February 11th, 2014 | Vanduyse
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African countries are confronted by the hard realities of chronic poverty. Most families struggle to provide for the basic necessities of life.
This is because, there are only limited opportunities for formal employment that can provide a decent living standard.
Most people are not in formal employment and try to earn “a little something” to live on. Even when someone is employed often the income is low. A university graduate, who earns 200 to 300 USD per month would hope for more but would consider his/her situation a blessing. This is reflected in the following statistics:
“Findings from the Gallup World Poll show how Sub-Saharan Africans rank the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the first time. Across 26 countries, Sub-Saharan Africans surveyed ranked the reduction of poverty and the reduction of hunger as the top two most important goals for them as individuals, followed by the reduction of the spread of HIV/AIDS and job creation for youth.”
Robert D. Tortora; Report Sub-Saharan Africans Rank the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); Gallup Poll World Poll; 2007; P. 21.
UN Estimate or Census Results – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population
World Health Organization (2011) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy
World Bank 2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita
“World Development Indicators”. World Bank. July 9, 2012. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
International Finance Corporation and The World Bank – Economies are ranked on their ease of doing business from 1 to 185. http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings
Exports & Imports, The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, accessed on April 17, 2011.
CIA World Factbook 2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(real)_growth_rate
CIA World Factbook – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_growth_rate
The stark statistics in the table above show that these countries are extremely poor, with a significant number of people surviving below the line of extreme poverty; this causes great suffering, as there is no or only a very limited social safety net in most countries. Without decent jobs the majority of people in Africa barely survive. There is also in most cases a massive excess of imports over exports, which is indicative of the low quality of local businesses.
If we look at Benin some anecdotal points should drive this home. For example, the most important day of the year is January 1st as it is a celebration of the survival of another year. Living on 2.00 USD per day, the reality for more than 75% of people in Benin is incredibly hard considering that 1 kg of rice costs 1.20 USD, rent for 1 room apartment with no running water will cost a minimum of 24.00 USD per month or 0.80 USD per day and transportation on a taxi-moto cost 0.60 USD to 1.00 USD per trip in the city. Life is a constant series of urgent and important choices for sustaining life and building a better future.
One notable fact about the poverty conditions in the African continent is that almost 70% of the poor people live in rural areas in different African countries. In such rural areas, people tend to depend on agriculture for both food and to make a living, however, unfavorable environmental and climate conditions, as well as the lack of support for agricultural development makes it very difficult for the people reply solely on agriculture to support their day-to-day needs. More than 218 million people in the Sub-Saharan African region live below the line of extreme poverty. Out of that most are from the rural areas in Eastern and Southern Africa – an area where there’s the world’s highest concentration of poor people.
According to studies, during the last 30 years absolute poverty has sharply declined in the worldwide. Statistics show that this decline is from 40% to 20%. However, the percentages in African countries have barely decreased. Even as of today, about 40% of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa live under absolute poverty.
There are several root causes for this ongoing poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Among the traditional causes such as corrupt governments, income gap and climate conditions, there’s a more severe cause – HIV/AIDS. About 2/3 of the HIV/AIDS infected of the world population live in the African continent. This put an unbearable strain upon the patients’ families. Because of the disease, their ability to labor decrease, therefore most households lose their only income source. Worst, most newborns are already infected with the virus because of their parents which causes the increase in the child death rate within the continent.
One main challenge in combating poverty in the rural areas in Africa is that the citizens live scattered in a large area of land, often within their tribal boundaries. Due to this, it’s an utmost challenge for the aid and support programs to reach them to provide food and healthcare. This also affects the ability of the small-scale businesses to reach their markets.
