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United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Trends in Human Development and Human Poverty in Namibia:
Background paper to the Namibia Human Development Report

Sebastian Levine

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

October 2007

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Human development is about people and about the choices people have to lead their lives in ways that they have reason to value. Following the pioneering work of Amartya Sen, enlarging these choices is fundamental to building human capabilities to acheive the range of things that people can do or be in life (Sen 1985, 1997, 1999). The most basic capabilities of human development allow people to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community. Without these, many choices are simply not available and many of life’s opportunities remain out of reach. It follows that if people are at the centre, and if expanding the capabilities of individuals is the ultimate end of development, then human poverty must be defined and measured to reflect the deprivation of capabilities. Therefore assessing progress towards human development and human poverty, using a capability approach, requires a broader set of measures than what is offered through the traditional focus solely on economic aggregates such as GDP and average incomes.

A key objective of this paper is to present the standard methodology established by UNDP for measuring human development and human poverty (see for instance Anand and Sen 1994; Ul Haq 1995; UNDP 1990, 1997, 2006) on global, regional and national levels. Moreover, through the use of a range of national data sources—specially adjusted for this analysis—the two main composite indices, the Human Development Index (HDI) and the Human Poverty Index (HPI) are computed and analysed.

There are at least three broad purposes for this type of analysis:

  1. To capture the attention of policy makers, media and civil society organisations in general, and in particular those stakeholders involved in implementing Vision 2030 and preparing the next National Development Plan. National strategies typically include human development in their overarching objectives and the HDI and HPI can help quantify targets and measure progress.

  2. To highlight differences in capabilities and deprivations within Namibia between regions and communities, across gender, ethnicity, and other socioeconomic groupings, in order to facilitate the targeting of policies and interventions to achieve the greatest possible impact.

  3. To facilitate international comparisons and the exploration of why human development and poverty in some countries, including Namibia, is deteriorating while other countries are making progress. Such analysis should stimulate debate on government policies in a range of areas and galvanise action at all levels of society.
It should be noted that human development is much broader and more complex than what can possibly be captured in an index such as the HDI, or any other of the single measure for that matter. The index, for example, does not reflect important capabilities related to political participation, citizenship and individual agency, which are considered both considered intrinsic to and instrumental in contributing to human development (Ul Haq 1995; Sen 1999). Moreover, many other indicators, not included in the composite indices explored in this paper, could and should be drawn upon to complement the description and analysis of the capabilities and deprivations of Namibians. A much fuller analysis is thus provided in the Namibia Human Development Report (NHDR) to which this paper serves as an analytical contribution. It is also in the NHDR where a comprehensive set of policy recommendations will be made whereas the focus of this paper is more narrowly on the quantification and measurement of human development and human poverty.

The paper is organised as follows. In Sections 2 and 3 the methodology for computing the HDI and the HPI, respectively, are presented along with the data required for the analysis. In Section 4 and 5 the results of each index are discussed, with a particular emphasis on the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and comparisons are made over time to explore trends in human development and human poverty. Moreover, the indices are disaggregated to highlight differences between the different geographical regions of Namibia, between male and female headed households, and the different linguistic groups in the country. In Section 6 the HDI is used to analyse the relationship between the needs in the 13 administrative regions of Namibia and allocations in the national development budget. In Section 7, key issues around the data sources are discussed before Section 8 concludes.

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