OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Political turmoil and lack of natural resources have stunted economic development in Burkina Faso, where 46.7 percent of its 19.5 million population still live on less than $1.90 a day. Since gaining independence in 1960 it has faced four military coups, most recently in October 2016. It remains one of the world’s least developed countries, and poverty in Burkina Faso is an issue far from being resolved.
The United Nations Human Development Index, which measures a state’s development by averaging life expectancy at birth, access to education and per capita income, ranks Burkina Faso 183 out of 188 countries. Per capita income has increased by 288 percent in the last 26 years, to $15,421 a year purchasing power parity.
Whilst the relative growth is impressive, it remains one of the lowest income countries in the world. The World Bank places it at 199th place out of 216 countries. The economy is still heavily reliant on agriculture, with 80 percent of the population employed in the sector. The declining prices of raw materials worldwide have hindered farmers from escaping poverty in Burkina Faso.
The problem, however, runs deeper than income. According to United Nations data, 82.8 percent is multidimensionally poor. Meaning that in addition to financial poverty, they are severely deprived of education opportunities, healthcare and living standards.
Despite significant strides in recent years, education remains a major obstacle to development. Since 1975, adult literacy rates for women have risen from three percent to 28 percent, and for men from 15 percent to 28 percent. Nonetheless, only 36 percent of the population is literate and 63 percent of children aged 12 to 18 years old are not in school.
The education system is plagued by disparities amongst rich and poor, male and female, as well as urban and rural. An estimate of 17 percent of children living in urban areas aged six to 11 years old do not attend school, as opposed to 55 percent of those living in rural areas. Similarly, only 15 percent of children born in the highest income quantile of the population attend school, whereas of those born in the poorest quantile have an unenrollment rate of 69 percent.
The relationship between education and poverty is positive. Poor children have to work to support their families, thus they are unable to attend school. Lack of education often leads to income inequality, trapping communities in a vicious circle of lack of education and consequently poverty. Further, child labor for children aged five to 14 is 39 percent, a significant hindrance in the fight against poverty in Burkina Faso.
Similar to education, significant progress has been made in the area of healthcare in recent years. Since 1980, life expectancy at birth has increased by almost 13 years to 58 years. Since the government introduced free preventative care for pregnant women and began subsidizing obstetric and emergency neonatal care, mortality rates for children under the age of five have been cut in half.
Preventable deaths are still prevalent. Lower respiratory infections, malaria and diarrheal disease remain the country’s top three causes of death. Malnutrition is also prevalent, with the national rate of acute malnutrition for children under five rising in 2015. The African Union concluded in 2012 that undernutrition in Burkina Faso was costing the government 7.7 percent of GDP.
Poverty in Burkina Faso is multidimensional and despite recent progress, the country has a long way to go for its population to prosper.
– Eliza Gkritsi