From The Daily Monitor
According to the Human Development report released recently, poverty levels have continued to rise, from 35 percent in 1998 to 38 percent in 2003. The gap between the rich and the poor has also widened
Rose Namayanja sits in front of her one roomed house in Makerere, Kivulu - one of the notorious slums of Kampala - not sure of what the day holds. With her two daughters, she lives every other day not sure of what to eat.
Like many people, Namayanja lives in abject poverty. Despite improvements registered in recent years, most people in Uganda continue to live in poverty. According to the Human Development report released recently, poverty levels have continued to rise.
Poverty levels increased from 35 percent in 1998 to 38 percent in 2003, with the Eastern region registering the highest increase in poverty from 35 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2003. This was attributed to increased cattle rustling in Karamoja and spread out effects from the LRA insurgency in Northern Uganda to the eastern districts in Teso.
The gap between the poor and the rich has further widened with the poor becoming poorer and the rich getting richer. Ugandans' income inequality increased from 39 percent to 43 percent. The report says this was partly due to the poor performance of the agricultural sector over the last two years.
"It is imperative that interventions to improve livelihoods focus on rural areas and specifically agriculture on which most people depend," the report says. Human development index (HDI) rose from 4.7 in 2000 to 0.508 in 2003, according to the report.
HDI measures the countries' average progress in human development. Based on HDI, Uganda is ranked 144 out of the 177 counties in which the study was done.
The central region had the highest HDI with Kampala and Wakiso leading the rest because of better education infrastructure and better income opportunities.
The Northern region had the least HDI mainly because the insurgency in the area hinders attainment of social service goals such as children going to school, the report notes. Districts of Kotido, Nakapiripirit and Moroto still lag behind in all indicators of human development. These districts are characterised with low literacy levels and poor access to clean water. In the western region, Bundibugyo continues to record the lowest levels in human development.
There was a general improvement in education among Ugandans. In 2002, 68 percent of the population aged 10 years and above were literate compared to 54 percent in 1991, which represents a significant increase in literacy.
The increased literacy rates were due to improved enrolment - due to Universal Primary Education - and adult literacy programmes.
Adult literacy rates increased countrywide of which the highest increase was registered in the Northern region. The current enrolment rate stands at 79 percent though the government's target was to achieve 98 percent enrolment by 2003.
Life expectancy increased from 43 years in 2000 to 47 years in 2003 due to improvement in the delivery of health services and success in the fight against HIV/Aids.
More needs to be done
Despite successes registered in the fight against HIV/Aids, other health indicators such as infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have not improved, the report notes.
With 3.4 percent average population growth rate per annum, Uganda has one of the highest growth rates in Sub-Saharan Africa higher than the region's average population growth rate of 2.1 percent.
This exerts pressure on the environment and reduces the per capita benefits from economic growth.
"To maintain balance between the environment and human development, population growth has to be controlled," the report says. Ugandans now pay more taxes than they did 10 years ago. For instance, tax revenues have increased from 7 percent of the GDP in 1991 to 12 percent in 2002.
Despite this, the fiscal deficit has continued to widen reaching 12 percent of the GDP in 2002 because of high public spending rate at 24.6 percent of the GDP. Increased government expenditure is not marched with domestic revenue.
"The expansion in government expenditure was mainly funded by an increase in donor aid flow, especially in social services such as UPE. "The government should increase revenue generation to finance human development and environmental management," the report says.
"While Uganda generally recognises the importance of human capital for sustained economic and social development, it has not yet fully exploited its use, so it remains classified as a poor nation," the report says.
While, Uganda is well endowed with environmental resources initially, the amount and quality of the country's natural resources is on the decline, the report noted.
The main causes are population pressure and some policy failures. "Uganda enjoyed rapid economic growth during the last 10 years, this growth has put significant stress on the country's natural resources; The quality of the environment on which most poor people depend is declining, which limits the livelihood opportunities forcing people to over rely on fewer resources," the report says.
Significant natural resource degradation takes place in South Western Uganda, Central and Eastern Uganda on account of population pressure. Northern Uganda households are confined in internally displaced (IDP) camps, unable to access and make use of natural resources.
"All these regional inequalities pose serious challenges to interventions aimed at raising household incomes of the poor and undermine human development," the report says.
Around 1890, Uganda was covered with about 108,000km of forests and woodlands, which has since reduced to 49,000km. It is estimated that 550 to 700km of forestland is lost annually.
The report notes that agriculture is the primary cause of forest degradation. And since 70 percent of forest areas are privately owned, the decision to convert them into agriculture is easily made. "Climate change and environmental degradation have led to food shortages and increased pressure on available land and water resources in Karamoja region," according to the report.
Despite legal and institutional frameworks Uganda put in place to ensure environmental conservation, it is not yet where it should be in terms of sustainable development.
While presenting deliberations at the launch of the report, James Tumwebaze, the coordinator of sustainability watch said, "Uganda still lacks strong political will to combat degradation."
Uganda still lacks access to safe water in rural poor communities, despite being endowed with water resources. Currently, 47 percent of the rural areas has access to safe water and 65 percent in urban centres.
Despite this, surface water quality has deteriorated during the last two decades. Seven districts of Yumbe, Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Kiboga, Mubende and Kalangala had less than 20 percent of rural safe water coverage. These districts represent 10 percent of the total population. The highest percentage of safe water access was registered in the Western and Eastern parts of the country.
While presenting a speech on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Minister for general duties in the office of the prime minister, Prof. Mondo Kagonyera said, "Without deliberate efforts to safeguard the integrity of the natural resources from environmental degradation, the desired results of the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) and improving the quality of life of the poor will be difficult to achieve."
The report notes that investing in human development is good for the environment in a way that skilled and knowledgeable people are in a better position to respond to the incentives and opportunities.
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