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Under population and development, UNFPA supports Government to ensure that national policies and public behavior are responsive to population dynamics for sustainable development. Some of the strategic areas of support include:

  • Generation of data for  evidence based programming e.g supporting census, DHS, Integrated household surveys, population dividend etc
  • Support national institutions to have the capacity to generate and integrate population dynamics into development policies, programmes and strategies
  • Review, implement and popularize population related policies and guidelines.
  • Generate evidence and policy direction guided through the population dividend programme

UNFPA's work on population is central to the goals of the international community to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.

Population dynamics, including growth rates, age structure, fertility and mortality, migration and more, influence every aspect of human, social and economic development. Other core areas of UNFPAs work --including reproductive health and women's empowerment -- powerfully influence population trends.

UNFPA-Malawi has been supporting Government in gathering population data, tracking and analysing population trends in order to create and manage sound policies and generate the political will to appropriately address both current and future needs. In this regard, Government's capacity has been developed in data collection and analysis to participating in national, regional and global policy dialogue to supporting demonstrative programmes for purpose of up scaling.

Locating Malawi

Malawi lies South of the Equator and is bordered by Tanzania to the North and North-East, Mozambique to the South and South-West and Zambia to the West and North-West.

The country occupies an area of 118,484 square kilometers, of which 94,726 square kilometers is land. It is divided into three administrative regions, namely North, Central and South. The regions are further subdivided into 28 districts, with six districts in the North, nine districts in the Centre and 13 districts in the South. The districts are further divided into traditional authorities and villages headed by chiefs and village heads respectively. The capital city of Malawi is Lilongwe and the main commercial city is Blantyre. Mzuzu and Zomba are the other two cities.

Demographic Characteristics

The 2008 Malawi Population and Housing Census enumerated the population to be 13.1 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.8 percent and a density of 139 persons per square kilometer. It is projected that the population will reach 14.8 million in 2012 and double by 2033.

The population is youthful with about 52 percent aged 18 years and below with 70 percent aged below 30 years. About 7 percent of the total population comprises infants, 22 percent aged under-five years. About 4 percent of the population is aged 65 years and older.  The median age of the population is 17 years.

Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is still high, although declining. In 2010, the TFR was estimated at 5.7 births per woman, down from 6.0 in 2004, 6.3 in 2000 and 6.7 in 1992 (MDHS, 2010).

Life expectancy at birth for both sexes has fluctuated over the past decades. It was estimated at 49 years in 1987, declined to 42 years in 1998 and increased to 52 years in 2008. The upward trend in the life expectancy at birth in the past decade is attributed to reduction in AIDS related mortality due to improved access to Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ARVs) by those infected as well as due to the steady decline in child and infant mortality.

Mortality rates remain high although declining over the years. Infant mortality rate (IMR) is estimated at 66 deaths per 1,000 live births, child mortality rate (CMR) is at 112 deaths per 1,000 live births while maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is estimated at 675 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high mortality rates are partly attributed to the prevalence of malaria, malnutrition and HIV and AIDS. The current HIV prevalence rate is estimated at 10.6 percent among adults age 15 - 49 years.

Spatial Population Distribution

The population of Malawi is predominantly rural. In 2008, the proportion of the population living in the urban areas was only 15.3 percent while the urban population growth rate was high at 7 per cent per year.

The population is unevenly distributed across the country. The Southern Region, with 33 percent of the total land area, supports 45 percent of the total population. The Central Region has 38 percent of the total land area and supports 42 percent of the population while the Northern Region, which has 29 percent of the total land area, is home to 13 percent of the population.

Food and Nutrition Security

Malawi's economy is dominated by smallholder agriculture with little off-farm income opportunities. About 81 percent of the population earns a living from agriculture while 80 percent of the nation's food comes from subsistence farming. Women perform 87 percent of agricultural labour.

Although Malawi has not experienced widespread famine in recent years, a substantial proportion of the population experiences extreme forms of food insecurity. In 2010, about 33 percent of the population was food insecure. This implies that about one in every three people lives in severe low food security such that at some time during the year they experienced multiple indications of reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns or hunger due to lack of resources, 8 percent have low food security and about 2 percent are marginally food secure while about 58 percent are food secure.

Income and Employment Opportunities

Labour force participation rate is defined as the share of the population aged 15 years and above who are working or seeking work. In 2012, labour force participation rate in Malawi is estimated at 88 percent. In rural areas, the participation rate is higher than in urban areas. However, both in urban areas and in rural areas, labour force participation rate of males is higher than that of females.

Participation in the labour market across age cohorts is fairly similar for those aged between 25 years and 64 years. Unemployment rate is estimated at 9 percent implying almost one in every ten persons in the labour force is not working though available for work.  Unemployment rate among males is 7 percent compared to 12 percent among females.  Young people in the age group 15-24 years have a low labour force participation rate and the highest unemployment rate, the situation being slightly worse for females.


The proportion of the population aged 15 years and over that is literate is 65 percent. There has been no significant change in literacy levels over the past 5 years i.e. from the literacy rate reported in 2005 which was at 64 percent. A higher share of males aged 15 years and above (74 percent) is literate compared to their female counterparts (57 percent).  More people in urban areas are literate (89 percent) than in the rural areas (61 percent).


High population growth is the major cause of environmental degradation, as manifested in increased deforestation, soil erosion and siltation, depletion of fish stocks and air and water pollution due to improper management of liquid and solid waste, among others.

Natural forests and forest reserves are being depleted for domestic use. For instance, the most common source of cooking fuel in the country is firewood at 88 percent, followed by charcoal (9 percent), electricity (3 percent) and other means of fuel for cooking at 1 percent. Currently, only 7 percent of the population has access to electricity.


The people of Malawi have diverse ethnic and cultural origins. The main ethnic groups are the Chewa, Tumbuka, Ngonde, Tonga, Yao, Ngoni, Sena, Mang'anja and Lomwe. The most commonly used language is Chichewa. Other languages that are used include Chiyao, Chinyanja and Chitumbuka. English is the official language of communication.  The most dominant religion is Christianity (80 percent), followed by Islam (13 percent) and other religions (7 percent).