While government brags about Malawi registering tangible development strides, a latest United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) report has revealed that people’s living standards stagnated in 2017.
The annual global statistical update also suggests that from 1990, Malawi has made slower advances in key dimensions of human development such as health, education and income which is below the sub-Saharan Africa average.
In the survey released last week by UNDP, Malawi is also categorised in the low human development category, with an HDI value of 0.477 and now ranks 171 from last year’s 170 out of 189 countries assessed.
The report shows life expectancy for Malawians now stands at 63.7 from the previous 63.9 mark.
In a press statement released on Wednesday, UNDP resident representative Maria Jose Torres Macho said great disparities exist in income distribution with income inequality recorded above the regional average.
Besides economic disparities, she said despite some improvements in areas such as health; gender equality remains a challenge, thereby compromising the initiatives towards women empowerment.
Said Macho: “Malawi ranks 148 out of 160 countries in the 2017 index on gender equality [0.619] and above the sub-Saharan average [0.569].”
Commenting on how best the country can alleviate inequalities, she said it is imperative that there should be an establishment of data to know where people are living so that they should be involved in some economic activities.
Said Macho: “That Malawi is improving in the human development should be noted, but when we speak about inequalities in the context of leaving no one behind, we need to understand where those people are living.
“It is not only the statistics. Unless we have data, we can plan to respond to their needs. The fact that we know that there is inequality in the country is important that we have to go where people are living and see how we can involve them in development.”
Globally, the HDI value has increased by 21.7 percent from 0.598 to 0.728 in 2017. Out of 189 countries, 59 are in the very high human development group while 53 are in the high human development group.
The report said 39 countries have medium HDI value while 38 countries that include Malawi fall in low HDI group with an HDI value of 0.477. It is ranked 171 out of the 189 countries and territories.
The country has moved from an HDI value of 0.474 in 2016 to 0.477 in 2017 which according to the UN resident representative is an indication of challenges ahead of the need for continuous effort by government and its stakeholders in the country.
The reports reveal that health has improved considerably between 1990 and 2017, following the improvement in life expectancy at birth which rose from 46.6 years to 63.7 years.
According to UN literature, harmful cultural practices—including early and forced marriages—sexual assault, unequal access to economic resources and opportunities and domestic violence are some of the challenges that are slowing progress on achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women.
In sub-Saharan Africa, only four countries- Botswana, Gabon, Mauritius and Seychelles are in the high human development group.
The HDI is a statistic of life expectancy, education and per capita indicators used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. The country that has a high human development has higher education, lifespan and GDP levels.
In the 2016 HDI edition, Malawi scooped position 170 out of the 188 countries measured for success.
In an earlier interview with The Nation, then UN resident coordinator Mia Seppo urged Malawi to do more to move out of the low human development category, saying the country has no business staying in a group that comprises countries that have experienced civil war such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Afghanistan.
She said Malawi’s progress on the HDI has remained extremely slow since 1994 and wondered why the country remained in the bottom 20 poorest countries when it is the only peaceful country to be so poor in the category.