29 November 2011

Uganda: Progress Made but Country Still a Hard Place to Live in, UN Says

A Ugandan born today can expect to live four years longer than one born in 1980, a new UN report says.

The Human Development Report released earlier this month by the United Nations Development Programme shows that Uganda has made improvements in health, education and living standards over the last 30 years.

Life expectancy has risen to about 53; children on average spend an extra three years in school and gross national income per capita - the total income of the country divided by the population - has more than doubled since 1985.

While the country has made some tentative steps forward, it requires giant leaps to improve the standard of living, especially of the poorest, the report shows.

Uganda is filed in the low human development category and is ranked 161 out of the 187 countries and territories surveyed. In other words, only 26 countries ranked worse than Uganda and these include war-ravaged countries like Burundi, Liberia, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which ranked last.

Kenya was the highest-ranked East African state at 143, followed by Tanzania at 152. Rwanda ranked below Uganda at 166.

Mixed record

Although Uganda has increased access to education through free universal primary and secondary education, massive questions remain about the lack of quality in the programme.

The country has also halved the percentage of Ugandans living below the poverty line since 1992 to around 25 per cent (World Bank figures are higher, at 31.1 per cent) but a high population growth rate - one of the highest in the world - has eroded many of these gains in real terms, keeping more people living on less than Shs3,000 per day.

High population

The high population growth rate is putting pressure on delivery of public services, experts say, especially the crumbling public health services. Only 38 per cent of Ugandans in urban areas have access to improved sanitation; few in the rural areas have any toilets to speak of.

In its report, the UN warns that development progress in the world's poorest countries, including Uganda, could be halted or reversed over the next couple of decades unless efforts are made to address the effects of climate change, population pressure on the environment, and inequitable distribution of economic growth.

The report argues that, "environmental sustainability can be most fairly and effectively achieved by addressing health, education, income, and gender disparities together with the need for global action on energy production and ecosystem protection".

Uganda's growing population continues to exert pressure on the environment with firewood and charcoal constituting the main source of energy for up to 80 per cent of households, and with the national forest cover having dropped from 24 to 18 per cent between 1990 and 2005.

"We hope that the report's findings and recommendations will inform national debates on sustainable development in Uganda," Theophane Nikyema, UNDP resident representative to Uganda, said.

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