SEATTLE — Despite decades of efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa, high rates persist. While the overall rate of extreme poverty decreased from more than 50 percent in 1900 to 43 percent in 2012, rapid population growth during this time resulted in an increase in the number of individuals living in extreme poverty by 100 million. Why is Africa poor, and how to fix it?
To address the question of why is Africa poor, and how to fix it, it is important to understand some of the main causes of poverty.
War and conflict
Violence caused by various conflicts is present throughout the continent. Currently, 15 countries in Africa are involved in a war or post-war conflict. Not only do these conflicts lead to death, destruction and resource insecurity, but they also tend to be coupled with weak or corrupt power structures. Furthermore, neighboring countries also experience increased instability and economic losses that can result in higher levels of poverty.
Drought and famine
Today, well over 30 million people live in famine-plagued countries due to droughts, flooding and conflict-induced food insecurity across Africa. Some areas have gone more than two years without rain, leading to severe droughts and inability to farm.
Refugees and displaced populations
Conflict and famine have both resulted in millions of displaced individuals and refugees, one reason why the number of individuals living in extreme poverty in Africa has increased in recent years. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts 26 percent of the world’s entire refugee population. The number of refugees in this region has increased between 2012 and 2015 due to escalating conflicts in other parts of Africa.
Life expectancy and health
Overall, the continent has a low average life expectancy of 52 years due to high infant mortality rates and a quarter of the world’s entire disease burden. Despite only having 4 percent of the world’s health workforce, Sub-Saharan Africa is the site of 90 percent of malaria deaths, 70 percent of HIV infections and 26 percent of all tuberculosis cases, three diseases known to have a disproportionate impact on those in poverty.
The second part of answering why is Africa poor, and how to fix it, involves a clear understanding of what makes aid effective.
Developing Targeted Solutions with Comprehensive Measures
A key part of addressing poverty here is to remember that each African country has unique needs, resources and challenges; tackling poverty needs to be tailored to each country. Consideration for differences in causes of poverty in urban and rural regions also needs to be taken into account.
Improvement of Access to Basic Services
Providing access to effective disease prevention resources, such as malaria nets and antiretroviral therapies, has prevented millions of deaths in Africa. Access to basic health services, a quality education and clean water sources are all necessary to successfully fight poverty.
Effective Foreign Aid and Accountability
Where foreign aid goes and how it is used is incredibly important. The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness outlines five principles for ensuring donor aid is effective.
- The aid-receiving country needs to have ownership, identifying their own poverty-reducing strategies that aid will be focused towards.
- There needs to be alignment between these strategies and local systems. Aid should focus on strengthening systems already in place or creating essential systems using available resources.
- Harmonization throughout the country is vital; organizations with the same cause or goal should work as one unit.
- It is important for donor and recipient organizations or countries to define and report measurable results.
- There must be mutual accountability, meaning donors and programs accept responsibility for honestly reporting results and ensuring aid is properly allocated.
The U.S. has taken a huge step towards providing effective aid by passing the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, which maximizes the efficacy of foreign aid by requiring regular reporting of metrics and goals and makes comprehensive data on foreign aid publicly available. Moving forward, transparent foreign aid that holds donors and recipients accountable and responsible will be key for properly addressing why is Africa poor, and how to fix it.
– Nicole Toomey