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close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
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View the documentEconomy and society: Development issues
View the documentEnvironmental issues and futures
View the documentEnvironment and resource management
View the documentInstitutional issues
View the documentEnvironment and development in Ghana
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Economy and society: Development issues

According to World Bank estimates (World Bank 1990: 29 and 139), Sub-Saharan Africa has the second highest proportion of poor people of major world regions and is forecast to become proportionately the world's worst case by the year 2000, although its total of poor people will still be less than that of South Asia. The poor not only have problems in acquiring basic resources, but also have limited entitlements because of their status and low life expectancy owing to their vulnerability to disaster, exploitation, and social demands. In the Sub-Saharan countries for which data are available, rural poverty correlates most strongly with low levels of per capita energy consumption, of international trade, of imported food, and of valueadded in agriculture, i.e. commercial agriculture, but has only a low positive correlation with the percentage of the labour force in agriculture, suggesting that many rural poor people are unemployed, underemployed, or employed in non-agricultural occupations. Large numbers of peasant farmers depend mainly on subsistence and are little affected by the market reforms and freeing of prices advocated by the World Bank, while many of the rural poor depend on the market to supply basic needs. Rural poverty is generally higher in countries with poor economic development indicators and financial problems and there is evidence that it has been made worse in several countries, at least in the short term, by the financial policies and employment cuts associated with economic reform, following mounting international debt plus repeated drought and crop failure.

Marked economic and social inequity is evident in Sub-Saharan Africa, in some cases similar to the more extreme Latin American examples. Many resource use and environmental management problems are derived from inequitable management practices, which often claim superior scientific and technical knowledge, associated with alien systems of production and ideologies, and often support certain dominant economic, social, and bureaucratic vested interests. Formal orthodox environmental management offers technical efficiency, but is structured in a way that makes it the prerogative of a privileged group or class of nations or persons. It lacks the regard for social equity often built into indigenous popular environmental management. The answers to environmental questions and questions of sustainability are not necessarily scientifically determined, but may depend rather on the values, political positions, and vested interests of those called upon to provide them. The environmental end-users are the African people and it is with them that environmental management policy should begin, preferably in a much more participatory form than hitherto.

There is in Sub-Saharan Africa a vicious circle of population problems, producing mounting resource pressures and complicated by considerable migration, including strong rural-urban flows, urbanrural movement, migrant farmers and labourers, agricultural resettlement, pastoral nomads, and refugees from famine, warfare, and persecution. Despite high infant mortality rates, annual population growth rates of 3 per cent or more in most Sub-Saharan countries pose one of the greatest challenges to economic development and resource management, although the human resources are capable of improvement through better education and health facilities. Unfortunately these will become ever more difficult to provide with rapid population growth and the increasing social and economic liabilities of an urbanization that has failed to trigger industrialization or to produce higher levels of economic development. The future looks bleak for Sub-Saharan Africa because many countries have failed to improve standards of living or to provide for basic needs. The future demographic scenario both threatens natural resources and limits the effective development of human resources. The 1992 United Nations

Conference on Environment and Development at Rio de Janeiro indicated that the Sub-Saharan countries may have to shoulder a larger share of the burden of environmental problems than earlier envisaged, and in future will probably have to depend more on selfreliance and on their own funding for the required systematic multidisciplinary policy research.

Africa has a long history of urbanization and, apart from East Asia and the Pacific, has currently the fastest rate of urban growth of the major global regions. However, it still has the lowest proportion of urban population and its urbanization has become increasingly a spatial concentration of poor people, who in many cases are forced to put today's needs ahead of tomorrow's environment. In large part the associated urban problems are the result of a failure to raise income levels by increasing industrial productivity.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the least industrialized major region of the globe, yet industrialization is unlikely to expand and diversify significantly in the near future with poor prospects for foreign direct investment, which is mostly attracted elsewhere. Recession and state sector cutbacks under structural adjustment, whose severity was predicated partly on the assumption that foreign investment flows would increase, are exacerbating both unemployment and industrial pressures on the environment. Many people have been forced into dependence on informal economic activity, and the enforcement of conservation or pollution abatement legislation has become more and more difficult. The building material industry in particular is a prime case for improvement, while the informal and wider small business sectors need to play a more important role within integrated strategies.

Poor management practice, particularly in urban development, has tended to encourage the exploitation of both people and environment and in consequence to create unstable situations. Extremely rapid urban growth accompanied by huge migratory inflows, pressure on peripheral land resources, poor or inadequate systems of supply, insecurity, and low-quality services are all factors encouraging social and political instability. They have resulted in a legacy of poor housing, depletion of vegetation for fuel, polluted drinking water, poor sanitation, and uncollected waste. Most municipalities lack sufficient resources to cope with their worsening social and environmental problems as the areas under squatter settlements and legalized areas of self-help housing expand. At root the basic problem is poverty, so it can be argued that employment and income-generating strategies should be given priority in urban planning.