Number of poor Africans on rise in tandem with population

CAPE TOWN // As the number of wealthy Africans has grown, the number of poor people has also increased as the overall population continues to grow, the World Bank says in new research.

In a report last month titled Poverty in a Rising Africa the World Bank says the number of people in extreme poverty declined from 57 per cent in 1990 to 43 per cent in 2012.

However, because of population growth the total number of people who are poor has risen, the report says. The most optimistic scenario shows about 330 million poor in 2012, up from about 280 million in 1990. The accepted benchmark for extreme poverty is a person earning less than US$1.90 a day.

“The main messages which emerge from this effort to assess poverty in Africa are both encouraging and sobering,” says Kathleen Beegle, a World Bank programme leader and the co-author of the report.

“Although the data show that the share of the African population in extreme poverty did decline, major poverty challenges still remain, especially in light of the region’s rapid population growth.”

Inequality is an enduring problem the report finds, with seven of the 10 most unequal countries in the world in Africa.

Southern Africa, with its disparity of rich mineral wealth and rural poor is one of the most unequal regions of all, the World Bank says.

While a couple of African countries still make it into the top 10 list of the world’s fastest-growing economies – Nigeria and Kenya – the continent overall remains the world’s most poverty stricken with all 10 of the poorest economies on the planet being in Africa, according to Bloomberg.

On the upside, the World Bank notes the decline of large-scale conflicts during the 1990s has reduced the number displaced persons who have little or no way of earning an income. Better overall economic conditions, the global commodity super-cycle, as well as the search for new mineral deposits have also left their mark on the continent.

For researchers monitoring poverty, reliable data is not easy to come by and is often limited to educated guesswork. Better resourced countries such as South Africa and Egypt have more reliable statistics, while some such as Somalia and Eritrea have none at all. Even population numbers can be dubious, as census data is either unavailable or guarded as a national secret in some countries.

Other information is simply out of date, especially as economies transform.

In 2014, the Nigerian economy was rebased – reassessed to take into account expanding economic activity and this propelled it past South Africa as the biggest economy in Africa.

“Better data will make for better decisions and better lives,” says Luc Christiaensen, a World Bank lead economist and a co-author of the report.

“It is not just about quantity, the quality of the data also matters.”

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