Extreme Poverty Concentrates in Sub-Saharan Africa

Gates Foundation warns that Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo will be home to 44% of people living in such conditions by 2050 if trends continue

September 18, 2018/WSJ

The number of people living in extreme poverty is becoming concentrated in some of the most unstable and populous parts of Africa, raising the risk of political violence and devastating disease outbreaks.

Just two countries—Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo—will be home to 44% of people living in extreme poverty by 2050 if trends continue, according to a new report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, compared with 20% today. The World Bank, which will release its own report on extreme poverty this week, defines the status as subsisting on less than $1.90 a day. 

Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole will be home to 86% of the world’s extreme poor unless action is taken, such as educating more women and giving them access to contraception, the report says. That compares with 57% in 2017.

The trends risk stalling decades of progress curbing disease and lifting people out of poverty, the report says. The number of extremely poor people, long in decline, could begin rising again.

Extreme poverty is concentrating in these countries because their birth rates are higher than in wealthier nations. The rising numbers of very poor people in areas marred by political uprisings and governments’ challenges in providing health care, education and job opportunities for a growing population could generate more instability, experts warn.

“We need to invest in the human capital—the health, nutrition, education, agricultural productivity, access to reproductive health tools, so that the youthful population of Africa becomes an asset rather than a burden to those countries,” Bill Gates said in an interview.

He pointed out both the promise and peril that Africa’s rising youth population poses. Today, six out of 10 Africans are under the age of 25. If educated and healthy, they could be a source for rapid economic growth, he said.

In a speech last week, Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo touted the country’s young population—63% of its estimated 198 million citizens are younger than 25—as an economic opportunity, but warned that failure to provide education, jobs and other opportunities to this new generation could leave the country sitting on a “population time bomb.”

“To avoid the time-bomb scenario, we must act with urgency to build an economy that can support that population, provide jobs and economic opportunity, education and health care, hope and optimism,’’ he said in the capital, Abuja.

Plumbing the DepthsHome to growing youth populations, extreme poverty is expected to become more concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.

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