20 December 2005
Creation of Decent Jobs Holds Key to Reducing Poverty in Africa, Says Regional Commission's Latest Annual Report
NEW YORK, 19 December (DPI) -- Africa achieved 4.6 per cent growth in 2004, the highest in almost a decade, but this was not enough to arrest growing unemployment and poverty, reports the Addis Ababa-based United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The Commission says that last year's growth was due to a healthier global economy and higher prices for commodities, including oil.
In its annual Economic Report on Africa 2005, released today and entitled "Meeting the Challenges of Unemployment and Poverty in Africa", ECA says that the region's economic performance has improved significantly since the mid-1990s, when it averaged less than 3 per cent. ECA attributes this to Governments' improved economic management, better performance of the agricultural sector and more stable political conditions in many countries.
However despite higher growth, average unemployment rates have remained at around 10 per cent since 1995, the second highest in the world after the Middle East. Most recently, West Africa registered the lowest rate in Africa (6.7 per cent) while Southern Africa had 31.6 per cent unemployment. The actual situation is worse since the official statistics in many countries count people who are working in the informal sector as "employed", even though most earn very little.
The most visible consequence of such high unemployment is growing poverty in Africa. At least 61 million more Africans go hungry today than in 1990, ECA reports. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of workers living on less than a dollar a day increased by 28 million in sub-Saharan Africa. Young people are 3.5 times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the labour force. There is evidence that they often turn to crime, become child fighters or leave to migrate to neighbouring countries or to industrialized nations.
"The creation of decent jobs that can be performed by poor people is the single most effective way to reduce poverty in Africa", notes former ECA Executive Secretary, K.Y. Amoako, who retired in September. According to ECA, some 8 million jobs must be created each year to satisfy the growing number of job seekers.
The Group of 8 industrialized nations and other international donors can do much to assist the creation of new jobs in Africa, by providing needed debt relief so that funds now going to repay debt can be used for social development, including job creation.
Donors should also increase their official development assistance in line with decades-old pledges to meet aid targets, ECA states. Most immediately, donor countries need to find agreement at the World Trade Organization to improve the trade terms for African exports.
The Commission states that if Africa is to achieve the internationally agreed on Millennium Development Goals of halving by 2010 the number of people living in poverty, African economies must grow by at least 7 per cent annually. And if the region is to create decent jobs and become competitive in the global economy, every African child must receive a good education. That also costs money.
"Basic skills in today's global economy are not limited to the ability to read and count; they also include computer literacy", says Mr. Janvier Nkurunziza, a senior economist at ECA. Countries like Burundi have announced that they would make primary education free but do not have the money to do so, says Mr. Nkurunziza. "The international community recognizes that education for all is a good policy. They need to support it."
The ECA also points out that African Governments must make it easier and less expensive for businesses to operate. For example, the costs of registering a company in Africa are the highest in the world and this is a major reason why many small business people decide to continue to operate informally. The Commission also recommends that Governments take steps to move from relying on low-input, subsistence farming to labour-intensive, high-value agriculture, using new technological innovations and high-yielding crops. Countries should also move away from exporting commodities to the processing of agricultural products.
For more information contact: Gumisai Mutume, Africa Section, UN Department of Public Information, tel: 1-917-367-2302, fax: 1-212-963-4556, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Cristina Müller, UN Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa, tel: + 251-11-544-5501, fax: +251-11-551-0365, email: email@example.com
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