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Alarm as poverty levels in Kenya on the rise again


Women wash clothes in Kibera slum of Nairobi. PHOTO | AFP



  • Nearly a half of Kenyans lack basic commodities such as clean water, food and medicine, says Afrobarometer.

Kenya’s poverty level is back on an upswing, a new survey shows, dealing a blow to plans to improve the lives of ordinary people by 2030.

A report by Afrobarometer-- a pan-African, non-partisan research network—shows Kenya’s Lived Poverty Index (LPI) has risen from 0.93 to 1.06 between 2014 and 2018.

The LPI score ranges along a five-point scale from 0 (which can be thought of as no lived poverty) to four (which would reflect a constant absence of all basic necessities).

This is in contrast to between 2005 and 2015 when Afrobarometer surveys tracked a steady improvement in the living conditions of the average African, which measures basic necessities such as food, clean water, health care, heating fuel, and cash income).

Nearly a half of Kenyans lack basic commodities such as clean water, food and medicine, the report shows.

“And 47 percent of Kenyans said they had gone at least once without food whereas 55 percent without medical care,” the Afrobarometer survey shows.

This comes as latest data shows that the country’s living standard has risen significantly hence having an effect on citizens purchasing powers.

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) data shows that food inflation has risen from 8.9 percent in November to 9.3 percent December last year.

This is the highest since September 2017, when the disruptions in the economy caused by civil commotion after the bitterly contested General Elections pushed prices of food and other basic household items up.

The round seven Afrobarometer Round was conducted in 34 African countries through a 45, 823 face-to-face interviews between 2016 and 2018.

More so, the trend is similar for “severe lived poverty,”—the extent to which people experience frequent shortages of basic necessities.

"Between 2014 and 2018, “severe lived poverty” in the country increased from 8.4 percent to 11 percent," the report reads.

More than a third of Kenya’s youth eligible for work have no jobs in a business environment where the government is struggling to tackle the country’s acute unemployment problem.

Census data released last month showed that 5,341,182 or 38.9 percent of the 13,777,600 young Kenyans are jobless, further widening the gulf between the rich and the poor.

Nine percent of Kenyans said they had gone hungry “more times” with medical care at 13 percent.

This backs World Bank data on Kenya which indicates that the country had the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa in 2015 with 17 percent of all young people eligible for work lacked jobs.

While citizens of most African countries are still doing better than they were over 10 years ago, the report says deprivation of basic necessities has increased in about half of the surveyed countries since 2015.

"More than half (53 percent) of all respondent’s report facing shortages of medicine or medical services at least once in the previous 12 months, and nearly as many experienced shortages of clean water (49 percent) and food (47 percent),” it says. Close to four in 10 experienced cooking fuel shortages (38 percent).

"The most commonly cited form of deprivation remains lack of access to cash income, with four-fifths (79 percent) reporting that they went without cash at least once in the previous year," it reads.

Whereas cash income is not in itself a basic need, the report says access to it can enable citizens to meet their basic and non-basic needs.

“What basic necessities have you gone without over the past one year? 15 percent said cash income, six percent (medical care), 10 percent (water), three percent (food) and three percent (cooking fuel),” the report adds.

"The fact that four-fifths of Africans report having gone without cash income at least once – and that 40 percent did so frequently – poses a major development challenge, as many adults on the continent cannot afford to buy resources for immediate use or to invest in assets," the report reads.

However, the report notes that the quality of livelihoods varies widely across countries as well as within societies.

“In terms of food, for instance, it says fewer than one in 10 Mauritians (six percent) experienced a shortage in the previous year, compared to three-quarters of Niger (73 percent) and Malawians (76 percent),” it adds.

Moreover, the report shows that more than a half of Kenyans have gone without medical care in their lives.

“Similarly, only one in 20 Mauritians (five percent) and around one in three Ghanaians (32 percent), Cabo Verdeans (33 percent), and South Africans (34 percent) went without needed medicine or clinic visits, compared to more than three-quarters of citizens in Togo (76 percent) and Gabon (79 percent),” it adds.

Severe lived poverty is highest in Central Africa (27 percent) and West Africa (22 percent) but lowest in North Africa (10 percent), Southern Africa (16 percent) and East Africa (15 percent) in between.

Across Africa, between one in five and one in 10 people encountered frequent shortages (“many times” or “always”) in the previous year with respect to water (22 percent), medicine or medical treatment (18 percent), food (14 percent), and cooking fuel (10 percent).

"Severe lived poverty is almost non-existent in São Tomé and Príncipe (two percent) and Mauritius (one percent) and is relatively rare in Tunisia (nine percent), Cabo Verde (seven percent), Botswana (six percent), Morocco ( four percent), and Ghana (three percent)," it says.

"Only 13 percent (cash income), 15 percent (medical care), 11 percent (water), 14 percent (food) and 13 percent (cooking fuel) have just experienced it once or twice," it reads.

The report furthermore shows that countries in West and Central Africa score worst in poverty index unlike North African countries.

"Respondents who live in Central Africa (with an average LPI score of 1.43) and West Africa (1.30) experience shortages most frequently, followed by those in East (1.19) and Southern (1.14) Africa, while those who live in North Africa (0.82) are least likely to suffer shortages, it shows.

It says increasing levels of wealth have translated into relatively low levels of lived poverty in Cabo Verde, Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritius, but poverty remains higher than national wealth would predict in eSwatini, Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana.

“Mauritius has lowest level of inequality (0.38 percent) whereas eSwatini (0.94) had the highest,” it adds.

The report shows that people who live in rural areas experience more shortages than those in urban areas.

Moreover, it says individuals’ livelihoods are also likely shaped by characteristics of their immediate surroundings, such as the presence and quality of local services such as water and electricity grids and good transportation.

"People who live in areas with infrastructure such as sewerage, an electricity grid, piped water, cell phone reception, and an accessible health clinic are far less likely to report experiencing shortages of basic necessities," it says.

To prevent squandering hard-won gains in Africans’ living standards, the data point to the necessity of a renewed commitment by citizens, governments, and international donors to defending democracy and expanding service-delivery infrastructure.

“Across all countries, people who live in rural areas, with an average LPI score of 1.36, experience shortages far more frequently than urban dwellers, whose average LPI score is 1.02. The urban advantage exists within virtually every society measured by Afrobarometer,” it adds.