Namibians to Live Longer, says WHO

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By Max Hamata WINDHOEK Namibia’s life expectancy is higher than those of its neighbouring southern African countries, the World Health Organi-sation (WHO) said in its latest health report. Although the HIV/Aids pandemic appears to be retarding developmental and health gains made by Namibia whose life expectancy now stands at 54, Namibia has been lauded by the United Nations as having made far-reaching progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The United Nation’s body cautioned that the life expectancy of Botswana – generally considered as one of the affluent countries in the region, also does not compare well with Lesotho at 41, Namibia at 54 and African giant South Africa at 48. Botswana’s life expectancy has been put at 40. Commenting on Namibia, the UN added that Namibians are better off than they were a decade ago, and the country is on track to meet the UN’s poverty cutting “millennium goals” by 2015. Preliminary results of a Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES) released last week showed that households living in “severe poverty” had declined from 8.7 percent to 3.9 percent. The NHIES was conducted over a period of 12 months in 2003/04 – the second since Namibia’s independence in 1990 – and targeted 10 920 households in all 13 regions of the country. While 38 percent was classified as poor in the first survey in 1993/94, a decade later this had fallen to 28 percent. “The preliminary results show some improvement on the general welfare of the Namibian population,” said Helmut Angula, director general of the National Planning Commission (NPC), which conducted the survey. Detailed questionnaires on household members and finances were prepared by the Central Bureau of Statistics, with a record book that had to be updated daily for 12 months by the 10 920 selected households. “Households were instructed to record transactions item by item – all expenditures and receipts, including incomes and gifts received or given out,” Angula explained. The response rate was 90 percent or 9 801 households, he noted. While the income distribution of Namibians remains unequal, the Gini co-efficient has decreased from 0.7 to 0.6. The Gini co-efficient is a way of measuring income disparity, with equality defined as 1. The closer the figure is to 0, the better the income equality. “The improvement on the Gini co-efficient indicates a major improvement in the distribution of incomes in the country,” said Sebastian Levine, a senior economist with UN Development Programme in Namibia. “It seems that poverty levels are being driven down by a combination of accelerated incomes for the poorest and falling inequalities across the board.” Despite this decline, Namibia still ranks among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the survey. “The lowest per capita income is N$1 600 for the poorest, while the two percent of the population having the highest income earn N$150 000 per annum,” the report noted. The households with the lowest annual income – around N$43 520 per annum – spend 80 to 100 percent of their income on food consumption and are classified as “severely poor”, while the two percent of households with the highest incomes spend a maximum of 40 percent on food. The northern regions of Ohangwena and Okavango are the poorest, while Omaheke Region and Kunene have the lowest population density as well as “severe poverty”.