Past, present and future perspectives

Continued from previous page

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A child carries water across an open drain in a village in Ghana; water pollution and poor levels of sanitation frequently lead to a predominance of water-borne diseases in the African region.

Copyright And Credit: Ron Gilling / Still Pictures

Much of the rural poverty problem is characterized by the existence of:

The rural poor are particularly vulnerable to stresses, such as extremes of temperature and rainfall (climate variation which results in drought and floods), general financial shortage, and persistent illness and bereavement. They are even more vulnerable to shocks, including famine, floods, epidemics and major changes in markets (Benneh and others, 1996).

About 40 per cent of the region's poor live in urban areas and, depending on the countries and urban settlements, between 15 and 65 per cent of African urban dwellers live in poverty, with little or absolutely no access to social and urban services which constitute decent living conditions (Soumaré and Gérard 2000). Rapid rates of urbanization in Africa can be attributed to the effects of colonialism, rural-to-urban migration, weak rural economies and a poor industrial base which cannot absorb unskilled labour from rural areas. The result of rapid urbanization is the radical transformation of the structure of cities, accompanied by complex social, economic and environmental changes (Rabinovitch 1997). There is strong evidence to suggest that urban environmental hazards-such as biological pathogens and various pollutants-are a major cause of or contributor to urban poverty and, for much of the urban poor population, environmental hazards are the main causes of ill-health, injury and premature death (Satterthwaite 1999).

Poor people, especially in urban areas, often settle in fragile zones with high population densities. This increases the overall impact of exposure to risk under conditions of heightened vulnerability, as the case study in the Box 3.9 illustrates.