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Closing the Opportunity Gap in the Sahel

Governments in the Sahel must strengthen their education systems and ensure access to quality health care and nutrition services. Success will require an integrated multisector approach, with investments tailored to each community’s needs.

WASHINGTON, DC – Inundated by bleak headlines and even bleaker forecasts, it is easy to forget that, in many ways, the world is better than it has ever been. Since 1990, nearly 1.1 billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty. The poverty rate today is below 10% – the lowest level in human history. In nearly every country, people are healthier and better educated than ever before. Yet, as a just-released Goalkeepers report underscores, hardship remains the norm for many people worldwide, who continue to face high barriers to building a healthy, productive life.

Nowhere is this truer than among the poorest residents of the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa. The countries of the Sahel rank among the world’s lowest on the Human Capital Index, which quantifies the contribution of health and education to the productivity of the next generation of workers. According to the Goalkeepers report, a child in Chad is 55 times more likely to die in the first five years of life than a child in Finland. Nearly half the people living in Chad live below the poverty line, only 50% of children attend school, and just 15% of sixth-graders are able to read a simple story. Poverty is exacerbated by climate change, conflict, and displacement, making it even more difficult for families to invest in their human capital.

To ensure that all people – not just those lucky enough to be born into relative geographic, gender, or socioeconomic privilege – can fulfill their potential, governments must invest more in human-capital formation. This means strengthening education systems, so that residents can acquire the skills they need to thrive economically. And it means ensuring access to quality health and nutrition services.