In partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Gambian Department of Social Welfare nationally launched the UN agency’s flagship publication earlier this week in Kotu Quarry.
Aissatou Diawara, UNICEF’s in-country representative, says that children born in cities now account for 60 per cent of the increase in Africa’s urban population, The Daily Observer reports. Many urban-dwelling children still cannot access health care, education, clean drinking water and other services. Slum dwellers may be exposed to pollution and waste that could cause injury or infection.
The worldwide launch of The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World was in February. The theme of this year’s report highlights the merits and pitfalls of cities when it comes to children’s wellbeing. Greater employment, development, services, infrastructure and economic growth are all associated with cities. But, so are slums, poverty and want in the midst of urban privilege.
The launch in Gambia highlights the progress made to date, the initiatives currently underway and areas where work still needs to be done.
According to the State of the World’s Children, Gambia’s child mortality rate ranks among the worst 30 measures out of 193 countries with data. Income inequality is an ongoing problem, with the richest quintile of the population controlling 53 per cent of the wealth; the poorest 40 per cent control only 13 per cent. Just over a third of the country lives in dire poverty (less than $1.25 per day).
At the national launch, Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Fatim Badjie, emphasized Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s commitment to the welfare of the country’s youngest citizens. The Gambia’s successes should be celebrated. For instance, changes to education policy have allowed thousands of girls to complete primary and secondary schooling—some have even continued their studies at the post-secondary level. Youth’s access to science and technology has also been expanded.
But there is still work to be done. The country’s annual urban population growth rate is projected to average 3.4 per cent over the 2010 to 2030 period.
Vital data must be more widely disseminated, said Minister Badjie. It must also be soundly analyzed in a way that allows effective solutions to poverty and inequality to be formulated. Some efforts in this regard are already underway in the form of demographic and health surveys. But expanded data collection, disaggregated information and analysis will improve understanding of urban child poverty. The construction of better housing can also protect poor families from communicable diseases and accidental injury.
Worldwide, 43 per cent of children live in cities. Access to amenities like clean water and sanitation is not keeping up with the high population growth in urban centres. In other African countries like Ghana and Kenya, primary and secondary school attendance is also lower among slum-dwelling populations than among non-slum urban residents.