.

These restrictions hit most Malawians including Divala and Chitsulo hard.

“As an elderly woman, She (Divala) could no longer gather together with the family, let alone do her business just outside her home because schools were closed and business was slow,” Chitsulo says.

The Integrated Household Survey (IHS2) of 2005 found that 45 percent of households in Malawi live below the poverty line while 17 percent live below the ultra-poverty line.

The survey also found that people living below the ultra-poverty line tend to suffer from chronic hunger during most of the year and, as a result, tend to be physically weak, sale or consume their productive assets, give up investing in the future and often die of preventable illnesses.

It is estimated that approximately 500,000 households in Malawi are ultra-poor.

Of that group, 300,000 are ultra- poor due to the structure of the household, with few or no able-bodied adult household, members.

These households according to the survey have either no household member who is fit for productive work or have a high dependency ratio and are therefore labour constrained.

Also, the survey found out that the 4.2 percent of the population are persons with disabilities, representing more than half a million of the population.

Of this group, 58 percent of the working group are unemployed as a result of the numerous challenges which exclude them from mainstream society.

For the disabled, life is a daily struggle to survive as they are largely excluded from essential services and lack the protection of the family and community, thereby leaving them at risk of exploitation and abuse.

It was to reduce these poverty levels and exclusion that the government of Malawi started the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP).

Atleast K30 billion has been invested this year to support 293,000 households across the country, translating to 1.2 million individuals.

But in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the SCTP itself could never be enough.

German Development Cooperation (KFW) has embarked on an initiative to support beneficiaries of the program from the effects of the pandemic.

Under the initiative, KFW has been providing financial support to cushion beneficiaries of the programme in Machinga, Thyolo and other districts across the country from economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the programme, KFW is providing a monthly income top up of K20, 000 to vulnerable and labour constrained households who are also beneficiaries of the SCTP.

KFW Country Director for Malawi Oliver Gleiss says such programmes are helpful if countries like Malawi were to reduce high poverty levels.

“Handing over cash directly to poor households is the most effective way of combating poverty because the money reaches them directly without other deductions associated with other means of transacting finances,” Gleiss said in an interview.

Gleiss said the Covid-19 pandemic had affected many Malawians, with the poor and underprivileged the most affected.

“This pandemic has left the underprivileged more at risk than the rest, as they tend to dispose the few assets they might have accumulated over time just to survive; so, it is important to provide a cushion for them to use for other activities such as buying Covid preventive and protective materials,” Gleiss said.

The government has also been providing additional financial support to over 17,000 vulnerable households in Thyolo district and 293,000 households across the country under the K30 billion worth SCTP.

Deputy Director of Social Welfare responsible for the SCTP Laurent Kansinjilo said that the programme is reaching out to about 1.2 million people country wide.

But he said the Covid-19 has affected the programme’s beneficiaries.

“This is why we are working with development partners to ensure that the vulnerable households are not buying Covid preventive and protective materials using the same financial resources we are providing to alleviate poverty”, Kansinjilo said.

Recently, KFW provided 3,480,000 tablets of soap to beneficiaries of the programme in response to the pandemic.

The finances that KFW is providing are for continuous uptake of nutritious meals to boost the immune system and protect the poor and vulnerable families from selling off productive assets as a result of loss of livelihood sources.

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