Poverty in a sea of plenty

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Helen Clark (right), the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chairperson of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) pictured with Musinga Bandora, UN Resident Coordinator in Namibia, during a briefing at a local hotel on Friday afternoon. Clark became the Administrator of the UNDP in April 2009 and is the first woman to lead the organisation. She is also former prime minister of New Zealand.

WINDHOEK – Helen Clark the former prime minister of New Zealand left Windhoek on Friday afternoon as the first-ever United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator to visit Namibia.

While clearly impressed with Namibia’s level of infrastructure, particularly in the fishing industry, Clark noted: “It is possible to be classified as an upper middle income country while much of the population is still poor.” The UNDP estimates that close to 30 percent of the population live below the poverty line.

Noting the upper middle-income status is a World Bank (WB) grading, Clark said the classification doesn’t mean much if it was derived only from per capita income figures.

According to the World Bank’s country overview of Namibia daunting challenges still persist in Namibia.

“Although Namibia’s per capita income of US$5,610 (2012, Atlas method) places it in the World Bank’s upper-middle income grouping, average income paints a misleading picture since Namibia’s income distribution is among the most unequal in the world, with a Gini coefficient estimated at 0.5971 by the latest (2009/10) household survey,” reads the World Bank country overview of Namibia.

During a cluster ministerial working session, Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob emphasized the the classification of Namibia as an “upper-middle income” country, stating the justification on economic merit does not address the deep-rooted income disparities among the population.

The cluster meeting was held to discuss Namibia’s progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), STGs and the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

The UNDP administrator applauded the government for fostering a peaceful environment and focusing on areas where it can sustain economic growth and wealth distribution, such as the fisheries industry.

However, Clark confirmed that Namibia does hold huge potential and said the local UNDP agency, in partnership with the government, would look at sectors that generate employment and that can unlock the potential of the people.

“Our programmes here are strongly aligned with the country’s National Development Plan’s focus on inclusive growth, environmental sustainability, and capacity development,” stated the UNDP chief.

Clark who met with a wide range of national authorities during her four-day visit also discussed Namibia’s vision to bridge livelihood gaps to create an income balance.

She further drew attention to the allocation and utilization of natural resources for a more diversified economy, with President Hifikipunye Pohamba.

During that discussion the President stated: “Our upper-middle income status is not cognizant of the country’s historical background and its unique circumstances, exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Currently, almost half of our 2 million population is affected by the drought.”

At a meeting with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Theo Ben-Gurirab, Clark discussed the need to emphasize local value in job creation and natural resources allocation, to utilize extractive resources for a more diversified economy geared towards human development and the attainment of demographic dividends.

Clark also met with officials of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism on Thursday and travelled to the Erongo Region for a meeting with the Benguela Current Commission in Swakopmund. The commission serves as a vehicle for SADC countries Angola, Namibia and South Africa to jointly and sustainably manage the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem.

This initiative is supported by UNDP to promote trans-border and South-South collaboration in the conservation and management of natural resources, through ocean governance policy and the environmental aspects of marine mining.

The UNDP chief also toured the Hangana fish processing plant in Walvis Bay, and the country’s most important port and met with civil society and women’s groups to discuss inclusion, gender-based violence and women’s empowerment. She also visited the Havana informal settlement upon her return to Windhoek to learn first-hand the challenges of addressing inequality in an upper-middle income country such as Namibia.

By Edgar Brandt

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