Guinea-Bissau is a small West-African country with a population of fewer than 2 million. Senegal borders it to the North, Guinea to the East and South and the Atlantic Ocean to the West. The country gained its independence from Portugal in 1974. Since then, continuous instability and frequent coup d’états have marked its political history. Moreover, Guinea-Bissau, suffers from high levels of poverty, economic fragility and a dire lack of medical and nutritional resources, ranking it among the poorest nations in the world. Here are five key facts about poverty in Guinea-Bissau.
5 Facts about Poverty in Guinea-Bissau
- Poverty in Guinea-Bissau is a widespread issue. In fact, more than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. This figure was slightly less but still high at 50% in 1991. Poverty in Guinea-Bissau disproportionately impacts women and children, specifically those between 15 and 25 years of age.
- The country faces a high risk of infant mortality. At 4.72 children born per woman, Guinea-Bissau ranks 17th in the world in terms of fertility rates. Similarly, the country has high maternal and total infant mortality rates at 667 deaths per 100,000 live births and 50.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively.
- Agriculture is a primary, yet relatively unprofitable industry. Guinea-Bissau’s economy heavily depends on agriculture, yet lacks other critical infrastructure. Though the country is rich in unexploited mineral deposits and offshore oil, cashew production constitutes 80% of its exports. In addition, 82% of the labor force works in agriculture, leaving very few development prospects for the industrial and service sectors. A weak legal system, corruption and a turbulent political climate also contribute to the country’s position as a transit location for cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe.
- An alarming amount of children suffer from malnutrition. Approximately 27.6% of the country’s children under 5-years-old are stunted, and the country’s low birth weight rate was 21.1% in 2015. A significant portion of adult women also suffers from anemia. Further complicating health conditions is the country’s comparatively high HIV prevalence rate of 3.3%. It also has a low hospital bed density rate of one bed per 1,000 people.
- Guinea-Bissau suffers from poor educational outcomes. In particular, illiteracy is strikingly high: nearly 71% of women and 45% of men over 15 years of age are illiterate. Teacher strikes and flooding continuously threatened schools. In the 2016-2017 school year, for instance, strikes in primary schools resulted in 92 lost teaching days.
Fortunately, organizations such as UNICEF continue to work to improve living conditions in many areas of Guinea-Bissau. For instance, in an effort to address malnutrition and poor health outcomes among the children of Guinea-Bissau, UNICEF has been working closely with the country’s Ministry of Health. One can clearly see this through UNICEF’s provision of Vitamin A and deworming supplements for children under 5. In the area of education, UNICEF in partnership with other organizations, led efforts in training schoolteachers and school inspectors in coordination with the country’s Ministry of Education, targeting indications like education quality and retention rates.
Despite its strategic location and natural resources, Guinea-Bissau remains far below its economic and social potential. Poverty in the West-African nation has clearly constrained its ability to make tangible progress in several developmental indicators. To alleviate the long-term implications of its political instability, food insecurity and child health among others, it is essential that poverty in Guinea-Bissau remains within the focus of international aid and development initiatives in the future.
– Oumaima Jaayfer