Poverty and inequality is entrenched, increasing in Africa, study says

Poverty is increasingly concentrating in Africa, according to a London-based think tank.

By 2030, if current trends continue, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to 90 percent of the world’s children living in poverty. This is just one of the disturbing findings in a new report from the Overseas Development Institute, and one that runs counter to the frequently repeated claim that the world is on track to ending extreme poverty.

African children living on less than $1.90 a day in 2030 alone will number 148 million, the ODI study authors say, with children making up nearly half of all people living in poverty worldwide. The authors of the report acknowledge that it is hard to precisely project poverty rates 15 years in the future. But they argue that the overall trend shows sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to substantially reduce its burden of poverty and inequality.

The bottom line, say the ODI analysts, is that not enough is being done to end extreme poverty in Africa.

“The world has witnessed an unprecedented reduction in poverty in recent decades, but Africa’s children are being left behind,” said Maria Quattri, co-author of the report.

“Over the next 15 years the face of world poverty will increasingly be the face an African child. Changing this picture will take more than declarations at U.N. summits. African governments and the wider international community must act now to tackle the underlying causes of child poverty.”

(Credit: ODI)

(Credit: ODI)

The problem for Africa is a combination of a slow pace of poverty reduction and an increasing global share of the number of children born.

It is projected that sub-Saharan Africa will be home to 35 percent of the world’s births in 2030, up from 29 percent today. Meanwhile, economic gains made by countries are not necessarily translating to poverty reduction. Some countries are managing to decrease inequality and others are witnessing the gap between the rich and poor grow.

Reducing poverty and totally eliminating extreme poverty (usually defined, though the precise dollar amounts are debated, as a person living on less than $2 per day) is the primary goal of the international community as stated in the United Nations’ recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Reducing poverty goes hand-in-hand with reducing inequality, says the ODI researchers.

Income gains made by the poorest can go a long way in eliminating poverty. Closing the income gap by just a little bit could keep tens of millions of children out of poverty. The authors project that if the poorest 40 percent of people living in sub-Saharan Africa saw their income share rise by just 2 percentage points, the number of projected children living in poverty in 2030 would drop by 68 million.

Aside from income, one of the main challenges is that fertility rates have not dropped as quickly as expected. In other regions, the average number of births per mother has declined as poverty rates fall. That is happening across sub-Saharan Africa, but very slowly. Efforts to increase access to reproductive health care and fewer child marriages can help put the region on a better pace to reduce fertility rates, say the authors.

If done in tandem, it will be possible to reduce poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Economic growth is unlikely to close the SDG gap entirely. Yet with better equitable distribution, investments in human capital, reproductive health care and social protection, it could generate a twin benefit in the form of an accelerated demographic transition with a more rapid reduction in child poverty,” concludes the report.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.