Poverty rates and disparities in Eastern and Southern Africa are among the highest in the world. More than half the population live on less US$1.25 a day, and only one country, Uganda, is on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015.
The region, however, is also home to a large number of middle-income countries, including Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. These countries are among those with the most severe income inequalities in the world, as measured by the Gini coefficient. Namibia tops the global list as the country with the largest inequalities between rich and poor.
The effects of poverty and inequalities on children are devastating. Angola, for example, despite earning billions of dollars through its oil industry, still has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, with one in six children dying before they reach their fifth birthday.
This situation has been further exacerbated by the global economic crisis that puts recent gains in child survival increasingly in jeopardy. The most affected countries have been small landlocked countries in Southern African like Lesotho and Swaziland.
Past crises have shown the degree to which children are vulnerable to economic recessions. Parents often see themselves forced to remove their children from school so they can work or care for family members. These situations, even if only temporary, can often have a permanent impact on a child’s development and future potential.
Governments may cut their budgets for critical social services such as health care and education, since domestic revenues may decline as a result of economic slowdown and overseas development aid is decreasing as a consequence of growing budget deficits in donor countries.
Nevertheless, as shown in International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa, economic growth rates in 2009, 2010 and the forecast for 2011, 2012 are close to pre-crisis levels. This means countries have increasing resources, which could be used for addressing child poverty and inequalities through public and private initiatives.