Africa: Continent's development rests on universal access to quality jobs and social services, says report

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Two mothers and their children
preparing food in Congo
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: According to a newly released report on Africa's progress on global anti-poverty goals, the continent "must provide universal access to decent jobs and social services if it is to achieve decisive development progress."

The report, Assessing Progress in Africa Towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), is published annually by the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

This year the report shows that progress has been made in primary school enrolment, gender parity in primary school enrolment, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament and HIV and AIDS prevalence rates. In spite of this progress, Africa still faces the challenges of addressing pervasive income inequalities, creating decent jobs, access to health and sanitation services.

“The countries of Africa must invest in their greatest asset, its people; in particular it’s growing number of young people, ensuring that tomorrow, they can be the productive, innovative, and engaged citizens which will accelerate MDG progress and establish sustainable human development,” say the authors of the report in the foreword.

The MDGs are eight internationally-agreed targets which aim to reduce poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation by 2015.

Steady economic growth and improvements in poverty reduction continue to have a positive impact on Sub-Saharan Africa’s progress on the MDGs, the report shows, citing a 56.5 to 47.5 percent decline in the proportion of people living in poverty from 1990 to 2008.

However, these rates mask important inequalities. For instance, vulnerable employment accounts for 70 percent of job growth, and these jobs are mainly held by women. In countries like Burundi and Liberia, more than 85 percent of employed youths are working poor.

The situation is likely to be exacerbated as Africa’s population continues to grow rapidly in the absence of expanding job opportunities.

The report also highlights important gains in the areas of health and education but these are hindered by poor quality and access. For example, while primary school enrolment ratios exceeded 90 percent in most countries in 2010, only six African countries recorded primary completion rates of 90 percent and above in 2009.

In addition, while Africa has made some progress in reducing child mortality, with 50 percent falls between 1990 and 2010 in countries like Eritrea, Liberia, Madagascar and Niger, children in rural and remote areas are at a disadvantage, due to lack of qualified doctors and health infrastructure.

With less than three years to the 2015 deadline, the report urges policymakers to put greater emphasis on improving access to quality jobs, social services and safety nets. Public works programmes, youth employment schemes, insurance and school feeding programmes are among some of the initiatives that have successfully reduced poverty in countries.

While ensuring universal access, emphasis must be placed on protecting the most vulnerable from food price hikes, the effects of climate change and recurring conflicts.

As the international development community begins the process of defining a post-2015 agenda, the report also calls on Africa to articulate a common position that would take emerging challenges into account, including paying more attention to local context, and going beyond social needs by emphasizing the productive sector. It should also focus on equity, creating jobs for youth, food security, addressing resilience, climate change and peace and security.
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