Africa, poverty, G8: some facts

Submitted by Janine on 22 June, 2005 - 1:25


In Western Europe and North America, death rates for those with HIV/AIDS have been cut dramatically through the use of antiretroviral drug treatment. In poor countries where six million people with HIV/AIDS need treatment, only 400,000 - less than 8% - are receiving it. In Africa, home to 26 million HIV/AIDS victims, only 1% are receiving treatment. The UN was understating it hugely when it commented that "treatment and care are not yet reaching the vast majority of people in need" (December 2003).

This is because the massive pharmaceutical corporations producing brand drugs have fought to keep up prices and prevent the manufacture of 'generic' copies by smaller companies and governments. The breaking of the
pharmaceutical giants' power would have an enormous impact. Even in massively unequal capitalist Brazil, for instance, the establishment of a not-for-profit generics manufacturer and a free national treatment plan
resulted in a 54% reduction in AIDS deaths between 1995 and 1999.

World weath and world poverty

The UK's national income is around £1000 billion, or $1900 billion, a year. Worldwide, the 587 individuals identified as billionaires by Forbes magazine own a total of $1900 billion in personal wealth (ie before we
even consider the collective wealth of the corporations, banks, foundations, and so on that they control).

It would take a one-off investment of some tens of billions of dollars to establish access to food, drinking water, education, and health care for everyone in the world. To maintain regular nutrition, clean water supplies, and sewage for the vast numbers of people who do not have them now would cost around $15 billion a year. The latter could be funded by reversing the tax cuts given to the rich since the 1980s in Britain alone, without troubling the rich in any other country!

According to the UN Development Programme, 46 countries have a lower income per head on the latest figures than they did in 1990. In 25 countries, more people go hungry today than a decade ago. Worldwide, 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day. 830 million people do not get enough food to stay healthy. 1.2 billion do not have clean water. Almost ten million people die each year because they do not get enough to eat.

Africa's natural resources

Poverty in Africa is not a result of environmental factors. The continent is immensely rich in natural resources. Over the next five years, Central and West Africa will account for one in four new barrels of oil to come on the global market. Over the next decade Africa will probably become the US's second-most important supplier of oil and natural gas after the Middle East. Zaire and Zambia have 50% of the world's cobalt reserves and Zimbabwe and South Africa 98% of the world's chrome reserves. South Africa also has 90% of reserves of platinum. And most members of the G8 are dependent on other raw materials from Africa such as manganese, vanadium, gold, antimony, fluorspar, germanium and diamonds.

A genuine, working-class democracy could use these resources to abolish poverty and guarantee everyone on the continent a decent standard of living. Instead they are looted to line the pockets of corrupt elites and boost the profits of Western multinationals.

Forced labour

The International Labour Organisation estimates that the exploitation of trafficked human beings through forced labour generates $32 billion a year (more than the Gross Domestic Product of over one hundred poor countries). There are 666,000 forced labourers in sub-Saharan Africa, generating more than £159 million dollars a year in profits, and at least tens of thousands more in North Africa. Between 40% and 50% of forced workers are children; 56%, and 98% of forced sex workers, are women and girls.


Africa is the only continent where agricultural production per inhabitant has fallen over the past 25 years, despite the fact that 57% of its population work in agriculture. In many countries, governments have concentrated almost entirely on producing cash crops for export, creating agricultural sectors which are highly vulnerable to climatic changes and natural disaster. Meanwhile, foreign aid has fallen from $43 per inhabitant in 1983 to $30 at the end of the century. Of Africa's 53 countries, 43 now have low income and food shortages, producing neither enough food to feed their populations nor enough income to buy imported produce to fill the gaps. Around 45% of Africans are under 15. In 2002 the continent's population was 832 million; by 2050 it is projected to reach over 1.8 billion.

Despite the fact that irrigated farming yields three times more produce than rain-based farming, at present African government use only 4% of their available water reserves to irrigate just 7% of their arable land. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is only 1.6%. (To put this in context: in Asia, 17% of water is used to irrigate some 40% of arable land.) At the same time, sub-Saharan Africa lost $52 billion in agricultural production between 1970 and 1997 as a direct result of armed conflict. This figure is equal to 75% of all the development aid these countries received over the same period.

Combined with crippling trade barriers erected by the rich states (Africa's share of world trade is less than 2%) and foreign debt, these man-made "factors" have condemned hundreds of millions of Africans to hunger and tens of millions to starvation.

Arms spending

The sums spent by the worlds richest governments on aid and debt relief pale in comparison to the amount they spent on weapons. In 2004 - the sixth successive year in which global arms spending increased - the global total spent on munitions topped $1 trillion for the first time since the height of the Cold War. The amount spent on aid that year was $78.6 billion.

The US alone spent $455 billion on arms, an increase from the previous year of 12%; its aid spending is about 4.1% of its total arms bill. It accounts for 50% of world arms spending, despite having only around 5% of the global population. Britain, the second largest arms spender, spent $47 billion. In contrast, the debt relief plan being pushed by Tony Blair will amount to not much more than $20 billion dollars for the whole of Africa, while George Bush recently announced £674 million dollars of new famine relief for the Horn of Africa.

Meanwhile, the UK Campaign Against the Arms Trade has revealed that that seven of the G8 nations are among the world top ten arms dealers, responsible for the export of more than $24bn worth of weapons, half of which last year went to developing countries. Just five members of the G8 - the US, Britain, France, Germany and Russia - were responsible for 89% of arms sales to developing countries. While the G8 promotes "free trade" for developing countries in Africa, its governments provide an enormous system of "corporate welfare" subsidies for arms giants like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Thales.

The largest two single purchasers of arms last year were China and India, both countries with huge and growing populations and extremely high levels of poverty.

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