Poverty in Africa means more than not being able to pay the bills on time. It means lack of education and jobs, poor or nonexistent health care and sanitation, vulnerability to disease, hungerand often, death. It is impossible to describe the effects of the widespread poverty in Africa without also discussing the causes to some degree, because one of the main effects of poverty is to perpetuate the problems that cause it.
The statistics are chilling. One in three Africans do not have enough food to eat, and for the majority of these people, chronic malnutrition is a life-threatening fact of everyday life. Lack of food for pregnant mothers leads to low birth weights and high infant mortality. In the Sudan, 90 of every 1000 children die by age 5. In Ethiopia the figure is 164 per 1000, compared with a norm of 4-6 per thousand in industrialized nations. For adults, lack of food and money means lack of health care, made even more dangerous by living conditions marked by lack of clean water and adequate sanitation.
Ironically, part of the well-publicized population problem in Africa is due to poverty. Lack of access to birth control, along with the knowledge that many children will not survive, keeps birthrates high. Currently in Africa the population is growing at bout 3% per year, outstripping modest economic growth rates of around 2.5% and so leaving less and less for the people.
The effects of poverty are not limited to hunger and disease; these are only the most obvious consequences. For most children in Africa, education is limitedif they receive any schooling at all. On average, 62 percent of children in Africa do not complete primary school, and in 19 nations the figure is under 50 %. Literacy rates are low. For example, Kenya at 77% and Zimbabwe at 85 % are among a handful of nations with fairly good literacy rates. More common are literacy rates well under 50%, including Ethiopia at 33%, Gambia (39%), Mali (32%, and Niger (13%). As each generation grows up, the lack of education means another opportunity to break the cycle of poverty is lost. Those who do get good educations tend to leave Africa altogether, frustrated by the lack of opportunity to use their skills.
Poverty means lack of the resources needed to lift oneself out of poverty. 60% of Africans are farmers. However, the average amount of land available for a farm family is just 0.10 hectare (about a quarter of an acre) per person, or about 1 acre for a family of four. Two-thirds of the arable land is taken up by commercial farms owned by the wealthy or foreign investors, and produce only cash crops such as cotton, flowers, tea, and coffee.
The lack of land means little opportunity to earn money to buy more or to send children to school, and thus one effect of poverty in Africa is to trap the victims into a struggle for daily survival that leaves no room for improving their lot.
The lack of resources extends to other areas as well. With little education or money, Africans do not have either the knowledge or means to effectively pressure governments to implement changes such as land reform. Many politicians are not willing to work for change in any case. As we've seen recently in Zimbabwe recently, securing their own power and wealth is the sole focus for many public officials. Eeven in African nations where governments are willing to make changes, the grinding and pervasive poverty makes this extremely difficult. Burdened by debt, many governments simply do not have adequate resources for providing food, education, or health care. These are, of course, essentials for raising economic productivityfor the economic growth that would alleviate the poverty.
These various consequences, direct and indirect, point to what is perhaps the most devastating long-term effect of poverty: it tends to perpetuate itself, year after year, generation after generation.