Global Inequality 'Grotesque', Trends 'Ambiguous' - UNDP Report

Global Inequality 'Grotesque', Trends 'Ambiguous' - UNDP Report


July 24, 2002

Posted to the web July 24, 2002


By Charles Cobb Jr.

Washington, DC


The Human Development Report, an annual measurement of global poverty issued by the United Nations Development

Programme, once again provides an indicator of Africa's economic woes. Twenty-seven African nations head a list of 173 of the world's least developed countries. Fifty-two African nations are on the list.


Sierra Leone, which has been racked by war for the past decade, ranks as the worst place to live.


The report uses life expectancy at birth, adult literacy, combined primary and secondary school education and gross domestic product (GDP) to calculate the "human development index" for individual nations. The report also considers factors such as human freedom, dignity and the role of people in shaping development.


In sub-Saharan Africa, "human development has actually regressed in recent years," according to the report. Most of the world has increased the number of children immunized against leading diseases. "Since 1990 immunization rates in sub-Saharan Africa have fallen below 50%," the report says.


Aid to Africa was also halved in the decade of the 1990s: from US$39 per capita to US$19 per capita. Along with declining foreign assistance, HIV/Aids and other infectious diseases have been a major cause of continuing poverty.


By the end of the year 2000, nearly 22 million people worldwide had died from Aids-related diseases and 13 million children were homeless; 75 percent were African. Another 2.7 million Africans are dead from malaria.


Two years ago, world leaders agreed on Millennium Development Goals aimed at cutting poverty in half by 2015 and increasing access to health care and education. As many as 23 of the continents' 45 countries are failing on more than half the targets, according to the UN agency. Some countries, like Angola and Somalia, haven't been able to submit data and may be even further behind.


"Without extraordinary efforts, there is a real risk that international leaders will be setting the same targets a generation from now," says the chief author of the document, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr.


To support the view that democratic government improves living standards, the report includes a statement by Burmese human

rights activist and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi: "If the people that aid targets are not empowered, it cannot achieve more than a very limited, very short term alleviation of problems rooted in long-standing social and political ills."


Much is known about equitable development policies that benefits poor people, the report says, but "too often such policies are not adopted because of systematic biases that protect the interest of elites."



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