Case study

Measuring poverty in Malawi

DFID joined partners in Malawi to survey over 12,000 households to get an up-to-date picture of the country's progress towards MDG 1

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The aim of the first Millennium Development Goal is to reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty by half. But measuring the number of people who are living in extreme poverty is very difficult. Detailed information is needed about each household’s income and expenditure, and about the prices of food and goods in the country. 

These questions have to be asked of enough households to generate reliable estimates and they need to be asked at different times of the year to take account of possible seasonal differences in household wellbeing. Many Sub-Saharan African countries do not have the funds or skills to undertake these surveys on their own.

Interviews and data

In Malawi, DFID has joined together with the World Bank, Norwegian Embassy, Irish Aid and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) to support the National Statistics Office (NSO) to deliver its third Integrated Household Survey. Over 12,000 households are being interviewed over a 12 month period as part of this survey, which kicked off on 23 March 2010.

The results will provide data on demographic characteristics, nutrition, labour force and employment, income, expenditure, assets, household enterprises and access to community services. This information is critical to the government of Malawi’s planning and decision making, and to monitoring progress against the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy and the Millennium Development Goals.

The data will also be used to update the Malawi national poverty line. Between the last 2 surveys, in 1997/98 and 2004/05, there was only a small reduction in the number of people living in poverty, from 54% to 52% of Malawi’s population.

Recent estimates suggest that the country has since made strong progress, with poverty falling to around 40% - but we won’t know this for certain until we have the latest household survey results.

With only 5 years left until the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, this survey will give Malawi an up-to-date picture of its progress and indicate where efforts to reduce poverty should be focussed.

Key facts:

DFID is one of the largest donors to statistical capacity building in developing countries. Of those donors reporting to the DAC, the European Commission, World Bank and United Kingdom provided over half of all disbursements to statistical development in the period 2007-2009*.

DFID and the Netherlands are currently supporting the World Bank’s Statistics for Results Facility which will help accelerate the strengthening of statistical systems in 5 pilot countries - Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria and Rwanda - so that there is more reliable data to better manage and measure development results.

DFID also provides bilateral support to statistical development in many of the countries we work with, developing the capacity of national statistical offices to delivery census’, household surveys and improving management information systems. For example, in Malawi, DFID is also currently supporting the 2009 Demographic and Health Survey and our previous support to the 2008 census provided vital data for the successful delivery of national elections and for the development of the next poverty reduction strategy.

PARIS 21 at 10: Improvements in Statistical Capacity Since 1999 report

Published 19 October 2010