As I witnessed the official launch of the Saving One Million Lives Program for Results (SOML PforR), a government-led initiative supported by a $500 million World Bank International Development Association credit, I was overcome by several emotions, the foremost of which was hope.
The results suggest strangely mixed conclusions. In certain ways, poverty trends in Nigeria over the past decade were better than has been widely reported, where a story of increasing poverty has been the consensus. And yet poverty is stubbornly high, disappointingly so given growth rates.
Three facts stand out.
My experience as a doctor who practiced actively in this country did not prepare me for the shock I had during the preparation of the Nigeria State Health Investment Project. I had worked for three years in the public sector at the beginning of my career but then spent more than a decade in the private sector. I had not imagined the decay in public infrastructure – leaking roofs, heaps of garbage, broken down equipment, and stock-outs of drugs and disposables for months on end in public health centers. The general morale of frontline health workers was low and some ingenious workers were actually buying their stock of drugs to provide services for patients. Not surprisingly, the utilization of health services was low and the quality of service appalling.
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In Sub-Saharan Africa, many local journalists suffer attacks, imprisonment or even death for reporting on corruption, public spending or the mismanagement of natural resources. In Africa, at least 41 journalists are spending this World Press Freedom Day behind bars.
While there is a clear recognition by international institutions that corruption and good governance are key to poverty alleviation, there seems to be much less understanding of the importance of an enabling environment, as a complement to training and capacity building, in order for the press to meaningfully contribute to greater accountability and transparency, such as natural resources exploitation.
For example, new oil discoveries in East Africa have the potential to lift millions out of poverty if the profits actually benefit the citizens in that region. The optimism is dashed by the proverbial “resource curse,” that’s plagued the likes of Nigeria, Angola and Equatorial Guinea, where poor governance, wealth disparity and poverty persist. The fog of secrecy and opacity surrounding oil exploitation deals has also caused concern.
In 2007, for the first time in human history, 50 percent of the global population lived in urban areas. The United Nations predicts that this figure will rise to 69 percent by 2050. A significant part of this urbanization is taking place in developing countries as a result of natural growth within cities and large numbers of rural–urban migrants in search of jobs and opportunities. Rapid urban growth tends to overwhelm developing cities, where there is already a struggle to develop infrastructure.
I have lived in Lagos, Nigeria all my life. Lagos city is the economic capital of Nigeria with the country's higest population density at 4,193 people per square kilometer. The U.N. estimates that the population of my city will hit 16 million by 2015 making it the worlds 11th largest urban system.
A combination of official neglect, corruption, extreme poverty coupled with rapid, largely uncontrolled, population growth has led to the decay of Lagos’ existing city infrastructure, which determines how livable a city is. Specifically, the human waste (sewage), water and sanitaion systems are largely inadequate. The infrastructure is poorly organized and not controlled. It is common to see drinking water pipes pass through open drainage systems. At times, these systems receive human waste as a result of locals opening their septic tanks into them or the tanks leaking. The city does not treat all of the human waste generated by millions of individuals every day. This waste is emptied directly into the Lagos lagoon. The urban poor are affected the most. Because the drinkable water infrastructure is so poor, many Lagosians depend on satchet water, local water vendors, private boreholes or expensive water filtaration units for their the daily domestic and sanitation needs.
Thousands of Basotho joined HM King Letsie III last Friday at the inauguration of a state-of-the-art hospital in Maseru, Lesotho. The new hospital, together with its three filter clinics, is bringing modern, high-quality health care to about half a million people—or a quarter of Lesotho’s population—living in Maseru district, and also serving the country as a revamped national referral and teaching hospital.
Prime Minister Mosisili reminded the audience of Lesotho’s history as a British protectorate. “The protectors gave the country its first national hospital in 1957 and named it Queen Elizabeth II after their Queen,” the PM said. “The new hospital is ours and we named it after our Queen, ’Mamohato.”
Why is this hospital so important? It symbolizes a fundamental change in publicly-funded health services in Lesotho. The transformation in the country's health sector is supported by a unique partnership between the government and the private sector that is truly exciting as Africa looks for ways to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, especially those related to saving mothers and children and fighting HIV/AIDS.
Lights, camera, action! It’s a clichéd phrase that we more often associate with the movie business and not the World Bank. In the past the Bank has financed schools, hospitals, power stations but now we are looking for new areas to finance. So why the movie business? Nigeria’s movie industry, euphemistically known as “Nollywood” is the world’s most prolific, churning out more than 40 full-length feature films every week. It employs about 500,000 people directly and perhaps double that indirectly. And yet there is tremendous scope for growth.
Most of the movies are low budget affairs. Want to make a movie in Naija – it only takes $25,000 and a couple of days with local producers using gorilla film-making techniques. They make low budget movies filmed on site in cheap locations (hotel rooms and offices), with improvised sound and light. The result, sometimes grainy, sometimes inaudible, ham acting at its best – but for Nollywood fans it is totally watchable, gripping action that they can relate to. African stories for an African audience.
Backpackers looking for an intense experience are constantly looking for new regions to explore. While Asia is nowadays swamped by mass tourism, and Western destinations lack originality, Africa remains the ultimate well-kept secret for unconventional tourism – tourists are heading into the rain forests of Madagascar and on safari in South Africa. But hurry up because more and more folks are traveling south.
Despite the economic downturn and a general decline in tourism worldwide, tourism in Africa is growing faster than in the rest of the world. African tourism arrivals grew from 37 million in 2003 to 58 million in 2009. The continent receives more tourists than the Caribbean, Central America, and South America combined. For instance, in Nigeria-the most populous country in Africa-we welcome more than three million visitors annually, largely business men from neighboring countries and the Nigerian Diaspora visiting friends and relatives.