A new study, published by the University of Cape Town's Development Policy Research Unit, has found that about 46% of the continent's inhabitants survive on less than $1 a day, 21% eke out an existence on less than $0.50 - and the ultra-poor, about 6%, live on less than $0.25.

"In absolute terms, while there were approximately 164 million poor individuals in sub-Saharan Africa in 1981, this figure had increased to 316 million in 2001," the study said.

Worryingly, most Africans seem to remain poor even when their economies grow.

"Sub-Saharan Africa, apart from inadequate growth rates is also not effectively translating this growth into poverty alleviation," the study added.

Analysts have highlighted a range of factors to explain the persistence and growth of extreme poverty in Africa, including poor governance, heavy dependence on commodities, and an exceptionally high and crippling disease burden.

Asia

This gloomy state of affairs differs sharply from other developing regions, the report said, pointing out that South Asia had managed to reduce its levels of poverty by an annualised rate of between 2 and 3% in the two decades from 1981.
    
The study added that East Asia also reduced its poverty levels significantly, even with China excluded.