Though Cameroon's poverty indicators still compare favorably to other sub-Saharan countries, years of economic decline have increased the percentage of Cameroonians living in poverty. One study conducted by the
|Exchange rates: Cameroon|
|Communaute Financiere Africaine francs (CFA Fr) per US$1|
|Note: From January 1, 1999, the CFA Fr is pegged to the euro at a rate of 655.957 CFA Fr per euro.|
|SOURCE : CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].|
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE : United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and cited in Marche Tropicaux estimated that this percentage rose from 40 percent in 1983 to 50 percent in 1999. Per capita income fell from US$1,100 in the early 1980s to around US$600 in the 1990s. The government reacted to Cameroon's shrinking economy by reducing producer prices and government expenditures during the early 1990s. Farmers who sold their cotton, cocoa, or other agricultural goods to state-run businesses saw their incomes drastically reduced. In 1993, the government also reduced civil service salaries by 50 percent, while de-valuation of the CFA franc in 1994 also contributed to increased poverty by raising inflation. In 1999, the UNDP ranked Cameroon as 134th out of 174 countries on its Human Development Index. The Index is a social and economic indicator which ranks poverty on the basis of statistics for life expectancy, access to clean water, adequate food, and the provision of health care, education, and public services. While Cameroon ranks high among sub-Saharan African countries, it still compares unfavorably with most Asian and South American countries.
As in most other developing countries, traditional measures indicate that poverty is most prevalent in rural areas. Studies have indicated that, in 1999, 20-30 percent of the population in Yaoundé and Douala lived in poverty compared to over 60 percent in rural areas. Nearly 80 percent of rural households lacked access to electricity compared to 20 percent of urban households. Rural households are also far less likely to have access to potable water and adequate health services, and children are less likely to continue their studies through secondary school. Nevertheless, rural families enjoy many advantages insofar as they grow their own food and build their own housing, and thus have less need for monetary income.
Different classes of varying income levels inhabit the urban areas. A large civil servant class is primarily stationed in Yaoundé, Douala, and provincial capitals. Civil service salaries have fallen from the levels enjoyed prior to Cameroon's recession, but they are still higher than the average Cameroonian income. Many urban dwellers make a living from informal sector activities such as shopkeeping, street vending, construction, etc. Basic foods are easily available and generally inexpensive, so famine is rarer than in neighboring countries. City dwellers usually live in cooked-brick, cement-block, or adobe housing and most have access to electricity. Cameroon's cities house the upper-class officials from both public and private enterprises, whose lifestyles are comparable to those in developed countries.
While government provides education and subsidized health services, users must also contribute certain fees for these services. Education is subsidized through the university level. Government and formal sector workers are required to participate in a state pension system. The extended family traditionally serves as a safety net in the informal sector, and children are regarded as retirement insurance since they are expected to take care of their elderly parents.