However, it’s unfair to say that absolutely no development has occurred during the past. In fact, there had been some progress, but not significant enough to be evident in numbers. Several countries have seen developments in the areas of healthcare, education and living conditions. Over the last decade, most of the African countries have shown a significant progress in economic development too. However, such economic growth has been unable to provide for reducing poverty, mostly due to high levels of inequality. There are inequalities in the distribution of resources, markets and trade, that more often the ill-suffered rural communities are neglected. This would prevent the poor people from getting access to help and aid from WHO, UNICEF, IMF and any other NGOs’ who undertake welfare programs to support the poor in Africa.
Despite general poverty that’s common to most Sub-Saharan African countries, each country has its unique conditions that keep them drowned in poverty. They face unique challenges. Some have unstable political conditions, military rules, some have extremely unfavorable land and climate conditions, some states have widespread health diseases. Therefore you need different and innovative approaches to address the poverty issues in the region; traditional approaches such as aids & subsidiaries have proven to be obsolete, but not totally unnecessary. Further, any development effort will require different parts of the society – political leaders, aid communities, tribal people and religious leaders in the region to work together to achieve the common goal of liberating African continent from long suffered poverty.
Impact of Poverty on Happiness
It is not surprising that poverty is correlated to a low score for happiness and experience of well-being based on questions of the Gallup Poll World Survey. Togo has the lowest score of 2.8 out of 10 and Benin has the 5th lowest with a score of 3.7 of 10. Poverty at the level that exists in Africa is grueling and affects all aspects of life.
There’s the famous saying that ‘money can’t buy happiness’. Literally, it may be true however in a highly industrialized world, where purchasing power is the key to wealth and prosperity, money can be a key factor which determines how comfortable and convenient your life is, and how you can provide for your most basic needs. When you can comfortably and conveniently support for your basic needs, you can be happy! Poverty, on the other hand will deprive you from doing so, thereby taking away your happiness.
Well, this is very common and abundant in most African countries. More than 218 million people in the Sub-Saharan African region live below the line of extreme poverty. It is the key enemy in most states in Africa that’ll directly influence the happiness level of the African people.
In addition to the direct consequences of being unable to provide for the basic needs, poverty can affect happiness in several implicit ways too.
Let’s rephrase the above saying – ‘Money alone can’t buy happiness’. True that you need to improve the economic conditions of those under the line of poverty. For example, a vast majority of the African population live under a GDP per capita of less than USD 200 a year. While this figure needs to be increased at least around USD 2000 a year, certain other measures in social and psychological fronts need to be planned and implemented in order to increase the happiness level. For instance, measures of life satisfaction need to be taken in to consideration in developing poverty combat programs. Proper education, satisfaction on jobs, health conditions, entertainment, and family relationships also would matter in order to increase the happiness level of people. To some extent, these are all tied to poverty. In general, both the level of education and health are very poor in the African region. Due to starvation and numerous health hazards, most children between 6-15 years do not attend their primary college education. This will result in their literacy level being low, depriving them from getting decent jobs when they reach the age, provided that there is a satisfactory job market in the region.
Not having proper education diminishes people’s opportunities of ridding themselves from poverty. People often tend to depend on aids and donations hence let other peoples guide and control their lives and life style. Lack of education leaves people at a level of self-demotivation and dissatisfaction. Lack of self-esteem, confidence and inability to think on their own hinders people from taking initiatives themselves to fight against poverty.
Poverty impacts on social interactions between people. In US or in Europe, you would see friends or colleges getting together on Friday night to have a drink and dance themselves throughout the night. For those who are well provided with the basic needs, clubbing or outings is a way to exercise their life satisfaction. Same can’t be said about most of the population in Africa. Poverty is one thing, but due to poverty people’s ability to effectively communicate and associate with the others in the community too diminishes. Mental distress, disappointment and selfishness caused by poverty could account for this.
To summarize, a significant side effect of poverty is making those effected unhappy in their lives. Unhappiness can be dangerous because it can lead to more terrible things such as suicide, violence and anger. Such negative side effects can only worsen the living conditions of those affected. Hence, the poverty combat programs should not only look at how economically uplift the poor people, but how to make them really happy by taking in to considerations the above factors on self satisfaction.