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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 1: Economy and society: development issues
close this folderIntroduction to population, resources, and sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentInternal and international migration
View the documentNatural resources
View the documentHuman resources
View the documentPopulation, agricultural land, and food supply
View the documentPopulation, economy, and sustainable development
View the documentReferences

Human resources

There is widespread agreement that a country's most important resource is its people. Simon (1981) called people the ultimate resource, requiring improved education, health care, and nutrition. Population growth can thus be regarded as an asset to development, depending nevertheless on its rate in relation to the rate of production growth.

Sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest percentages amongst the major global regions of the appropriate age group enrolled in primary, secondary, and tertiary education in 1990 and 1991 (UNDP 1994: 156159; World Bank 1994: 216-219). Primary enrolments are particularly low in Ethiopia, the Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea. Senegal, Mauritania, the Sudan, and Sierra Leone are also below the SubSaharan average, i.e. there is a marked concentration of low levels of primary education enrolment in the part-Sahelien countries for a variety of reasons, including problems of accessibility and warfare (Chad is an exception, with only just below-average enrolment). Most Sub-Saharan countries show a sex differential in favour of males, but the difference has in most cases been considerably reduced over the past two decades.

In health care, too, Sub-Saharan Africa had the worst ratios of population per doctor or per physician in 1990 ("doctor," the term used by the United Nations Development Programme, is evidently much broader than "physician," as used by the World Bank: UNDP 1994: 150-153; World Bank 1994: 214-215). Infant mortality and under-5 mortality rates were also the worst, and several African countries had high rates of malnutrition amongst children under 5 for 1987-1992, although the worst figures recorded were in India and Bangladesh. The data suggest that health-care problems are particularly severe in Burkina Faso, Malawi, Rwanda, the Niger, and Ethiopia.

Women are arguably the most wasted human resource in SubSaharan Africa. Their access to credit, technology, and production resources in agriculture - especially land - is constrained by social and legal barriers. With certain exceptions, notably the trading women of southern Nigeria and Ghana, their earning capacity is much poorer than that of men, and most women spend their lives chiefly in rearing children, household maintenance, headloading water and fuelwood, pounding grain, and cultivating certain crops, usually of lower value - the "women's crops." They are mostly less educated than men and less well nourished, although the proportion of educated women has improved in the past two decades.