His Excellency Dr.
Eradicating poverty, hunger and promoting sustainable livelihoods are central to Malawi's socio-economic development programmes and have been highlighted in our Vision 2020 and Malawi's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper.
Among other initiatives, Malawi launched its first National Environmental Action Plan in 1994. This has been our leading light, and indeed natural resources management features highly in Malawi's Constitution. I launched our first National Environmental Policy and Act in 1996.
More recently, we have encouraged people's active participation in environmental affairs as part of our national decentralization programme. In addition, my government works in partnership with civil society to address the poverty-environment nexus.
Mr. Chairman, despite our many achievements and initiatives to implement Agenda 21, there continues to be some challenges for us to attain meaningful sustainable development. Malawi, a nation of 10 million people, remains one of the least developed countries in the world, with over 65 percent living in poverty.
Among our challenges is the fact that people are putting pressure on the country's natural resources, as they struggle to survive. As a result, our forestry, fisheries and agricultural resources are under pressure. For example, forest cover has declined by 50 percent in the past 20 years because 90 percent of our energy requirements are still in the form of fuel wood or charcoal.
As we all know, where there is environmental damage the hardest hit are the poor. As I am speaking, 3 million of our people face famine due to a drought and severe floods that we experienced during the last growing season.
Mr. Chairman, the poverty profile in Africa is increasing instead of being reduced. Most of the people in Africa and the SADC region are living on less than a dollar a day.
It is clear that some of the root causes of the increasing poverty that we are experiencing in Malawi are lack of a high literacy level and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. We are very committed that HIV/AIDS should receive special attention in all our programmes; and that it should be integral to Environment Impact Assessments.
Mr. Chairman, Malawi supports fully the initiatives and principles of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as endorsed by the African Union. Much as I greatly appreciate the assistance we receive from development partners in the international community, we need to talk of big changes and a big shift that calls for strengthened and serious policy actions.
Mr. Chairman, the initiatives we agree upon here will only succeed if every one is taken on board and allowed to contribute. In this regard, Malawi believes that countries like Taiwan, which is seeking the opportunity to accede to international environmental treaties, ought to be allowed to participate, especially when you consider that Taiwan has sponsored more than fifty conservation projects worldwide. The world is one big family and no member of that family should be left out by the wayside.
Mr. Chairman, our people are looking and listening to us as we speak here. When we return to our various capitals, they will expect us to deliver. We owe it to the people we lead to try and make this world a better place to live in, not only for mankind, but also for all other creatures that call this planet their home.