According to various reports by the UN and other organizations,* Africa is facing big challenges in achieving the world's anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The overall statistics may be sobering, but some countries are showing bright spots of progress, which are highlighted below.
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Although some African countries are on track to meet the target of halving poverty by 2015, poverty and hunger are on the rise on the continent. The recent global economic crisis worsened the situation. Based on projections by the World Bank, sub-Saharan Africa is not on course to cut the rate of extreme poverty (benchmarked at $1.25 a day) in half between 1990 and 2015. There is no sign of a decline in unemployment rates or of a fall in the rate of "vulnerable employment" (the activities of self-employed workers and unpaid family workers).
From 2001 to 2007, Nigeria doubled its food production. In Ghana the number of people who suffer from undernourishment fell by 74 per cent between 1991 and 2004. Through a national input subsidy programme, Malawi achieved a 53 per cent food surplus in 2007, from a 43 per cent national food deficit in 2005.
Achieve universal primary education
Sub-Saharan Africa recorded the world's fastest growth in primary school enrolment in recent years, with enrolment rising from 58 per cent in 1999 to 76 per cent in 2008 (an increase of 18 percentage points). Yet the continent lags behind other developing regions and the pace of progress is insufficient to ensure that by 2015 all girls and boys are able to complete a full course of primary schooling. In 2008, 69 million children were out of school worldwide. Almost half of those (31 million) were in sub- Saharan Africa.
In Kenya, the abolition of school fees in 2007 increased the number of primary students by nearly 2 million. A similar measure resulted in a threefold increase in primary-school enrolment since 1999 in Burundi, reaching 99 per cent by 2008. In Tanzania, the abolition of school fees in 2001 led to a net enrolment rate of 98 per cent for primary schooling by 2006, an increase of 97 per cent compared to 1999 enrolment rates. Zambia also broke through the 90 per cent threshold towards greater access to primary education.
Promote gender equality and empower women
Despite some progress, gender disparities in Africa remain large, especially in education and work. The number of boys heavily outweighs that of girls in colleges and universities in sub-Saharan Africa. Only 76 girls per 100 boys are enrolled at that level. The gender gap is the second largest among all regions in primary school enrolment (91 girls per 100 boys) and the largest in secondary school enrolment (79 per 100). Eighty-four per cent of employed women are self-employed or work without pay within a family, as compared to 71 per cent of men.
In 2008, Rwanda elected a majority of women (56 per cent) to its lower chamber of parliament, the highest level of female representation of any country. Tanzania's Land Act and Village Land Act of 1999 secured women's right to acquire title and registration of land, addressed issues of customary land rights, and upheld the principles of non-discrimination based on sex in securing land rights.
Reduce child mortality
In sub-Saharan Africa, under-five mortality has declined by 22 per cent since 1990, making it one of the regions with the largest number of reductions of deaths of children under the age of five. On average, 76 per cent of one-year-olds in Africa were immunized against measles in 2008, against 58 per cent in 1990. Still, in 2008 the highest rates of child mortality worldwide were in sub- Saharan Africa, accounting for half of the world's 8.8 million deaths. All 36 countries with under-five mortality rates exceeding 100 per 1,000 live births are in sub-Saharan Africa, except Afghanistan and Myanmar.
Eritrea has reduced its under-five child mortality rate by 50 per cent or more since 1990. In Malawi, the under-five child mortality rate fell 56 per cent between 1990 and 2008. During the same period, child mortality declined by 25 per cent in Equatorial Guinea and by 14 per cent in Zambia. Ethiopia, Mozambique and Niger have seen absolute reductions of more than 100 per 1,000 live births since 1990. The annual average rate of reduction of deaths among children under five rose more than 4 percentage points in Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Improve maternal health
Even though the goal of reducing maternal mortality has seen the least progress, remarkable gains were recorded in North Africa, where the share of women who saw a skilled health worker at least once during pregnancy increased by 70 per cent. In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of urban women who received antenatal care at least once increased from 84 per cent in 1990 to 89 per cent in 2008. The corresponding proportions for rural women were 55 to 66 per cent, indicating that coverage has improved at a faster pace in the countryside.
In Rwanda, the skilled birth attendance rate increased from 39 per cent to 52 per cent from 2005 to 2008 and contraceptive prevalence among married women aged 15-49 jumped from 9 per cent in 2005 to 26 per cent in 2008. The contraceptive prevalence rate among married women aged 15-49 in Malawi has more than doubled since 1992 to 33 per cent in 2004. Between 1990 and 2009, Burkina Faso showed coverage gains of more than 20 percentage points in skilled birth attendance.
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Years of raising awareness and campaigning have contributed to a decline (by 25 per cent since the mid-1990s) in the annual number of new HIV infections in sub- Saharan Africa. By the end of 2008, an estimated 2.9 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral therapy, compared to about 2.1 million in 2007. However, sub-Saharan Africa remains the most heavily affected region, accounting for 72 per cent of all new HIV infections in 2008. Malaria prevention is expanding. In 26 African countries, use of mosquito nets by children rose from just 2 per cent in 2000 to 22 per cent in 2008.
In Uganda, the adult HIV prevalence rate dropped from 8 per cent in 2001 to 5.4 per cent in 2007. The number of new HIV infections among children has declined significantly in Botswana, from 4,600 in 1999 to 890 in 2007.
Ensure environmental sustainability
Africa shows one of the largest net losses of forests, with 3.4 million hectares lost per year over the period 2000–2010. While sub-Saharan Africa's per capita emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) remain low compared to those of other regions, key habitats for threatened species of wildlife are not being adequately protected and the number of species facing extinction is growing by the day. Between 1990 and 2008, access to clean water expanded by 22 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, but only 60 per cent of the population is served so far. North Africa has already met the MDG target on access to water.
In 2006, 80 per cent of the rural population in Ghana had access to improved drinking water, an increase of 43 per cent on 1990 levels. In Mali, the percentage of the population with at least one point of access to improved sanitation rose from 35 per cent in 1990 to 45 per cent in 2006. In Senegal, the proportion of people living in cities with access to improved water reached 93 per cent in 2006.
Develop a global partnership for development
Official development assistance (ODA) remains well below the UN target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for most donors. In 2009, the only countries to reach or exceed the target were Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The shortfall in aid affects Africa in particular. At the 2005 Gleneagles Summit of the industrialized countries' Group of Eight, members projected that their commitments, combined with those of other donors, would double ODA to Africa by 2010. But it is estimated that in 2010 Africa will receive only about $11 bn out of the $25 bn increase envisaged at Gleneagles.
The continent's hopes of benefiting more from the international trade system also remain frustrated, as the Doha Round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization continues to face stalemate. Concluding those negotiations would improve market access for African products. Some warn, however, that its outcome could also erode the preferential advantages currently enjoyed by least developed countries, many of which are from Africa.
* Keeping the Promise, a report of the UN Secretary-General, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010, coordinated and published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Millennium Development Goals Progress Chart 2010, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Millennium Development Goals Report Card 2010.