Study finds growth not helping Africa's poor

Survey says African countries have failed to reduce poverty despite economic growth experienced over the past decade.

Last Modified: 01 Oct 2013 16:37
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Growth in Africa has been less poverty-reducing than elsewhere in the world, the report said [GETTY/GALLO]

Improved economic growth over the past decade in Africa has failed to reduce poverty in a majority of countries on the continent, a new study has revealed.

The Afrobarometer survey, released on Tuesday, said that despite playing host to some of the world's highest economic growth rates, many Africans still reported shortages of basic needs, including water, food, healthcare and cash.

"Meeting their basic daily needs remains a major challenge for a majority of Africans, even at a time when their countries are reporting impressive economic gains," the survey found, citing data retrieved from the citizens of 16 African countries over the past 10 years.

In a second part of the study, the report surveyed the opinions of more than 50,000 citizens of 34 countries across the continent between 2011-2013 and concluded that "
lived" poverty remains "pervasive across the continent".

The continent's economy is expected to grow by almost five percent this year, but half of survey respondents said they occasionally lacked food, clean water, and medicine. One in five said they face frequent shortages.

Measuring poverty

"Either economic growth is not trickling down to average citizens and translating into poverty reduction... [or] there is reason to question whether reported growth rates are actually being realised," the researchers found.

"Poverty has come down very, very slightly."

Robert Mattes, University of Cape Town

People were poorer in areas where government spending on basic infrastructure lagged, the survey found.

"The data show significant correlations between access to electrical grids, piped water, and other basic services in communities and lower levels of lived poverty."

Low education levels also had a big influence on poverty.

People in West Africa and East Africa experienced most shortages, while North Africans reported the least.

The highest poverty levels were measured in Burundi, Guinea, Niger, Senegal and Togo, while Algeria and Mauritius had the lowest.

The study has been conducted roughly every three years since 1999, with more countries added to the survey each time round.

Carried out by independent African organisations, the Afrobarometer aims to measure poverty as an alternative to countries' own national income and expenditure surveys, which are often too costly for some governments.

Of 16 countries studied for the past decade, the researchers measured little improvement in lifestyle, said Afrobarometer's Robert Mattes at the study's release in Johannesburg.

"Poverty has come down very, very slightly," said Mattes, who also heads the University of Cape Town's Democracy in Africa Research Unit.

The lives of people in Cape Verde, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia improved over the past decade.

In this period, however, poverty went up in South Africa, Botswana, Senegal, Mali and Tanzania.

Zimbabweans also reported a dramatic drop in poverty since 2008, which researchers attributed to a "peace dividend" after a power-sharing government was formed following a decade of political and economic turmoil.

Over half the respondents rated their country's economy as bad, while only a third thought the economy and their living conditions had improved in the past year.

Most however thought things would look up in the coming year.

The researchers urged governments to focus on reducing poverty rather than simply growing their economies.

"Investments in education and infrastructure may be among the most effective ways to extend economic gains to the continent's poorest citizens."

The Afrobarometer study echoes a World Bank report earlier this year which found growth in Africa has been less poverty-reducing than elsewhere in the world.

While strides have been made in reducing the levels of Africans living on less $1.25 a day, more than a third of the world's extreme poor still live in sub-Saharan Africa.


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