Rwanda: Gains made against poverty, a lesson for others | Auke Lootsma

27 Feb 2012

Building Capacity in Rwanda - UNICEF/Giacomo Pirozzi Building Capacity in Rwanda. Photo: UNICEF/Giacomo Pirozzi

Rwanda’s latest data release this month shows enormous improvement in the living standards of citizens over the past five years, and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - eight internationally-agreed goals aimed at reducing poverty and improving education, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability by 2015.

Over the past half a decade, Rwanda has posted an average annual growth of real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 8.4 percent, driven mainly by higher productivity in the agricultural and industrial sectors.

Critically, the poor have benefited from this growth spurt.  Rwandans have developed their own homegrown initiatives in order to tackle poverty at the most local level. The “one-cow-per-family” programme, just to name one, provides families with milk for consumption and what is left over is sold for profit, improving nutrition and income at the household level.    

Through government-led efforts the poverty rate fell from 56.7 percent in 2006 to 44.9 percent in 2011. If maintained over the longer term, this annual poverty reduction rate of 2.4 percent could put Rwanda in the company of Asian Tiger economies such as China, Vietnam and Thailand that have been able over many years to lift millions out of poverty while sustaining growth.

There has also been advancement in net primary school attendance - up from 86.6 percent in 2005-2006 to 91.7 percent in 2010-2011, and more people have access to safe drinking water - 74.2 percent of the population in 2010-2011 up from 64 percent in 2006. 

Rwanda has also made progress on reducing maternal mortality, one of the worst performing MDGs globally, from 1071 deaths per year in 2000 to 487 in 2010-11.

A mix of political will and economic growth is helping drive Rwanda’s success in alleviating poverty, despite challenges such as being landlocked and in a restive region, high population growth and density, and no natural resources.

The country’s leadership has articulated a vision and cultivated a unity of purpose among government officials and the population at large that puts the nation’s development first. This includes working on gender equality – Rwanda has the highest number of women in parliament at 56 percent - while tackling corruption and reducing bureaucracy has helped spur foreign investment.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting the Rwandan Government with policy advice and technical assistance across several areas, including to the National Institute for Statistics that researched the recent data, to build their capacity to collect statistics for planning and policy making.

Author: Auke Lootsma is the UNDP Rwanda Country Director

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