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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

Population, economy, and sustainable development

In Sub-Saharan Africa one can contrast the poorest countries such as Ethiopia, where high population growth and poor productivity mean that people have to struggle even to provide basic needs, with more productive countries such as Kenya, where high population growth constrains the development effort. Population growth is not the cause, even the main cause, of poverty and decline in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it does mean that high rates of growth in productivity must be achieved in order for the economy to do more than stand still. The World Bank argues that economies need to grow by at least 4-5 per cent a year. The target for agricultural production should be 4 per cent to meet food requirements and generate the foreign exchange needed for development, and for industrial production 5-8 per cent, with a rapid expansion of jobs to reduce unemployment (World Bank 1989: 4).

Unfortunately, the World Bank devoted all too little space in its 1989 study of Sub-Saharan Africa to the implications for, and the costs of sustaining, the natural environmental base, although in looking at the case for increasing agricultural production it did point out that agricultural expansion cannot be adequate to meet needs without adverse environmental consequences and that there was a need to reverse "the degradation of natural resources that threatens long-term production" (World Bank 1989: 8-9, 89-91, 100-103). However, more recently the Bank has shown increasing environmental concern by proposing to assist in national environmental assessments (see below). In 1991 the Bank set up the Global Environmental Facility to invest in green projects of global importance by paying for research and for the incremental cost of protecting the environment above that which is in the interests of the developing countries themselves (Reed 1993; World Resources Institute 1994: 229-231). Although clearly an advance in Bank policy, nevertheless the Facility has met with criticism for its financial limitations.

It is becoming increasingly difficult in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide adequate educational and health facilities as productivity falls or remains stagnant and the need to repair or improve deteriorating and inadequate infrastructures grows. In almost all the Sub-Saharan countries, structural adjustment and stabilization programmes, mostly advised or managed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have become necessary in attempts to cope with enormous international debt and debt service payments, to deal with external trade deficiencies, and to resolve internal debt problems, overspending, fiscal imbalances, inflation, and productive decline. In many cases these programmes have led to a worsening of the more adverse social effects, including reduced availability of health services and education as rising costs have forced up charges.

On the basis of gross national product, the World Bank classifies 27 Sub-Saharan countries as low-income economies, 5 as middleincome, and 4 as upper-middle-income. Low income per capita leaves little room for savings and investment or for the finance required to support an adequate infrastructure and services. The United Nations Development Programme employs a "Human Development Index" (HDI), from which Sub-Saharan Africa's situation emerges just as bleakly (UNDP 1994: 130-131). In 1992 only six Sub-Saharan countries had HDIs over 0.5 and two of these were island groups; the mainland countries, in descending order of HDI, were Botswana, South Africa, Gabon, and Swaziland. Outside southern Africa only small, mineral-rich Gabon showed any promise.

Sub-Saharan Africa also has low and declining levels of foreign investment, partly because of doubts about future political stability, despite the spread of greater democracy, and some evidence of capital flight. External factors, such as the demise of communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the former USSR and the economic boom in East and South-East Asia, have encouraged major investment flows to poorer countries to go elsewhere. However, more aid flows into Sub-Saharan Africa than into any other major global region - more than one-third of the official development assistance to the less developed countries in 1991. In nine Sub-Saharan countries it provided more than one-fifth of the gross national product (World Bank 1994: 19B-199). It has been argued that the Sub-Saharan countries will need a greater measure of self-reliance in the face of falling terms of trade, mounting debt, and low levels of investment (Ikoku 1980). Greater self-reliance, with the implication of more independent policies and greater self-sufficiency, may well be necessary in some of the Sub-Saharan countries, but such a policy should not neglect comparative advantage in production and trade or the need to build a more productive export industry to fund the new inputs needed for development.

Clearly the sustained use of natural resources is likely to be increasingly difficult in the face of the economic and social pressures listed and the natural inclination of poor people and poor countries to seek short-term solutions to their problems, which at least offer immediate survival, combined where possible with rapid growth, even at the cost of some environmental damage. For the poor, growth has been claimed to be not an option but an imperative (Husain 1994: 163). In part some of the "short termism" implicit in structural adjustment policies may have encouraged environmental degradation by quick "solutions," coupled with considerable pressure to raise export performance and increase local food production, although some environmental degradation has a long history, often linked to institutional distortions (Husain 1994: 163). Currently it is not so much increasing productivity that is the problem but the speed with which it has to be undertaken to offset rapid decline and rapidly increasing population. Incentives are needed for improved resource use, but these are affected by both price-related and institutional factors.

One of the most hopeful signs has been the introduction of National Environmental Action Plans (NEAPs) incorporating a holistic approach. These were in effect suggested in 1987 in an offer by the president of the World Bank of the Bank's assistance in nationwide environmental assessments. They were pioneered in Madagascar, Lesotho, and Mauritius. Other countries engaged in similar national environmental planning include Ghana, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, and the Seychelles (Falloux and Talbot 1993). There are some external resources to support NEAPs, but they are limited. Many of the developed countries were reluctant to sign the Biodiversity Treaty at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and some never signed it. Undoubtedly this was discouraging to the developing countries, most of which have been left to provide a large part of the funding required by their environmental management programmes. Yet without such funding and management, limited as it is at present, growth can hardly be sustained without undermining the environmental basis. Probably more commercial considerations will have to be taken into account in future conservation initiatives, or the costs of conservation will be seen as an immediate drain on very limited and even decreasing resources, despite the essential long-term advantages (Moyo, O'Keefe, and Sill 1993: 4).