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Africa makes big gains in health, education but …

Africa’s strong economic growth has spurred improvement in people’s health and education in the past 20 years as well as major reductions in poverty in several countries, the World Bank said Friday in a comprehensive report on poverty in the region.

But the Bank added that a rapid rise in population has led to increases in the overall number of extreme poor. The report estimates that 388 million people – or 43 percent of all people living in Sub-Saharan Africa – lived in extreme poverty in 2012, the last year that figures were available, a decrease of 5 million people from 2011. In a separate report, the Global Monitoring Report, released earlier this month, the World Bank projected that 347 million people are living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa this year. While the percentage of Africans living in poverty has decreased over time, the sheer numbers have grown. An estimated 284 million Africans lived in poverty in 1990.

The report, “Poverty in a Rising Africa,” was released in Ghana at a high-level event commemorating End Poverty Day, which was attended by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, government leaders, and civil society partners.

The report called for much better measurement of poverty, saying that data gaps make it extremely difficult for policymakers to target programs for the poor. On Thursday, the World Bank Group pledged to work with developing countries and international partners to conduct household surveys once every three years in each of the 78 poorest countries. The initiative, which will be fully launched by 2020, is estimated to cost $300 million every three years,

“Africa’s economy is on the rise, but to avoid bypassing vulnerable people – whether in rural areas or in fragile states – we must improve how we measure human progress. Better data will tell us whether we’re delivering effective programs that will help end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity among the poorest,” said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President.

Kim traveled to Ghana on Friday to draw attention to the West African’s country record in the past two decades in cutting poverty by more than half, from 53 percent in 1991 to 21 percent in 2012.

The report finds that progress in ending poverty in all its forms has varied greatly across countries and population groups, with the levels of achievement remaining challengingly low. Africa posted the slowest rate of poverty reduction of all major developing regions, with the share of people living in extreme poverty (less than US$1.90 a day) declining only slightly, from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. But since 2012, extreme poverty fell to a projected 35 percent in 2015 in the region, based on the World Bank’s new poverty line of $1.90 a day. Globally, according to Bank estimates released earlier this month, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty will likely fall to under 10 percent for the first time, to 9.6 percent this year.

Despite progress, more than 100 million more Africans lived in extreme poverty in 2012 compared to 1990, with at least 20% of the population estimated to be chronically poor. Africa’s extreme poor live mainly in rural areas (home to 65-70% of the population), while the highest levels of inequality are recorded in Southern Africa, where six of the world’s 10 most unequal countries are located.

Disparities among Africans are accentuated by where they live (urban or rural areas); whether they live in a stable or conflict-affected or fragile country; and possibly their gender (limited evidence on household poverty shows women are at a disadvantage). While intergenerational mobility in education and occupation has improved, rates are still low. Lack of economic mobility perpetuates both poverty and inequality in the next generation.

Conflict and violence are among the most important factors slowing economic growth or even reversing development gains. While the number of large-scale conflicts and civil wars has declined, criminality, drug trafficking, terrorism, and piracy at sea are on the rise. The effects of conflict are often long-lasting, as in Burundi, where the share of households living in extreme poverty rose from 21% before that country’s civil war to 64% in 2007.-Press Release

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