Thursday, January 08, 2009

Africa may face extreme poverty for another 200 years, says a new report

A coalition of anti-poverty groups released a new report that suggests that the poverty struggle may still be a long one. Social Watch says that extreme poverty will continue in Africa for another 200 years unless big changes are made.

David Cronin of IPS digs into the report, and explains Social Watch's "basic capabilities index."

Its latest report finds that 80 countries -- home to half the world's population -- fare badly when three criteria are examined: the number of children who die before their fifth birthday, the proportion of children who complete primary education, and the proportion of births that are attended by trained midwives or other medical professionals.

Only 16 of these countries have registered considerable improvement since 2000. Although the countries making progress include India, home to 1.6 billion, regression has been recorded in others with a combined population of 150 million. The latter category includes Chad, Niger, Malawi, Benin and Yemen, while Bangladesh, Uganda, Nigeria, Madagascar and Ghana have been listed as stagnant.

While much of sub-Saharan Africa has recorded strong economic growth in recent years, this has not translated into a major drop in poverty levels. As things stand, the basic needs of millions of Africans will not be met until the 23rd century, with many governments struggling to fulfil pledges they have made. Zambia, for example, has undertaken to provide free basic health care for all citizens, yet continues to have one of the lowest rates of life expectancy on the planet.

Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, predicted that the crisis which gripped international capitalism during 2008 will complicate matters further. "Poor countries are very likely going to suffer quite heavily from a crisis which they did not at all create," he said, indicating that crucial sources of money such as remittances from migrants overseas will probably decline.

Bissio argued that one of the most appropriate responses of governments would be to develop a more coherent response to the fulfilment of human rights, particularly those with an economic and social dimension.

Over the past twenty years, he said, international bodies have been eager to promote the 'rights' of corporations to establish themselves anywhere in the world, forbidding poor countries to "impose on them conditions that contribute to the development of host countries."

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