Inequality haunts Namibia

September 8, 2014, 8:54am

Inequality haunts Namibia

Countries that have made positive strides in human development must come up with strategies to safeguard those gains because success is not automatic and gains not permanent.
This seems to be the critical message in the latest edition of the Human Development Report (HDR) which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently released.
The 2014 HDR, titled Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, shows that between 2000 and 2013, Sub-Saharan Africa had the second highest rate of progress in the Human Development Index (HDI), which combines achievements in income, health and education. Rwanda and Ethiopia achieved the fastest growth, followed by Angola, Burundi, Mali, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

New focus
Speaking at the launch of the HDR in Namibia recently, National Planning Commission (NPC) Director-General Tom Alweendo expressed concerns over widespread poverty and income inequality, which continues to afflict many countries, including Namibia.
“Despite a robust economic growth in Namibia of 6% between 2010 and 2013, an unacceptably large proportion of our people still live in poverty and are exposed to various vulnerabilities,” Alweendo said. He noted that economic growth in Namibia had been largely jobless, with women and young people of both sexes bearing the brunt of unemployment, contributing to the vulnerable within society along with other groups.
He said Namibia had identified sectors that bear the greatest potential to spur economic growth, while at the same time creating jobs for public investments. Focus, he said, would shift to logistics, tourism, manufacturing and agricultural sectors under NDP4. There would be continued investment in other sectors as well especially health and education.

Not prescriptive
Ojijo Odhiambo, an economic advisor with the UNDP, explained that each HDR theme is examined to unravel policy choices that countries have to make to address pertinent challenges.
“The policy options presented by the report are not prescriptive. Governments study the report and pick policies that they feel best suit them or that they can use. Over the years a lot of governments have used some of the policy proposals to their benefit,” Odhiambo said.
This year’s report looks at why particular individuals or societies are vulnerable, for instance ecological shocks and economic shocks such as the ones that were experienced during the global financial crisis of 2008/2009. It looks at why some societies are able to recover faster than others, as well as who is being left behind in terms of development.

Types of vulnerabilities
In this year’s report, the UNDP has identified two types of vulnerabilities: lifecycle vulnerabilities and structural vulnerabilities.
The former accompany an individual from the time they are born, to when they die.
The 2014 HDR has identified four critical stages including the first 90 to 1 000 days of life where there is need to invest in nutrition, the transition from educational institutions to the job market and old age. Policy proposals with respect to interventions that are necessary at every point have been identified.
With regard to structural vulnerability, the report shows that some people such as the youth, women, and some indigenous communities can be left behind in development due to traditional or subtle norms. It identifies policies that can be used to bring everybody on board and to eradicate spatial inequality - inequality where space makes certain sexes or communities worse off than others.
Odhiambo said this can enable governments to tailor targeted policies that may involve affirmative action.
“This is because equal treatment might actually result in equal treatment. Equity can be achieved through policies designed to address the unique challenges of particular individuals or communities.”
The 2014 HDR identifies the vulnerable as women, children, and indigenous communities. It postulates that their vulnerability can be attributed to inherent structural deficiencies that include societal norms as well as to poor timing of investments. It presents a lot of proposals. This is the first time that vulnerability and resilience have been examined with this level of intensity.

Call to lock gains
The report warns that the progress in terms of human development can be reversed by shocks, including economic ones.
The issue of shocks and how much they can undo years of development had never been examined before. Now proposals are being made on how to lock or safeguard development gains.
For years experts all over the world have bemoaned a dearth of data regarding measures of development.
The 2014 HDR shows that Namibia has done well. Like most countries in Africa Namibia is on an upward trajectory with regards to human development, as measured by the Human Development Index (HDI), which looks at life expectancy, knowledge (years of schooling) and wealth creation, as measured by Gross National Income per capita. However, it notes that the pace of growth has been slow.
Data from various sources shows that in 1980 Namibia was at the same level of development with Mauritius and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). However, the three countries have taken totally different trajectories in terms of human development.
Mauritius has experienced almost exponential growth and Namibia somewhat standard growth, while the DRC has regressed.
Odhiambo said this begs the question: What fuels human development?

Beyond income inequality
Namibia’s problem is not just income inequality, but increasing inequality in accessing basic services such as health, education, water and sanitation.
The report also looks at the multi-dimensional poverty index which includes the conditions under which people live. On that it shows that Namibia is not doing well. It shows that 20% of the people in Namibia are multi-dimensionally poor. This is compared to 4% in South Africa.
“It is one thing to be poor but another to live in a state of want. If the right investments are made, even a poor person can have access to safe drinking water or a toilet,” Odhiambo said.
On gender, the report notes that Namibia is doing well.

Key recommendations
The report challenges countries to figure out how to improve the conditions of their people and to ensure that everyone benefits from development. This is because in some countries, economies have grown, but there has not been a correlation between development and poverty reduction at the grassroots level. The growth has not been broad-based.
“Unless growth can create jobs and put money in people’s pockets then it does not benefit ordinary people,” said Odhiambo.
He says although Namibia has invested mightily in the social sector, there is need for improved development outcomes in terms of health, education and employment creation. The challenge, he says, is how to bring the poor to the table so they also partake of the fruits of development.
“This calls for investments in the sectors in which the poor have access and control over resources such as agriculture and education.”
The 2014 HDR stresses the need to make people’s voices heard and to make people participate in the development process.

Useful guide
The production of HDRs goes back to the year 1990, when it was realised that there were some serious shortcomings in the way development was being measured. Development was then being measured in terms of economic growth, with no regard to who benefits from that growth, hence the use of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita as a measurement of development.
The UNDP realised that there was need to go beyond economic growth as a measure of development to include elements of human development that are reflective of changes in the livelihoods of people. That led to the coining of the Human Development Index (HDI). This is a composite index that looks at three domains: health, education and income. The HDR, therefore, gives the Human Development Indices of all countries of the world in which data is available.
Every year the HDR has a different theme.

Time for data revolution
Odhiambo said there is need for countries to deepen their understanding of poverty and deprivation for them to be able to come up with targeted interventions.
“This calls for a data revolution; to move beyond national aggregates which say very little. Poverty must be understood and addressed at the micro-level.”
Using econometric modelling techniques it is now possible to go to the lowest possible level to pinpoint pockets of poverty and deprivation, as well as to show who is affected.

Moses Magadza for the Namibian Sun