Past, present and future perspectives


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Up to 65 per cent of urban dwellers in some African regions live in poverty, with little or no access to social and urban services which constitute decent living conditions.


Changes in the structure and distribution of populations can be both a cause and an effect of vulnerability to environmental change. As land degradation spreads and food insecurity grows, as a result of climatic variability and global warming, more and more people are forced to migrate to urban areas, for example, in search of work and other opportunities. People with the most diversified livelihoods, education, power, adaptability and security, among other factors, are most likely to cope with adverse environmental change, because they are more secure. The reverse is true for those lacking such endowments.


Environmental changes almost always have a greater impact on those who live in poverty. People in Africa, the majority of whom are poor, depend directly on what they can grow, catch or gather. Poverty can be exacerbated by environmental change in complex ways, particularly in natural resource-based African economies. Land degradation, deforestation, lack of access to safe water and loss of biodiversity, compounded by climatic variability, all contribute to a general reduction in environmental quality and to an increase in vulnerability for populations which are dependent on natural resources (World Bank 1997). Degradation of resources reduces the productivity of the poor, who mostly rely on such resources. It makes poor people even more susceptible to extreme events, such as drought or floods, economic fluctuations and civil strife (World Bank 1997). Poverty severely impedes recovery from these events, and weakens social and ecological resistance, especially as the poor are unable or do not have the opportunity to invest in natural resource management.

Table 3.2 averages the poverty (human development) indicators for the various sub-regions of Africa, using three levels of evaluation: high human development; medium human development; and low human development. The table also indicates: the number of countries in each sub-region at each level of evaluation; the number of people, on average, who live on US$1 a day; and the number of people living below the national poverty line.

Macro-economic crises affect the poor in several ways, all of which contribute to their vulnerability to environmental change. The situation is such that: living standards are reduced; the ability of the poor to grow out of poverty is constrained; malnutrition rates among children increase, as do school dropout rates; and household effects are sold at depressed prices (World Bank 2000). The situation only helps to perpetuate chronic poverty and to reduce overall economic growth. In the process of livelihood reduction, people become more vulnerable to environmental change because of diminished coping capacity, and the potential to adopt environmentally hazardous coping strategies-such as settling in floodplains or on unstable slopes-is enhanced.

Table 3.2 Poverty indicators for African countries


Sub-regions (number of countries in each) Number of countries in each category
% population below income poverty line
US$1 a day (1993 PPP USD) 1983-99 ave. National poverty line 1984-99 ave.
A. HIGH HUMAN DEVELOPMENT: No African country in this category!
Northern Africa (6) 5 23 19.8
Western Africa (14) 2 39 (Ghana) 31 (Ghana)
Central Africa (6) 4 xx 40 (Cameroon)
Eastern Africa (7) 1 (Kenya) 27 42
Southern Africa (11) 6 32.2 28.5
Northern Africa (5) 2 29 (Mauritania) 75 (Mauritania)
IOC (4*-Reunion excl.) 3 - 10.6 (Mauritius)
Western Africa (14) 12 47.1 49
Central Africa (6) 2 67 (C.A.R) 64 (Chad)
Eastern Africa (7) 8 29 45.5
Southern Africa (11) 4 51 70
IOC (4*-Reunion excl.) 1 63 (Madagascar) 70 (Madagascar)
Source: Summarized from JES-Preparation WSSD 2001

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