afrol News, 25 July - According to the Human Development Report for 2002, West Africa is the world region least developed. Life expectancy is short, incomes are low and literacy is a luxury. Half of the 25 "worst countries of the world" are West African, including potentially rich countries as Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire. The two "worst" are in the region; Sierra Leone and Niger.
The average Sierra Leonean gets 39 years old, earns US$ 490 a year and is illiterate (only 36 percent can read and write and only 27 percent are sent to school). Niger is second-worst on the list made by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mostly because of its extremely low adult literacy rate; only 16 percent.
The 27 least developed countries in the world are all African, but the bottom end of the UNDP list is very much dominated by West African countries, with the occasional country from other African regions. These include war-ravaged countries such as Burundi (number 171 out of 173), Mozambique (170), Ethiopia (168) and Angola (161).
The West African nations represented at the list's bottom end however mostly are not war-affected, and include peaceful countries such as Burkina Faso (169), Mali (164), The Gambia (160) and Benin (158). The only West African nations not listed in the category of countries with a "Low human development" (138 and below) are Cape Verde (100), Ghana (129) and Cameroon (135).
Common for the region is an adult literacy rate of under 50 percent, which differentiates the West African countries from the others on the bottom of the UNDP list. Only Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Cape Verde have a significantly higher literacy rate, at around 70 percent. In Senegal, Benin, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone, less than 40 percent can read and write.
Also life expectancy is low in the region. The average life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa is only 48.7 years. This is also the average of West Africa, although the numbers vary significantly. While a Sierra Leonean cannot even expect to become 39 years, a Cape Verdean gets almost 69 years. The only other West Africans with a good chance of reaching 50 years are the Ghanaians (57 years), Beninese (54), Senegalese, Nigerians, Togolese, Mauritanians, Malians and Cameroonians.
Income is the factor of greatest difference in the region. GDP per capita varies from US$ 490 per capita in Sierra Leone to almost US$ 2,000 in Guinea and Ghana and US$ 4,863 in Cape Verde. Oil-rich Nigeria scores astonishingly low, also on GDP per capita; only US$ 896. Another surprise is that desert Mauritania scores relatively high, with a GPD per capita of US$ 1,677.
The region's low score on human development is further underlined by the low standard of health facilities. Around half of West Africa's population has access to adequate sanitation facilities and to improved water sources. In these social investments, Cape Verde and Senegal are outstanding, followed by Ghana, Mali and Nigeria. In Sierra Leone and Chad, only 28 percent of the population has access to these basic services.
Health expenditure per capita in the region remains extremely low. In the following countries, less than US$ 10 is spent in health (private and public) per inhabitant: Niger (US$ 5), Chad, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Togo. In Chad and Burkina Faso, there are only 3 physicians per 100,000 people. Cape Verde and Nigeria invest most in their citizens' health, US$ 37 and 30 per capita respectively.
The poor health investments are mirrored in the low life expectancy of the region. Other factors contributing to this is the relatively high rate of under-nourished people; reaching 41 percent in Niger and Sierra Leone. Most West African countries however are below the average rate of 34 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. In some countries, under-nourishment even has been effectively fought. While it is wiped out in Cape Verde, it affects only 7 percent of the Nigerians, 11 percent of Mauritanians, 15 percent of Ghanaians, Gambians, Beninese and Ivorians. In this aspect, West Africa is one of the best places to live in Africa.
In a further aspect, West Africa has a clear advantage on the rest of Africa. The AIDS pandemic is still mostly not affecting the region. While over 25 percent of the population in Southern Africa are infected with HIV, the HIV prevalence of West Africa does not even reach 5 percent. This advantage can however rapidly been lost, as Côte d'Ivoire is demonstrating. A late response to the pandemic has made HIV/AIDS numbers rise sharply, now recording the region with almost 10 percent. The region however still can avoid a disaster of Southern African dimensions.