UN list predicts a bleak future

2005-09-08 12:28

Johannesburg - The United Nations development programme's (UNDP) human development index (HDI) for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) makes for grim reading.

A Zambian, statistically, has less chance today of reaching 30 years of age than an English worker of 1840 - when the forbidding circumstances of the early Industrial Revolution consigned many a Briton to an early grave.

The HDI measures achievement in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income.

It is part of a larger, annual, global human development report, released in New York on Wednesday.

Reduced life expectancy

Report co-writer and statistician Claes Johannson said World War 1 and the 1918 influenza pandemic stripped 16 years off the life expectancy of the average Frenchman.

The Aids pandemic in Botswana has taken 31 years from the Batswana - reducing the time they can expect to live from 65 years to a mere 34.

He said large parts of the world have made significant progress in human development since 1975 - sometimes quite rapidly.

But sub-Saharan Africa remained an exception.

Today 18 countries have a lower HDI reading than in the 1990s. Twelve are in Africa. By contrast, the number for the 1980s was only six.

Commenting on the impact of these realities on the UN's millennium development goals (MDGs), Johannson said 115 countries were off-track on one or more of the goals, that aim to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015, by "more than a generation".

In some instances, set objectives might be reached by 2115, a hundred years later than planned.

Slow progress

He said the basic thrust of this year's report was that the MDGs will not be reached using a "business as usual" approach.

UNDP resident representative in South Africa, scholastica Sylvan Kimaryo, said the MDGs, which will be discussed next week at a special UN summit, amounted to a promissory note to the world's poor.

"The report identifies inequality as one of the key reasons why progress towards the MDGs is too slow. Without tackling inequality, many middle-and low income countries will find it difficult if not impossible to reach MDG targets on income poverty, child mortality and others."

Looking at trade, aid and security, Kimaryo said while much aid was wasted in the past, the right policy environment did in fact create conditions for more rapid human development - as seen in Mozambique, Ghana and Tanzania.

As the cases of India and China demonstrated, trade has massive potential to lift people out of poverty.

But then farm subsidies, tariffs and other mechanisms to stop developing countries from moving up the value chain had to be addressed. For example, 90% of the world's cocoa came from developing nations, but only 30% of the chocolate, as the rich protected their industries.