Dr John Steytler
Recently, I have indicated that I will start a column about poverty, its causes – but more importantly, what can be done to mitigate the causes of poverty. I appreciate the feedback on the first article that focused on poverty in general.
This second article continues to focus on the foundational issues, while subsequent articles will be solution-oriented. It is easy to identify problems and complain, but we must use the tools at our disposal to create solutions.
Being the economist and statistician that I am, I always look to the figures and see what they tell me. With the recent publication of the Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), certain things became quite clear and actually shocked and worried me. But what gave me hope is that we have identified certain drivers of poverty, which means we can do something about slowing or even reversing these drivers. Therefore, not only reducing poverty in our nation, but fulfilling the United Nation’s mission of leaving no one behind and uplifting the poorest of the poor.
Based on data from the Namibian Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES 2015/16), multi-dimensional poverty is reported at 43.3%, meaning that 43.3% of the population of Namibia are poor in more than one aspect.
It is much higher than the monetary measure of poverty that we have become accustomed to. It also means that even if we are not poor ourselves, we are surrounded by poverty and it permeates every aspect of our society.
The thing about a fact, figures and statistics is that they can serve as a wake-up call and the MPI report is certainly a wake-up call – a call to action to fight poverty on all fronts. We must fight poverty ‘multi-dimensionally’ as well.
According to the MPI, poverty manifests itself through 11 indices in Namibia. One big omission in these 11 indices is the labour force – but more on this later. What is important is that we zoom in on each of these indices and address the underlying causes of poverty in each of them. The UN SDGs give us the tools we need to do this.
We must do this together. When we examine the facts further; the rural area population was multidimensionally poorer than the urban population, reported at 59.3% and 25.3%, respectively. That means that poverty manifests itself at more than twice the rate in rural areas in comparison to urban areas.
That is why it is no good to just fight pockets of poverty if the country is not uplifted through projects, programmes and a different mindset – none of us are. The idea that we must all work together is not a new one; we now have tangible tools at our disposal, identified through the 17 UN SDGs to alleviate poverty. But, it will take a collective effort and we must all take responsibility.
This idea of responsibility is one that needs to be taken seriously – and we can speak of the spirit of ‘Ubuntu’ where we all work together. One thing that became clear is that there is a disparity in income in households.
With regards to the sex of the heads of households, results show that the incidence of multidimensional poverty is higher among female-headed households (with a rate of 46%) than male-headed households (with a rate of 41%). There are many reasons for this inequality, and they are too many to unpack in this column.
However, one obvious reason is that men are simply paid more than women, which speaks directly to the UN SDG 10 – reduced inequalities.
If men and women were paid the same for the same work they do, it would immediately lift households out of poverty. Collectively, we must demand an equal society.
The further I analyse the report, the more statistics jump out at me and make me want to do something about the levels of poverty, especially if I look at the child-specific analysis on the MPI, which concluded that approximately 16% of children, aged 0-17 years, in Namibia, are both multi-dimensionally and monetarily poor.
This should not be the case in the Land of the Brave. The great thing is, we have a way out, and if we implement the UN SDG’s diligently and target the people who need assistance the most, we can, as a nation, ensure we leave no one behind and truly work together to eradicate poverty.
Please join me as we unpack poverty drivers and examine what can be done to reduce or even eliminate poverty in subsequent articles.
We might not be able to eradicate poverty in one go, but there are some dimensions of poverty, such as housing and sanitation, that if addressed and alleviated, they will go a long way in reducing overall poverty.
*Written in his personal capacity as an economist