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Country Reports

Malawi Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Travel to Malawi (population 18 million), a small landlocked and seldom-visited sub-Saharan country, should pose no major problems if common sense is exercised.

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISKS

The sociopolitical situation is relatively calm, despite some episodes of popular discontent leading to sporadic violence. Two days of unrest in towns and cities across the country in July 2011, which aimed at winning political and economic reforms, were sparked by fuel shortages, inflation, and high unemployment. The clashes were met by a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces and resulted in ten deaths in the northern cities of Karongo and Mzuzu, as well as nine others in Lilongwe and Blantyre. In May 2014, violent demonstrations were seen across the country in response to the election outcomes. In Mangochi district, police used tear gas and rubber bullets on opposition protesters, resulting in one death. The presidential election was won by opposition candidate Peter Muathariki of the Democratic Progressive Party. In October 2014, violent clashes between shop owners and security forces took place in Lilongwe. Travelers should keep their distance from all demonstrations. Discontent with continued economic problems and perceived poor governance persists; both planned and spontaneous demonstrations related to governance and economic grievances occurred throughout 2016 and 2017. Though such incidents were peaceful, political demonstrations still risk becoming violent.

SOCIOECONOMIC RISKS

Malawi is densely populated and underdeveloped. With 80 percent of the country's population living in rural areas, the economy is reliant predominantly upon the agricultural sector. Economic grievances among the country's poor and unemployed risk civil unrest.

CRIME

Due to significant rates of petty crime, travelers are urged to remain vigilant. Criminal activity is most prevalent in the country's urban areas. Muggings are possible, especially around the main bus stations in the capital Lilongwe and the country's commercial hub Blantyre, and in regions popular with tourists (Nkhata Bay, Zomba, Senga Bay, Cape Maclear, and Mzuzu) as well as along the roads near the border with Mozambique. The most common crimes are pickpocketing, purse-snatching, car theft, and scams. If attacked, do not offer resistance. Some Western governments advise travelers to the country to follow certain precautionary measures: avoid driving in rural areas at night (be particularly vigilant at night in Blantyre and Lilongwe), always keep an eye on personal items while in public (so drugs cannot be slipped into purses or luggage), never buy raw precious stones (potentially black-market goods), do not hire unofficial guides, do not accept offers of food or drink from strangers, and avoid walking alone at night in poorer neighborhoods.

Though organized crime does not pose a significant threat to travelers, the country's porous borders allow cross-border criminal activity including human trafficking and illegal migration. 

TRANSPORTATION

Roads tend to be in poor condition, which, in combination with other factors (e.g. the presence of animals and people on the sides of roads, vehicles traveling after dark without lights), makes for dangerous driving conditions. Road conditions are particularly poor during the country's rainy season, resulting in washouts and potholes. Malawi has one of the highest rates of road accidents on the African continent. Avoid driving after dark.

Travel by public transport is not recommended. Public transport is extremely limited and consists primarily of unregulated private mini-buses and pick-up trucks used to travel between towns, which are overburdened and dangerous. Larger coach services between major towns are safer and more reliable. Bicycle taxis and small motorized tricycles used as public transport in urban areas are also unsafe. Emergency services are limited.

NATURAL RISKS

There is a risk of earthquakes in Malawi; in 2009, a series of quakes hit the areas around Karonga, northern Malawi, with some registering 6.2-magnitude, resulting in a number of fatalities and damage to infrastructure.

The country also experiences severe flooding during the rainy season (November to April). In January 2015, deadly flooding killed 200 and directly impacted 100,000 others. It is imperative to research road and weather conditions before traveling by car during the rainy season.

INFRASTRUCTURE

It should also be noted that there is very limited tourist infrastructure outside of large urban centers. Even main urban areas may face shortages in power and electricity.

LEGAL

Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi.

Travelers to the country should carry identification (i.e. copies of passport ID page and visa) at all times.

There are criminal laws pertaining to the protection of wildlife; it is illegal to sell, kill, buy, or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a license. Those caught trafficking goods, including ivory, will be prosecuted and could face a significant prison sentence or fine.

Purchasing uncut precious stones is illegal.

Travelers to the country should be sensitive to local culture. Women in particularly are advised to dress modestly and should avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless tops.

HEALTH

The country's weak health infrastructure makes it a potentially risky destination for travelers. Foreign visitors should be aware that medical facilities are scarce and poorly equipped. In the event of a serious problem, a medical evacuation to South Africa may be necessary.

Food- and water-borne diseases are widespread, including cholera and typhoid fever. Cholera outbreaks are common during the rainy season (November to April); an ongoing outbreak currently affects the Chikwawa district (south), which is particularly common in the border areas with Mozambique and Tanzania. To reduce this risk, wash hands regularly, drink only bottled or purified water, and avoid eating raw or undercooked foods.

Various mosquito-borne diseases are present, including malaria, dengue fever, and chikungunya. Malaria is a present health risk throughout the country, year-round. Areas around Lake Malawi are particularly high risk. Other insect-borne diseases pose a risk. Trypanosomiasis (also known as sleeping sickness, transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly), is present in eight districts: Chikwawa, Kasungu, Machinga, Mangochi, Mulanje, Nhotakota, Ntchisi, and Rumphi. Onchocerciasis (river blindness), transmitted by contaminated black flies, is a public health issue in Malawi. Take precautionary measures against insect bites. On a related note, a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers over one year of age arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travelers having transited for more than 12 hours through an airport of such a country.

Bilharziosis (a parasitic disease caused by a microscopic worm) is an endemic health risk. Infection occurs when the larvae of a parasite released by freshwater snails penetrate the skin of a person exposed to contaminated water, such as Lake Malawi. It is recommended to avoid contact with bodies of freshwater (e.g. lakes, ponds) as parasitic larvae may be present.

Exposure to animal rabies is an endemic risk in Malawi. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild animals (bites, scratches, licks, etc.). If you are scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The leading cause of death in Malawi is HIV/AIDS. According to UNAIDS, 9.1 percent of the adult population (15-49) is HIV positive. 

There are sporadic epidemics of measles in the country (twice a year on average).

Tuberculosis is a common health risk in the country.

Cases of plague have been reported in the country; however, the risk to travelers is low.

Climate

Malawi's climate is tropical and the country experiences two seasons: the dry season (May to October) and the rainy season (November to April).

Heavy rains are common throughout the country, particularly in plateau regions and the northwest. Temperatures are often high in valleys and cooler at higher elevations.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +265 Police: 997 Fire Dept.: 999 Ambulance: 998

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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