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Date: Tue, 17 Jun 97 13:21:58 CDT
From: rich@pencil.gwu.edu (Rich Winkel)
Subject: AFRICA: Poverty tightens its Stranglehold

/** econ.saps: 234.0 **/
** Topic: IPS: Poverty Gains in Africa **
** Written 10:46 AM Jun 16, 1997 by dgap in cdp:econ.saps **

Africa-Development: Poverty Tightens its Stranglehold

By Gumisai Mutume, InterPress Service
11 June 1997

CAPE TOWN, Jun 11 (IPS) -- Poverty remains one of the losing battles being fought on the African continent, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says.

In its 1997 Human Development Report, launched here Thursday, the UNDP says Sub-Saharan Africa together with South Asia are the two regions hardest hit by poverty.

"Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of people in -- and the fastest growth in -- human poverty," says the report. "Some 220 million people in the region are income-poor ... and it is estimated that by 2000, half the people in Sub-Saharan Africa will be in income poverty."

This year's report focuses on poverty -- income poverty and poverty from a human development perspective, that is opportunities for living a tolerable life.

Across the world poverty has been reduced in the past 50 years more than it has fallen in the previous 500, the report says. But the progress has been marked by ups and downs, some regions often lagging behind others.

"This is the only continent in the world that will become poorer in the 21st century than it was in the 20th century," says Djibril Diallo, UNDP's Director of Public Affairs.

All of the countries, except one, ranked at the bottom of the new Human Poverty Index (HPI) introduced in this year's report are in Africa: Niger, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, Cambodia and Mozambique. Human poverty exceeds 50 percent of the population in these countries.

"The cause for greatest concern for Sub-Saharan Africa is that poverty is increasing," the report warns. The least developed countries in the region face the biggest challenges and require special international support.

"The situation is not monolithic," says Renosi Mokate of the Centre for Reconstruction and Development at South Africa's University of Pretoria. "One major contributory factor is political instability. We tend to see a general correlation between levels of poverty and lack of stability."

Conflict prevention and resolution, debt relief, more and better directed aid, opening up of global markets especially for the continent's agricultural produce could all help assist in tackling poverty.

Mokate, a development specialist, says talk of macro-economic stability tends to be interpreted as keeping government budget deficits low.

World Bank and International Monetary Fund-led structural adjustment programmes, currently in full swing across the continent, also preach government austerity.

"Yet human resource capacities require more government spending in areas such as education and health. This is often the dilemma many countries face," she told IPS.

Another millstone around the necks of Sub-Saharan African countries is an ever increasing debt burden. The debt of the world's 41 poorest countries, most of them in Africa, has risen to 215 billion dollars from 183 billion in 1990 and 55 billion in 1980.

"However, there are islands of hope which could be the basis for recovery," Diallo says. "For instance there is an increase in the number of countries turning to good governance and democracy."

This year's report is the eighth in a series of annual reports compiled by UNDP's Human Development Team led by Richard Jolly in collaboration with a group of scholars.

"Just when the possibilities for advance should be greater than ever, new global pressures are creating or threatening further increases in poverty," the authors say.

Slow economic growth and stagnation has hit 100 countries, and conflict continues in 30 countries, most of which are in Africa.

[c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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