A country plagued by poverty

Children the poorest
According to the latest multidimensional poverty index, almost half of Namibians live in multidimensional poverty, with younger groups pulling the shortest straw.
Iréne-Mari van der Walt
Iréne-Mari van der Walt

In its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report last year, the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), in collaboration with several United Nations agencies, reported that 43.3% of Namibians live in multidimensional poverty.

The documenting of multidimensional poverty has increased in recent years and encompasses the multiple deprivations that poor people experience, instead of one-dimensional poverty statistics based only on financial poverty.

“As the study of poverty evolved it became clear that poverty is a multidimensional concept relating not only to lack of resources to acquire basic goods and services, but also to a state of deprivation and exclusion,” said Obeth Kandjoze, the director-general of the National Planning Commission.

The report measured multidimensional poverty according to 11 factors under the dimensions of education, living standards and health; each factor contributing a specific percentage to make up a poverty percentage. According to the report, the poverty limit was at 30%, meaning that a person deprived of 30% or more of the above-mentioned factors is considered multidimensionally poor.

This follows just behind the global MPI cut-off of 33.3%, which considers an individual multidimensionally poor if they are deprived of the equivalent to a full dimension’s indicators.

Polarity

The Namibian MPI report notes disparities that are hard to miss.

Notably, the MPI report affirms recent reports by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) that children remain the poorest of the population.

Children between one and four years-old were the poorest at 56%, followed by children between the ages of five and nine at 50%.

The lowest poverty ratio is found among individuals aged 25 to 29-years-old, with 33% of those in this age group being considered multidimensionally poor.

Another notable disparity is that of mother tongues. The three language groups with the highest rates of multidimensional poverty are the Khoisan at 93%, Rukavango speakers at 68%, followed by speakers of the Zambezi languages at 54%. This stands in stark contrast with the English- and German speaking populations, which saw a mere 3% of their population fall into the multidimensional poverty category.

Namibians living in rural areas are especially prone to multidimensional poverty with 59.3% of the rural population living in multidimensional poverty compared to 25.3% of the urban population.

Unattained goals

The MPI report outlines several goals for 2022. From educational dreams to hopes of universal access to information, affordable communication and technology infrastructure and service and access to quality healthcare for all Namibians. Even food security was meant to be alleviated by this year, with the National Development Plan aiming to decrease food insecurity from 25% to 12% and a 30% increase in food production.

However, a SWAPO think-tank strategy, focused on healthcare facilities and urging that Namibians who earn more than N$5 000 per month to pay N$50 toward healthcare, could serve as proof that work needs to be done in the Namibian public health sector.

Currently, an estimated 76% of the Namibian population live within a 10 km radius of a healthcare facility with the ratio of Namibians to public health clinic at 5 780 persons per facility.

For every district hospital there is an estimated 58 000 Namibians - these estimates do not take the number of Namibians with access to private healthcare into account.

In terms of food security, the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) estimated in December last year that roughly 26% of 2.5 million Namibians were facing crisis levels of food insecurity, with a rise expected until March this year - statistics on whether this occurred are not available yet.

The poor children

In a policy brief by Unicef last year, the organisation noted that the pandemic pushed 105 000 Namibians, of which 45 000 are children, into poverty.

Unicef believes multidimensional child poverty to be the result of multiple drivers, of which it notes food security and nutrition status to be the most powerful. It also points out that the lack of transportation assets, sanitation and cooking and lighting energy are drivers of multidimensional child poverty.

The brief by Unicef notes that measuring financial poverty instead of multidimensional poverty could lead to an understatement of poverty, indicating that the overlap between the two is a mere 16.1% - while a total 35.2% of Namibian children are said to be multidimensionally poor and 4.5% said to be monetarily poor.

Of the Namibian population, 44.2% live unscathed by poverty.

This is, however, at odds with the MPI estimates that 52.5% of the Namibian population live free of the poverty plague while 4.2% of Namibians live in monetary poverty and 30.8% of Namibians live in multidimensional poverty with an overlap of 12.5% between the two.