Namibia: Child Poverty Remains High... Vast Majority of Rural Children Multidimensionally Poor

An official report launched last Friday by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) found that while Namibia has made progress in reducing monetary poverty, more than 43.3% of the population still live in multidimensional poverty.

The report also showed where multidimensional poverty is greatest across the country.

The launch of the NSA's very own Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) means Namibia now joins the growing number of countries in the region that include multidimensional poverty measurements with their traditional monetary poverty analysis, a development that has been welcomed by local social commentators.

The Namibian MPI provides more detail on the exact nature of people's poverty such as the differences between demographic groups and regions, as well as the overlapping and interlinked deprivations experienced across the country. The more traditional monetary poverty analysis on the other hand focuses solely on consumption and expenditure.

Based on data from the 2015/16 Namibian Household Income and Expenditure Survey, the MPI measures the deprivations poor people face based on three dimensions, namely; education, health and living standards. These are measured across 11 weighted indicators: school attendance, years of schooling; drinking water, sanitation, housing, transportation assets, ICT, cooking and lighting energy; access to clinic/hospitals, food security and child nutrition. If a person is deprived in 30% of these weighted indicators, they are considered multidimensionally poor.

While the incidences of poverty in Namibia are registered at 43.3%, the average intensity of poverty is 44%, meaning that poor people experience, on average, 44% of the weighted deprivations. The MPI, which is the product of incidences and intensity, is 0.191.

The MPI report further indicated that rural areas were found to be poorer than the urban areas, reported at 59.3% and 25.3%, respectively. About 64% of children who live in rural areas are multidimensionally poor, compared to 30% in urban areas. Across the 14 administrative regions of Namibia, the incidences of multidimensional poverty were highest in Kavango West (79.6%), Kavango East (70.0%) and Kunene (64.1%). The incidences of multidimensional poverty are higher among female-headed households (with a rate of 46%) than male-headed households (with a rate of 41%).

The MPI report launched on Friday was compiled in collaboration with the UNDP, the UNFPA and UNICEF and is intended to inform and guide poverty reduction strategies.

According to a local economist, Klaus Schade, the MPI is a useful addition to the current poverty measure that relies on income only.

Decent income

"Poverty, however, has various dimensions. People are not only deprived of decent income, but also of proper education, health, participation in public life and communication, or of decent housing. The MPI tries to capture these dimensions in one indicator that should result in targeted policy interventions. The compilation of the MPI has, however, also revealed that some indicators need to be updated and adjusted for recent technological developments," said Schade.

He added that it is important to collect data more frequently in order to ensure that decision makers can respond in time to any significant change in the MPI. Also, because the current MPI is based on the 2015/16 National Household Income and Expenditure Survey, Schade feels that given the economic downturn since then and the social and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the next NHIES needs to receive priority and appropriate funding.

Developed by the NSA, the Namibian MPI is expected to serve as a strategic tool to inform budgeting and policymaking, while also providing baseline data for measuring progress towards eliminating poverty in line with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

This latest NSA report also observed disparities across demographic groups based on language. The highest incidences of multidimensional poverty were reported amongst the population whose main language was Khoisan (93%), followed by Rukavango (68%) and Zambezi (54%). This is in stark contrast to populations whose main spoken languages were English and German (each with 3%).

The report also found glaring differences between household size and multidimensional poverty. As household size increases, multidimensional poverty also increases. The incidences are highest for households that have 16 or more members, at 72.8% compared to 33.4% for a household with less than six members.

Monetarily poor

In terms of age groups, the youngest children are the poorest with the highest incidence of poverty reported among children aged one to four years (56%), followed by five to nine years (50%) and 10-14 years (48%). The lowest headcount ratio (33%) is reported for the age group of 25-29 years. In Namibia, approximately 16% of children aged zero to 17 are both multidimensionally and monetarily poor.

Also commenting on the report, Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA) secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha also welcomed the report, saying that the quality of life is not only determined by cash but by a person's 'level of happiness' distances to hospitals and access to roads as well as income security for children, the elderly and the unemployed.

"All these elements are what the union has been looking at for years. An important thing the NSA should also do now is to look at funding mechanisms to address these issues and how to share their information with the affected communities," Kavihuha told New Era.

Meanwhile, government has committed to continue publishing and enhancing the MPI once new data becomes available to provide evidence to inform poverty reduction strategies.

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