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Sierra Leone drops in Human Development

  • A panoramic view of Kroo Bay, an epitome of poverty in Sierra Leone

By Kemo Cham

Sierra Leone has been ranked amongst the worst performers in the 2016 Global Human Development Report (GHDR), notably falling three places from the previous year in the Human Development Index (HDI).

The country declined from 176 in 2014 to 179 in 2015, among 188 countries and territories ranked in the HDI, according to the report which is published by the United Nations Development Program.

Titled: ‘Human Development for everyone’, the report also reveals an unparalleled progress in human development worldwide over the last 25 years, excluding millions of people from what little progress was realized. The authors note that steady progress in human development is unachievable without the inclusion of everyone.

The report reveals that in that 77.5 per cent of Sierra Leoneans are multi-dimensionally poor. This means that they are deprived in multiple ways in terms of living standard and household needs, vis-à-vis, access to education and health, and the general living standards.

The report broadly looks at richness of human lives, and compares countries through the lenses of socioeconomic, ethnic and racial attributes. It also looks at geography and gender. And it basically tries to identify why the deprived members of the world’s community are left behind.

The launch at the ministry of Finance in Freetown was jointly presided over by the UNDP Resident Representative and the Development Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.

The Development Secretary, John Sumaila ascribed the country’s poor performance in the HDI to the effect of the 2014 Ebola epidemic and fall in iron ore prices.

The ‘twin shocks’ of Ebola and collapse in the mining sector have shouldered almost every blame for the underperformance of Sierra Leone’s economy, which has culminated in the current economic realities on the ground.

The report says GDP growth slowed from 4.6 per cent to -21.1 per cent, which the authors say implies a corresponding decline in the Gross National Income per capita from US$1, 960 to US$1, 529 over the same period.

The report also notes that in Sierra Leone inequality is among the highest in the world. Gender inequality remains notably high with an HDI value for women of 0.392, compared to 0.451 for their male counterparts. This, it further notes, results in a GDI [Gender Development Index] value of 0.871 which is one of the lowest in the world.

Only 12.4 per cent of parliamentary seats in Sierra Leone are held by women, and only 16.8 per cent of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education compared to 29.7 per cent of their male counterparts, the report adds.

In terms of health, maternal mortality remains the same – at 1, 360 deaths per every 100, 000 live births – the highest in the world, according to WHO.

In terms of education, the number of years children are expected to remain in school in Sierra Leone, measured as expected years of schooling, and mean years of schooling, the actual number of years the children spend in school remains unchanged over the period.

But while the government blames Ebola for the grim picture painted by the report, critics argue that Sierra Leone wasn’t the only country hard hit by the epidemic. Its next door neighbour, Liberia, for instance, was equally affected yet it fared a little better in the GHDR, ranking 176 on the HDI, the same as its 2014 ranking.

The difference, says Karim Bah of the Movement for Social Progress, is the premium the Sierra Leone government places on infrastructure at the expense of social sectors like education and health.

Bah tells Politico that if the 77.5% multi-dimensional poverty is added to those close to the poverty line, which the report places at 14.6%, it would mean that 90% of Sierra Leoneans are poor.

“This is an indictment of the Agenda for Prosperity [the government’s development blue print] with its neoliberal economic framework focusing on privatisation, free market fundamentalism, focus on economic growth as opposed to the development of people,” he says in a statement.

Previous GHD reports had stressed that economic growth doesn't automatically translate to progress in human development, and that it would take implementation of pro-poor policies and investment in capacity building with focus on the key areas of education, health and employment, among others.

And the 2016 GHDR authors argue in favour of deeper examination beyond merely mapping the nature and location of deprivation.

The good news for Sierra Leone though is that despite the decline in HDI, life expectancy at birth improved from 50.9 years in 2014 to 51.3 years in 2015. Life expectancy is the average number of years a person born in a given country is expected to live if mortality rates at each age were to remain steady in the future.

The 2015 UNDP data on life expectancy ranks Sierra Leone above only three countries at 198, out of 201 countries with a value of 50.19.

Mr Sumaila, the Development Secretary, said the Sierra Leone government was committed to addressing the recommendations in the report as they relate to the country.

Professor Ekundayo Thompson, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sierra Leone, said the report indicated the need for review of the education system in the country.

“The latest Global Human Development Report is a deafening alarm bell that as a country we need to revisit the education system and make a bold decision to improve on the level of its equality,” he said at the launch in Freetown.

The GHDR 2016 comes at the end of the first year of implementation of the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from which the theme of the report was drawn.

It measures annual milestone achieved by countries in terms of human development. It does so with the use of five indicators, among them the HDI which specifically measures progress in long and healthy life, knowledge and decent standard of living.

The others are the Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index, Gender Equality Index, Gender Development Index, and the Multidimensional Poverty Index.

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