The region's total income is not much more than Belgium's, and is divided among 48 countries with a median gross domestic product of just over $2 billion, about the output of a town of 60,000 in a rich country.
The report, Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?, said sub-Saharan African nations need to make an economic turnaround by implementing major fundamental policy changes, so they can be up to par with the rest of the world.
The report said that with its rapidly growing population, the region needs to grow by at least five percent per year just to maintain current poverty levels. Nearly half the continent's people live below the poverty line.
When it comes to world trade, Africa barely accounts for one percent of global GDP and only two percent of world trade, the report said. Its share of global manufactured exports is almost zero.
Over the past 30 years it has lost market shares in global trade even in primary goods, and has failed to diversify on any scale.
If it were not for South Africa, the statistics would be worse.
Excluding South Africa, the continent has fewer roads than Poland, the report said, adding that with 10 million telephone lines, half of which are in South Africa, most Africans live two hours away from the nearest electronic communication.
Less than one in five Africans have access to electricity, two-thirds of rural people lack adequate water supplies and three-quarters live without proper sanitation.
Not all the news was bad.
Africa has huge challenges, but the good news is that in the past five years growth rates in some countries have been picking up and we are beginning to see greater participation and democratization in African countries, said Callisto Madavo, World Bank vice president for the region.
However, the economic agencies say there's plenty of untapped growth potential within the continent.
Although the challenges facing Africa may seem insurmountable, the continent has enormous untapped potential and hidden growth reserves, added World Bank chief economist Alan Gelb.
According to Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?, Africa requires decisive action in four main areas:
- Resolving conflict and improving governance to guide political and economic development;
- Greater equity and more investment in African people;
- Increasing competitiveness and diversifying economies;
- Better support from the international community.
One in five Africans still lives in a country severely disrupted by conflict, the report said. Excluding the region's former wars of independence, nearly 20 African countries have experienced at least one period of civil strife since the 1960s.
But the report does conclude that globalization and new technology offer great opportunities to achieve economic and social growth for a continent whose population have so far largely been excluded from information flows.
Though these factors also pose risks, they are far outweighed by the potential benefits, it said.
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