Namibia: Nation Must Bridge Yawning Gaps in Inequality, Says UN Independent Human Rights Expert

Despite its economic and political gains over the past two decades, Namibia still remains beset by "unacceptable" levels of poverty, a United Nations expert warned today, while urging the African country to adopt major structural changes to tackle its levels of inequality.

"While I recognize the damaging legacy of colonialism, progress has not been forthcoming at the necessary pace," said the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda, upon her return from a fact-finding mission to the country.

Ms. Sepúlveda pointed out that Namibia had enjoyed political stability and steady economic growth since its independence from South Africa in 1990, adding that the country was also rich in natural resources and boasted a gross domestic product classifying it among the world's middle-income countries.

Nevertheless, extreme poverty remained prevalent and the country's developmental policies and programmes had had "very limited success" in improving the situation of the poorest Namibians, she noted.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur listed an array of impediments which she said had prevented "good policies from producing the intended outcomes," despite substantial budgetary investments, including inefficiency, limited institutional capacity, skills shortages, a slow decentralization process and poor monitoring.

"The fact that the country remains one of the most unequal in the world is a clear sign that the benefits of economic growth have not reached the poor," Ms. Sepúlveda stated. "Social policies in areas ranging from health and education to employment and land reform are undermined by severe implementation gaps."

Ms. Sepúlveda, in particular, highlighted the plight of Namibian women, noting that they continued to be economically marginalised, received unequal access to land and productive resources, and were disproportionately affected by unemployment and HIV/AIDS.

She also expressed concern at the alarming rates of maternal mortality and gender-based violence, emphasizing that this long chain of predicaments "perpetuate women's social exclusion and poverty in a vicious cycle."

The UN expert urged the Namibian Government to implement systematic structural changes to address the levels of socio-economic inequality throughout the country, as well as develop more comprehensive social protection programmes and invest heavily in expanding access to public services.

"Poor Namibians cannot wait any longer for the benefits of economic growth to 'trickle down,'" continued Ms. Sepúlveda. "The Government must address the critical needs of the poorest and most marginalized as a matter of priority."

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Ms. Sepúlveda, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

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