Big strides against  inequality in Lesotho

Big strides against inequality in Lesotho

The global 2019 Human Development Report (HDR2019), titled ‘Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: inequalities in human development in the 21st century’ was launched in Lesotho on December 9, 2019 by the Honourable Minister of Development Planning, