- 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, according to a major national household survey. Poverty levels are slowly but steadily being driven down in Namibia, the survey found.
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, a drop of almost five percent.
The NHIES was conducted over a period of 12 months in 2003/04 - the second since Namibia's independence in 1990 - and surveyed 10,920 households in all 13 regions of the country. While 38 percent were classified as poor in the first survey in 1993/94, a decade later this had fallen to 28 percent - a reduction of 10 percent.
"The preliminary results show some improvements 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," Mr Angula explained. The response rate was 90 percent or 9,801 households, he noted.
While the income distribution of Namibians remains unequal, the statistical "Gini co-efficient" had 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 1, 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's development programme (UNDP) 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 (US$ 266) for the poorest, while the two percent of the population having the highest income earn N$ 150,000 (US$ 25,000) per annum," the report noted.
The households with the lowest annual income - around N$ 43,520 (US$ 7,253) - 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.
Namibia's northern regions of Ohangwena and Okavango are the poorest, while Omaheke Region in eastern Namibia and Kunene in the northwest have the highest population density as well as "severe poverty".
Arid Namibia's sophisticated formal economy is based on farming, mining and fishing. Namibia inherited both a sophisticated economy with a good infrastructure and a large income inequality from the South African apartheid state, from which it gained independence in 1990. Further, Namibia was blessed with having no foreign debt.
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