Date: Sun, 21 Mar 1999 16:15:18 -0600 (CST)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: Poverty On the Rise Despite Economic Gains
/** ips.english: 577.0 **/
Poverty On the Rise Despite Economic Gains
By Judith Achieng‘, IPS, 16 March 1999
NAIROBI, Mar 16 (IPS) - More than half of Eastern and Southern Africa's 360 million people still live on less than one US Dollar a day, four years after their leaders committed themselves to eradicating poverty at the World Summit on Social Development.
"Hundreds of millions of people are denied productive employment or livelihoods, and are struggling against high rates of inflation, devaluation and debt servicing," says Oduor Ong'wen of the Nairobi-based ECONEWS, a non-governmental organisation (ngo).
Some 350 participants from NGOs, government and UN agencies are attending a three-day conference on "Accelerating Social Development in Africa in the 21st century" which began in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Monday.
The conference, organised by the Ethiopia-based UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), is a follow up to the 1995 global confernce on Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995.
The Copenhagen Summit recommended a 10-point plan of action countries would use to confront the far reaching issues of poverty, employment, and good governance within a given time frame.
In Copenhagen, governments had agreed, among others, to eradicate illiteracy by the year 2000 and to provide universal primary education by the year 2005.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says only 43 countries out of the 130, which made commitments in Copenhagen, have formulated poverty action plans.
In Africa, with the exception of a few countries like Tunisia and Botswana, little has been achieved in terms of meeting all the 10 recommendations, despite positive economic growth since 1995, according to the ECA.
"We should ask ourselves today, whether Africa, a place of diamonds, gold, forests, oil, and abundant beauty should be the home of people living in miserable conditions," says Thelma Awori, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of UNDP Africa.
Awori, who is based in New York, calls for the writing off of Africa's 227.2 billion US Dollars foreign debt, which she says has contributed to the continent's poverty.
Countries like Rwanda and Tanzania, spend as much as 60 percent of their revenue, six times the amount they spend on education on servicing foreign debt.
"We need to spend our resources on education and health, and not on debts," she says.
As regards job creation, both employment rates and real wages in much of the sub-region have declined dramatically, according to the latest figures provided by the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO).
For example, 30 percent of the Tanzanian labour force remains either unemployed or underemployed, while in Uganda, some 3.9 million people, out of a population of 20.3 million, are jobless.
"Unemployment is rampant among women, school leavers and youth graduating from higher learning and tertiary institutions," says an ILO report on the sub-region's state of employment.
Education also has not fared well, with some 20 million school age children in the sub-region out of school, a number expected to be multiplied by millions of AIDS orphans in the coming years, according to a UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) study on the region's progress in education.
Statistics provided by the ECA indicate that 50 percent of the 360 million population in the sub-region lack peace and security, most of the victims being women, children and youth.
The NGOs attending the Nairobi meeting have called on governments in the sub-region to allocate at least 10 percent of their budgets towards eradicating poverty.
"Now is the time for the states and sections of society to undertake serious action plans for poverty eradication and renew their commitment to achieving the goals of the summit with clear targets and measurable achievements," Ong'wen says.
According to the ECA, African governments have, on the average, improved in terms of Gross Domestic Product (gdp) growth since the Social Summit.
Compared to the annual average rate of GDP growth of only one percent in the years two years before the Summit, the rate of the continent's GDP growth increased to 3.2 percent on average four years after the summit.
ECA's Lalla Ben Barka says these positive economic growth achievements however, have not been matched by recovery in the social sector such as education and healthcare in most of the countries.
"Given Africa's high population growth rates, we do not believe that the celebrations are in order yet," Barka says. "All these achievements fall far short of the required growth rate to reduce poverty by half by the year 2015."
Of the 45 countries classified by the United Nations as least developed, 32 are in Africa. "These 32 account for about 46 percent of the total population of the continent and about 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," says Barka.
Out of these, 16 are in the Southern and Eastern Africa sub- region, she says.(END/IPS/ja/mn/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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