News and Information

Namibia Shows Steady Slide Down HDI Index
July 22, 2004
The Namibian (Windhoek)

July 22, 2004
Posted to the web July 22, 2004

Tangeni Amupadhi

MORE than half of Namibians live on less than N$12 a day as the majority of the population gets poorer, according to the United Nations.

In the past year, Namibia has slipped two places on the Human Development Index (HDI) of the UN Development Programme to 126th position.

The index is a widely accepted measure of people's living standards, ranking countries according to a set of criteria, such as life span, education and buying power.

The Human Development Report, launched in Brussels, Belgium, last week, shows Namibia has fallen from 124th, continuing a downward spiral from 115th in the 1999 report.

Three years ago, Namibia was ranked at 111 out of 162 countries.

Some 56 per cent of the people live on less than US$2 a day, while 35 per cent cannot even scrape US$1 (N$6) together.

The country has failed to improve on all major indicators, except adult literacy.

Compared to the 1999 report, life expectancy at birth has dropped from 52,4 to 45,3 years.

Adult literacy is up to 83,3 per cent from 79,8 per cent five years ago.

Despite the drop in rank and the majority of Namibians having become poorer, the country maintains its middle income status.

A small per cent of the population continues to generate huge incomes, putting the gross domestic product per head at US$5 468 measured in Purchasing Power Parity.

But Namibia tops the list of countries with the biggest gaps in income.

How much a person earns is determined by ethnicity and language grouping.

The report states that Namibia's German community's income is at the same level as Norway, which heads the human development index as the country with the best living conditions.

Germans are followed by people of English descent, then Afrikaans and Oshiwambo speakers.

The Rukavango languages speakers fall below Namibian average living standards, while the San/Bushman societies are way out on the fringes of society.

The report says governments should consider such availability of data, as in Namibia's case, "an important first step, not a damning revelation".

"Spotlighting these challenges is the first step to solving them," it notes.

In South Africa, says the UNDP report, non-whites benefit less than whites from public health spending.

South Africa shares a similar history with Namibia because of apartheid and colonialism.

In addition, the report highlights the emotive issue of land reform, saying independence in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe had done little to change things from the colonial era.

"But the post-colonial failure of national governments and their international partners to mobilise finance to acquire land on the market has fuelled perceptions that white landowners are being protected."

The report says land reform was not only slow but "colonial land expropriations continue to be reinforced by new land concessions to foreign investors" through multinational corporations who "control wildlife and safari parks in the name of eco-tourism".

However, the UNDP issued a caveat:"Land reform should preferably be carried out in a transparent manner that allows poor, indigenous groups fair and productive use of land, which in addition to being a critical economic asset is a potent political symbol."

A detailed development report dealing with Namibia will be launched next month.

This year's global report is entitled 'Cultural Liberty in Today's Diverse World'.


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