Surviving On One Dollar A Day

Sub-Saharan Africa is getting left behind as other developing regions climb out from the hole of poverty. In places like Senegal, getting by means the daily equivalent of a U.S. dollar.

Global Poverty

July 04, 2004|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

DAROU SALAM DIOUF, Senegal - The tiny bundle of currency - one 500-franc Central African note folded carefully around two 100-franc coins -- equals about $1.40.

But Khady Mbaye clutches it in her right hand with seemingly all her might, as if she were gripping a handrail on a flight of icy steps.

What would be a pocketful of loose change for millions in the world, enough to buy a cup of coffee, is for Mbaye much more. It is a solution to the riddle posed to her each morning when a shaft of sunlight falls through the window of her cinder block home:

How will she survive today?

More specifically, how will she feed and clothe her 14-year-old daughter and herself, buy feed for her goat and two chickens, a bar of soap every month for washing, seeds to plant vegetables and make, as best she can, ends meet?

On this day, Mbaye, a thin woman with wrinkled skin dressed in a tattered T-shirt, skirt and flip-flops, spent eight hours stooped over in a field picking tomatoes - at 20 cents per basket - to earn the money clasped in her hand, enough to buy two servings of rice, vegetables and fish.

Not all days are so kind. The day before, she earned just 60 cents. And the two days before that there was no work to be found, so she returned home empty-handed.

For the week, she is on target for her average income, about 50 cents per day.

More than 1.1 billion people in developing countries wake up each morning faced with the same riddle of survival, forced to find some way to get by, like Mbaye, on less than $1 per day.

From 1981 to 2001, the proportion of people living at this level of extreme poverty dropped by almost half, to 21 percent from 40 percent of the world's population, thanks to rapid economic growth in East and South Asia, where 500 million people were pulled up from this lowest rung of poverty, according to a survey by the World Bank.

But Africa is slipping further behind. During the same 20-year period, the survey found, the number of people on the continent living on $1 per day nearly doubled from 164 million to 314 million in sub-Saharan Africa, an increase from 42 percent to 47 percent of the continent's population.

Hobbled by conflict, endemic diseases like AIDS and malaria, rapid population growth, lack of investment, and irrelevance in the global economy, sub-Saharan Africa is stumbling deeper into poverty.

During the past 20 years, the per capita gross domestic product of the continent shrank by 14 percent. Despite having about 10 percent of the world's population, its share of world trade is now less than 2 percent.

The forecast for the next decade is equally dismal.

"Population growth rates have outstripped economic growth. On current trends, the number of poor is likely to rise ... to 404 million people by 2015. What is more, 40 to 50 percent of the people in Africa are under 15 years old and that percentage is growing," said K.Y. Amoako, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, during a meeting of the commission in May in Uganda.

In Mbaye's windswept West African village, some of the forces working against sub-Saharan Africa are clearly visible. Less clear are easy solutions.

Darou Salam Diouf is about 100 miles northeast of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, one of the world's poorest nations.

Few resources

Senegal is often considered to have the best chance for development because of its history of stable democratic rule. Since independence from France in 1960, however, Senegal has limped along without much economic spark, relying on peanuts, fish and tourism.

A poorly educated population, few natural resources, poor soil and limited rainfall have helped keep more than half the population below the poverty line.

"After 40 years, there's no water, no roads, no electricity in some villages. That is not acceptable," says Laba Toure, an economist with the United Nations Development Program in Senegal.

A collection of drab cinder block homes awash in sand, Mbaye's village appears from a distance like a city that has been unearthed in an archaeological dig. There are few trees, no grass and no paved roads. It has no running water, electricity or telephones.

Like many villages in this predominantly Muslim country, Darou Salam Diouf was established as a religious community, a place where students could come for religious instruction in return for working on the village farm. Since its founding in 1956, the village has grown as former students marry and start their own farms.

Today the village has 402 residents, nearly all of them employed in agriculture, teasing tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other vegetables out of several hundred acres of sand dunes within earshot of the Atlantic Ocean.

A long-running drought, however, has made the job harder. During the past four decades, a nearby lake has dried up, as have three of the village's wells. The one operating well has water for only a few hours each day.

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