Poverty stalling progress in Africa



Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan once said poverty devastates families, communities and nations. It causes instability and political unrest and fuels conflict. This statement is correct and since poverty is pervasive across Africa, the continent is in trouble.

Like cancer, poverty is the most dangerous threat to Africa and her citizenry.

The World Bank eLibrary records that more than 290 million people live on less than $1 per day. This is sad as most of the affected people are Africans, and this is despite the fact that countries within and across Africa are blessed with abundant natural and human resources.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki believes poverty is the greatest cause of suffering across the globe. Mbeki once said extreme poverty is the world’s biggest killer and the greatest cause of ill health and suffering.

The International Monetary Chief Christine Lagarde also believes that the continent of Africa is rising but warns that poverty is stalling progress.

Despite an overall picture of economic growth for the continent, some Africans are being left behind. For instance, two-thirds of the United Nations ‘least developed countries’ (classified as those at risk of remaining poor) are in Africa.

In spite of experiencing regional economic expansion in recent years, the African continent commands a meagre 1.5 per cent share of the world’s total manufacturing output. This is according to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.

And while government coffers in many African countries have long been filled with the proceeds of mineral wealth; corruption, shady business contracts and mismanagement have meant that little filters down to people on the street, and this is further fueling poverty in African countries.

Because of this and other reasons, the Borgen Project blog – Downsize Poverty, an innovative United States campaign to improve their leaders’ response to the global poverty crisis, states that 1 in 3 people living in sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished.

“The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimated that 239 million people (around 30 per cent of the population) in sub-Saharan Africa were hungry in 2010. This is the highest percentage of any region in the world.

“In addition, the United Nation Millennium Project reported that over 40 per cent of all Africans are unable to regularly obtain sufficient food,” noted the Borgen Project blog, adding that 547 million people live without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.

As a result, a staggering 80 per cent of the population relies on biomass products, such as wood, charcoal, and dung, in order to cook. These products are also hazardous to the well-being of Africa and her citizenry.

Due to poverty, over 500 million Africans suffer from waterborne diseases, and also according to the United Nations Millennium Project, more than 50 per cent of Africans have a water-related illness like cholera.

Every year, adds the Borgen Project blog, sub-Saharan Africa loses USD $28.4 billion to water and sanitation problems, and this amount accounts for approximately 5 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product – exceeding the total amount of foreign aid sent to sub-Saharan Africa in 2003.

To further show that poverty is the order of the day in Africa, 38 per cent of the world’s refugees are located in the continent and sadly many of these 13.5 million refugees and displaced persons have lost their homes due to widespread violence and conflicts that are on the increase in the continent.

Furthermore, fewer than 20 per cent of African women have access to education. Due to ignorance and other factors, more women in the continent do not immunise their children. As a result, more women in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to die during childbirth or pregnancy.

Also, more than 1 million African children die every year from malaria. Malarial deaths in Africa alone account for 90 per cent of all malaria deaths worldwide and 80 per cent of these victims are African children. This is according to the United Nations Millennium Project.

Because of poverty, much of the continent lacks adequate roads and energy supplies and Lagarde says the continent needs more than USD $90 billion (£54billion) a year to improve infrastructure.

The World Bank also believes halving the incidence of poverty by 2015 would require annual per capita gross domestic product growth rates of at least 7 per cent.

“With Africa’s rapidly growing population, 5 per cent annual growth is needed to keep the number of poor from increasing, and halving the incidence of poverty by 2015 would thus require annual per capita gross domestic product growth rates of at least 7 per cent,” explained the World Bank.

However, all hope is not lost as over the last 60 years, some progress has been made in reducing poverty in most – if not all – African countries. Many countries have seen gains in health, education and living standards as their economies grow.

African countries need to therefore redouble efforts to harness the opportunities offered by plentiful natural resources to stamp out poverty.

At a recent meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, the International Monetary Fund, finance ministers and central bank governors declared that a deeper structural transformation is needed so that ordinary Africans can benefit from the boom. This transformation should take in the crafting of strong strategies and policies.

“Policies need to be designed in such a way to ensure that a surge in growth can also spur structural transformation,” according to the Maputo joint declaration, which was agreed after the meeting.

Political leaders, development players and think tanks must also tackle barriers to positive change on the ground – starting with poverty, lack of access to electricity, and crippling power deficits in African countries.

Furthermore, the increased, global scope of social safety nets will make the most vulnerable of African populations more resilient. Therefore, African countries need these social nets to end extreme poverty in the continent.

“Social safety nets” are programs designed to provide a floor of protection to the poor and to cushion them from shocks, and they help reduce overall poverty. These transfers can come from the state, donors, Non Government Organisations, or the private sector, and they run the gamut, including cash, food, and fee waivers for healthcare or schooling.

Was it not Jeffrey D. Sachs, an American economist, who once said: “The key to ending extreme poverty is to enable the poorest of the poor to get their foot on the ladder of development?”

True to Sachs’ words, the challenge of poverty can be only solved through human effort.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people, agrees: “The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need (therefore) to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share.”

June 2014
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