To fight poverty, world should invest in Africa's youth: Bill Gates

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates put forward a "simple idea" that investing in the health and education of Africa's younger generation would help tackle poverty. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS (AFP, REUTERS) - The world should help Africa invest in its people as the continent confronts a demographic boom, said billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation released its annual report on Tuesday (Sept 18).

Gates put forward a "simple idea" that investing in the health and education of Africa's younger generation would help tackle poverty.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released its annual "Goalkeepers" report measuring progress towards achieving UN poverty-reducing goals in 2030.

The report tracks 18 data points on United Nations development goals, including child and maternal deaths, stunting, access to contraceptives, HIV, malaria, extreme poverty, financial inclusion, and sanitation.

While poverty is receding globally, the demographic boom could stall that progress and it could even rise, the report warns.

"If those investments are made in the right way," said the report, young Africans would contribute to the economy and the population growth would likely diminish, as has been the case in other countries.

A projection of poverty rates in the report showed that by 2050, more than 40 per cent of extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

"The particular challenge of the population growth in Africa leads to a simple idea that the world should help Africa invest in its human capital, and that means both the health and the education of this young generation coming up in Africa," Gates told journalists.

Asked about the best ways of tackling the growing population and poverty challenge, Gates said improving access to birth control was key, and this should be combined with investment in young people's health and education.

"The biggest things are the modern tools of contraception," Gates said. "If you have those things available then people have more control over being able to space their children."

In its family planning section, the report called on policymakers to empower women to exercise the right to choose the number of children they have, when they have them, and with whom.

According to UN data, Africa is expected to account for more than half of the world's population growth between 2015 and 2050. Its population is projected to double by 2050, and could double again by 2100.

Yet if every woman in sub-Saharan Africa were able to have the number of children she wanted, the projected population increase could be up to 30 per cent smaller, said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's annual Goalkeepers report.

This would also enable more girls and women to stay in school longer, have children later, earn more as adults, and invest more in their children, it added. Smaller families tend to be healthier and more productive.

"To continue improving the human condition, our task now is to help create opportunities in Africa's fastest-growing, poorest countries," the Microsoft founder and his wife wrote in the report.

"This means investing in young people."

In its annual assessment, the foundation cited progress from Brazil on nutrition, Indonesia for family planning and Vietnam for the quality of education.

Bill and Melinda Gates will co-host an event in New York next week, on the sidelines of the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, to highlight their campaign for investing in youth.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.