SDGs: Africa's Progress to Date

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According to the World Bank’s 2016 World Development Indicators (WDI) report, extreme poverty rates have fallen in Africa south of the Sahara over the last two decades, but not as quickly as in other regions. SSA’s extreme poverty rates declined from around 55 percent in 1990 to around 45 percent in 2012, while extreme poverty in South Asia fell from 51 percent to 19 percent during the same period. Globally, extreme poverty rates decreased from 37 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2012.

Ending extreme poverty worldwide is the first goal set out by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed upon in 2015.  As these numbers from the WDI show, however, Africa appears to lag behind other regions when it comes to progress on these goals. The report estimates that if national growth rates from the past decade continue for the next 15 years, extreme poverty in SSA will still be at around 20 percent in 2030, significantly above the estimated global rate of 4 percent.  

One factor that could contribute to ending extreme poverty in the region is the expansion of social protection programs. According to the report, only 15 percent of people in the bottom income quintile in SSA have access to social protection benefits such as cash transfers, school feeding programs, targeted food assistance, old-age pensions, disability pensions, unemployment insurance, skills training, and wage subsidies. Increasing the reach of such programs can help close the region’s poverty gap and support the achievement of SDG1 (the eradication of extreme poverty).

In addition to progress on ending extreme poverty, the report also covers regional progress on the remaining 15 SDGs (not all of which will be discussed in detail here). SDG2 sets the goal of zero hunger; this means ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. In terms of the prevalence of overall undernourishment, SSA has seen a decline from 33 percent of the population to 19 percent during the period 1990-2015; global undernourishment rates fell from 19 percent of the global population to 11 percent during the same period.

Between 2000 and 2014, average cereal yields (measured in kilograms per hectare) grew from 1,130 to 1,476 in SSA. During the same period, agricultural value added per worker (measured in 2010 US$) also grew significantly, from 771 to 1,207 in the region.  However, the report cites that cereal yields in SSA are still the lowest in the world. For example, Latin America and the Caribbean saw cereal yields grow from 2,854 kilograms per hectare to 4,127 kilograms per hectare over the same period. Average global cereal yields in 2014 reached 3,886.  With populations in low-income countries expected to grow by around 35 percent by 2030, agricultural productivity in these areas – specifically in SSA - will need to significantly expand to prevent increased food insecurity.

SDG6 aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of clean water for all. The report cites that rural populations in SSA have the lowest access to an improved water source of any population in the world, at only a little over 50 percent. Urban populations in SSA are better off, with closer to 80 percent of urban dwellers having access to safe water sources. The region is also the third most water-stressed region in the world, with only around 4,000 cubic meters of internal freshwater per capita in 2014. With populations expected to continue to grow, the report suggests that water use for both the agricultural and energy sector will need to expand significantly by 2030.

Climate change will also continue to put additional pressure on natural resources like water. SDG13 calls for improved resilience and capacity to adapt to climate-related threats and natural disasters, as well as the integration of climate change measures into national planning, improved climate-related education, awareness-raising, and capacity building, and increased funding and resources to help address the needs of low- and middle-income countries. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change aims to limit increases in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Looking at increases in temperature regionally, the report suggests that by 2050, low-income countries, including many countries in SSA, are more likely to experience higher average temperature increases than higher income countries based on their geographic location; this could increase these countries’ risk of weather-related disasters and associated economic losses.

Another important piece of the development puzzle for Africa south of the Sahara will be the expansion of infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. Specifically, rural roads play a huge role in connecting farmers to markets, reducing transport costs, increasing and education employment opportunities, and helping remote communities recover from disasters more quickly by facilitating the movement of resources and supplies. The report finds that access to rural roads varies considerably within SSA. In Mozambique, 19 percent of the rural population lives within two kilometers of a good road, leaving an estimated 14.5 million people without access. In Kenya, an estimated 57 percent of the population lives within two kilometers of a good road; however, this still means that 13.5 million people are without access.

The WDI report and related datasets provide a comprehensive look at the 169 specific targets that make up the Sustainable Development Goals. While regional and country-level data remains somewhat limited, overall, the report highlights that much progress remains to be made if low-income regions like SSA are to successfully meet the SDGs by 2030.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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