SEATTLE — Guinea is one of the poorest nations in the world. It ranks at 183 out of 188 countries and territories in the Human Development Index, 55 percent of its population lives below the poverty line and chronic malnutrition is endured by almost 30 percent of the population. Why is Guinea poor, and why is its poverty so extreme?
Even in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, Guineans suffer greatly from poverty, disease and malnutrition. When many other African nations were beginning to grow, Guinea actually went backward: between 1996 and 2004, the poverty rate increased by 9 percent. This is despite the nation’s massive natural resources; Guinea has some of the largest gold and diamond reserves in the world.
The blame for the current situation is manifold. Firstly, Guinea’s economy is poorly developed and greatly lags behind developed nations in what the government is able to provide its people. The vast majority of the population relies on a heavily unstable subsistence agriculture economy – meaning that a poor harvest or a flood can devastate an entire community for years. This is compounded by the absence of a social safety net, leaving poverty-stricken and vulnerable rural settlements isolated from any potential assistance. NGOs are largely relied upon by the government.
In a strange twist of fate, Guinea’s relatively peaceful history, in relation to its neighbors, has in many ways worsened its poverty problem. The nation’s neighbors — Guinea-Bissau, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mali and Liberia — have all in their modern histories experienced devastating civil conflicts. This has led hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to the relative safety of Guinea.
In areas such as the ‘forest region’, an influx of thousands of refugees has created enormous levels of food insecurity, as the population has swollen. It is now estimated that as many as 40 percent of residents of the region are not getting access to basic nutrition.
Asking why is Guinea poor also necessitates discussion of the catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa between 2014 and 2015. More than 3,000 Guineans died of the virus during its peak and while it has now been eradicated, the effects are still felt every day. Ebola has destroyed the tourism industry, caused a collapse in faith in the Guinean hospital system, lowered international investment and led to a standstill in vital agricultural exports.
Plans are under way to correct the damage wrought by Ebola. The World Bank has embarked on a recovery operation made up of several key pillars of investment. Water and sanitation access is in the process of being improved, while in cooperation with the Guinean government new investments are aiming to diversify the countries economy in order to increase stability. The rehabilitation of the healthcare system, if successful, will also allow Guinean communities to become healthier.
Why is Guinea poor? In short, poor management of economic resources combined with an unlucky geopolitical setting and the catastrophe of the modern Ebola outbreak. If recovery operations such as those under way on the part of the World Bank are successful, perhaps Guinea can begin to alleviate the poverty of its people, as has occurred in other developing nations in the region.
– Jonathan Riddick