While poverty is declining globally, number of poor people rise in Sub-Saharan Africa: Data

The World Bank cites conflict-induced instability in the region as the reason behind rising poverty numbers

March 14, 2024 09:30 am | Updated 09:30 am IST

Unemployment and poverty: Job seekers wait beside a road for casual work offered by passing motorists in Eikenhof,  South Africa

Unemployment and poverty: Job seekers wait beside a road for casual work offered by passing motorists in Eikenhof, South Africa | Photo Credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO

At a time when the number of people living in poverty has been declining worldwide, and significantly in some regions, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen a high increase. In 1990, 278 million people were identified as poor in Sub-Saharan Africa. This number increased to 397 million in 2019. The increase was particularly profound in the last decades, from 2008 onwards, when conflicts occurred in many countries in this region. These statistics were compiled by the World Bank.

This is in contrast to other regions. In South Asia, for instance, 1.62 billion people were identified as poor in 1990. This number came down to 221 million in 2019. In fact, in 1990, 80% of the world’s poor were living in South Asia, while only 13.8% were in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2019, though, the share in South Asia fell to 31.4% while that of Sub-Saharan Africa increased to 56.6%. The overall estimated numbers of poor people, the world over, fell from 2.01 billion in 1990 to 702 million.

Chart 1 | The chart shows the number of people living below the poverty line of $2.15/day (2017 PPP).

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While the number of poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa increased, poverty in terms of the share of the region’s population reduced from 53.8% in 1990 to 35.4% in 2019 (Chart 2). The corresponding number for South Asia fell from 49.8% to 10.5%, a drastic decline that is offset slightly by the fact that the share increased marginally from 10.4% in 2018 to 10.5% in 2019.

Chart 2 | The chart shows poverty in terms of percentage of population.

In West Asia and North Africa, poverty levels which were steadily declining from 1990 took a turn for the worse in 2014 and steadily increased from then to reach 9.6% in 2018, higher than 6.3% in 1990. This increase coincided with the civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, and the conflicts in Yemen. Besides, states have been fragile in this region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Also read:Coup in Gabon: On the trends in Africa

The World Bank also infers that within Sub-Saharan Africa, “poverty is increasingly concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS)”. These include Madagascar, Burundi, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Malawi, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. In fact, the only country outside Sub-Saharan Africa included as an FCS that registered a poverty rate above 60% was Syria. Yemen was a close second with 58%. The World Bank also mentions that African countries that managed to avoid fragility, such as Benin, Cape Verde, Gabon, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, and Senegal, also managed to steadily reduce poverty.

Chart 3 | The chart shows the countries with their latest estimated poverty rate (as a % of population), according to World Bank Data, in FCS, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the rest of the world.

South Sudan and Burundi, with a poverty rate of over 70%, had the highest poverty rate globally. In at least eight Sub-Saharan countries, the poverty rate was over 60%. Among countries in the rest of the world, which are not in the list of FCS, Uzbekistan leads the list with a poverty rate of 28% followed by Belize (18%), Djibouti (17%), Honduras (12%), and Suriname (11%).

In total, the 43 countries which had the highest poverty rates in 2019 were either in the FCS list or were in Sub-Saharan Africa, which, according to the World Bank, points to the importance of stability. Instability and conflict increased debt distress in these nations. “Economic growth is premised on stability, and the fact that China and India were stable for the past 30 years is easily taken for granted,” the World Bank blog observed. Both these countries have dominated global poverty reduction due to strong economic growth in recent decades.

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