Number of desperately poor in Africa has ‘levelled off’ - UN

The 2007 report on progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is pessimistic on Africa’s chances of achieving the targets overall, but notes that the number of extreme poor has increased only marginally - from 296 million in 1999 to 298 million in 2004, despite a population growth rate of 2.3 percent.

In addition, the proportion of people living on US$1 a day or less has fallen from 45.9 percent to 41.1 percent since 1999; however, achieving the MDG target of halving the extent of extreme poverty on the continent by 2015 means the pace of reduction has to be doubled.

Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, gave warning that if the developed countries failed to meet their official aid commitments, the gains made thus far would be eroded. "The world wants no new promises," Ban writes in the forward to the report. "It is imperative that all stakeholders meet, in their entirety, the commitments already made." Only five donor countries have reached or exceeded the long-standing UN target of donating 0.7 percent of gross national income being to development aid – Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Indeed, total official development assistance fell in real terms by 5.1 percent between 2005 and 2006, the first decline since 1997, despite pledges by the G8 industrialised nations at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 to double aid to Africa by 2010.

"The lack of any significant increase in official development assistance makes it impossible, even for well-governed countries, to meet the MDGs," writes Ban. "As this report makes clear, adequate resources need to be made available to countries in a predictable way for them to be able to effectively plan the scaling up of their investments."


Photo: IRIN
Queen Noor of Jordan meeting local women during a trip to Tajikistan in June 2005 to promote the MDGs.

Mixed picture

Worldwide, the proportion of people living on $1 a day has dropped from 32 percent (1.25 billion in 1990) to 19 percent (980 million in 2004). According to the report, if that trend continues, the “MDG poverty reduction target will be met for the world as a whole and for most regions”.

Other signs of progress globally are an increase in primary school enrolment – from 80 percent in 1991 to 88 percent in 2005; a greater number of women in politics and government; a decline in child mortality, mainly through interventions against measles, for example; a boost in anti-malaria measures; and progress against tuberculosis, albeit insufficient to achieve the target of halving prevalence and death rates by 2015.

Asia has made dramatic progress in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, halving the proportion of people living on $1 a day, according to the report, and is thus comfortably on track to achieving the first MDG. However, this gain comes with increased income inequality within countries and across regions.

In southern Asia, almost 30 percent of people still live on $1 day while in eastern Asia the share of income of the poorest fifth of the population had fallen from 7.3 percent in 1990 to 4.5 percent in 2004. Improvements in child nutrition rates and gender equality in southern and south-eastern Asia were also poor: southern Asia shared with sub-Saharan Africa the highest number of maternal deaths and the lowest proportion of skilled health attendants at birth.

Furthermore, gains made towards some MDGs in Asia would be limited by challenges in other areas, such as deforestation, unplanned urbanisation, and the fast rate of growth of HIV/AIDS in some regions, stated the report.

''The lack of any significant increase in official development assistance makes it impossible...to meet the MDGs''

On the positive side, northern Africa is on track to achieving most of the eight MDGs, with poverty rates down from 2.6 percent to 1.4 percent between 1990 and 2004; income inequality the lowest among all developing regions; significant gains in universal primary education, with enrolment ratios at 95 percent in 2005; and child mortality down from 88 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990 to 35 in 2005. Only gender equality and empowerment of women let the region down, the report found.

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