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African Nations Lack Fair Share Of Aid and Attention, Reports Say

As population rises and economic growth falls, Africa needs increased Western assistance and a redirection of its own resources

LIFE is getting tougher for most Africans, as economic growth slows and population rates continue to rise faster than anywhere else in the world, according to two major reports issued this week - one from Africa, and one from Washington.

And by the end of this century, it is estimated that half the deaths in the world caused by AIDS will occur in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which met this week in Geneva.

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Taken together, the three reports underline the need for increased Western assistance to Africa, as well as some shifting of African priorities, according to both Western and African analysts.

"To a certain extent, Africa is being seen as a basket case," says David Whaley, resident representative here of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). But, he added in an interview here yesterday, "there has been a massive diversion of resources and attention from Africa" to other parts of the world, especially Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Africa is no longer getting its fair share, which will make tackling economic and population problems all the harder, he says. "There should be a marked increase of resources" to Africa from the West, Mr. Whaley says.

In Geneva, WHO officials complain that not enough money is being committed by the developing world to the fight against AIDS, especially in places like Africa.

But it is not just a matter of more money, experts say.

African governments, for example, should redirect some of their own spending away from their armies to AIDS educational programs, the African Development Bank (ADB) said yesterday as it opened its annual meeting in Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast.

The ADB also criticized some African governments, including Tanzania's, for trying to meet donor demands for slimmer federal budgets by chopping back educational and health services.

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"Key social sector services, especially to the poor, often proved to be the softest targets for cuts," ADB vice president Ferhat Lounes told reporters in Abidjan. Such cutbacks can eventually slow development, he added. A better approach, according to the Bank, is to trim unproductive jobs in state companies, then retrain laid off workers. Gloomy economic forecast

The ADB gave a gloomy economic forecast for Africa for 1993, noting that gross domestic product (GDP) had declined from 2.6 percent in 1991 to 1.9 percent in 1992. While the GDP may get back to 2.5 or 3 percent in 1993, it will not keep pace with Africa's 3.1 percent population growth rate, the Bank's report notes.

On May 11, the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau released its annual survey showing world population growing at the fastest pace ever - almost all of it in the developing world, and sub-Saharan Africa leading growth.

The report cited a 3 percent growth rate for this region, a slightly lower figure than that used by the ADB.

By comparison, Asia - not counting China - is growing at 2.1 percent. Including China, the rate drops to 1.7 percent. Latin America is growing at 1.9 percent a year, the Bureau reports, adding that growth in the United States is 0.8 percent and in Europe it is virtually stagnant at 0.2 percent. Family planning methods

The UNDP's Whaley says that in several African countries, including Kenya and Botswana, the average family has decided to have fewer children, for a variety of reasons, including major educational programs and provisions of family planning materials.

But there is a lag time between awareness of family planning methods and use of them, says Kenyan sociologist Rachel Musyoki of the University of Nairobi. "One has to be fully convinced at a personal level" of the need for smaller families, she says.

But she is optimistic that Africa's development can improve. "There's no lack of ideas, or technology," says Dr. Musyoki, calling on African governments to improve their development planning and use of donor funds.

Whaley says the Kenyan government has recently stepped up its efforts to get the message out on the dangers of AIDS.

But for Africa as a whole, the ADB report says that "with noticeable exceptions, there is still a lack of understanding of the gravity of the potential consequences" of AIDS.

At the WHO meeting in Geneva, delegates from the US and 37 other countries have called for WHO, the UNDP, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to improve their coordination in the battle against AIDS.

WHO estimates the number of people who may contract the HIV virus, which leads to AIDS, will increase to 30 million or even 40 million by the end of this decade. As many as 1.5 million people may die each year by the year 2000, half of them in Africa, WHO reports.

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