While the food situation has improved over the last 20 years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) roughly half of the people in Senegal were still estimated to be affected by food insecurity in 2020. Some eight per cent of the population is estimated to be chronically undernourished. There is a huge development gap between the capital Dakar and rural regions.
The situation has become even worse with the COVID-19 pandemic and the war against Ukraine. So far, Senegal has imported 60 per cent of its wheat and almost 50 per cent of its fertiliser from Russia. Disrupted supply chains, rising world market prices and higher transport costs for alternative imports are driving up the cost of living. In order to mitigate the negative impact for the population and prevent social unrest, the government has set fixed prices for flour and bread. It also wants to promote the agricultural sector more in the future so as to reduce its dependence on imports.
Education and health
There are also deficits in the field of health and education services. The illiteracy rate is almost 50 per cent. Only roughly three-quarters of school-age children attend primary school, and just around 60 per cent complete primary school.
In rural areas in particular, medical services are totally inadequate. Most doctors work in the capital, Dakar. There are hardly any hospital beds in rural areas. The number of women dying during, or as a result of, childbirth is high – as is the child mortality rate among children under five.
With regard to HIV/AIDS, the government's efforts to educate the public early on have paid off. The official infection rate in Senegal was 0.3 per cent in 2021, which is well below the average for sub-Saharan Africa (3.2 per cent).
Situation of women
Gender equality has been enshrined in Senegal's constitution. Particularly in rural areas, however, the situation of women is still characterised by traditional ideas about their role. In some ethnic groups, female genital mutilation remains widespread. Notwithstanding the fact that there are clear legal provisions against this practice, prosecution remains de facto patchy.
In parliamentary elections, a gender equality law governs the process. Currently, 44 of the members of parliament are women, meaning that Senegal ranks among the world's leading countries in terms of representation of women in parliament.
Rural exodus and migration
Many people are moving from rural areas to the cities in hopes of finding better living conditions there. Nearly half the Senegalese population of approximately 17 million now lives in urban areas, with almost a quarter of Senegalese living in the Dakar metropolitan area.
This is causing problems in the cities, especially in terms of drinking water supply, sanitation and solid waste management. Social conflicts, too, are worsening, as urban labour markets are unable to absorb the incoming population. In particular for young people the prospects are very poor. There are not enough training opportunities and jobs for them. The situation is further exacerbated by the rapid population growth (2.7 per cent in 2021).
Every year, many Senegalese people decide to leave the country, hoping to find a better future elsewhere. Most of them remain within West Africa, but Europe is also an attractive destination. The remittances from Senegalese migrants account for around ten per cent of gross domestic product and are thus a significant economic factor.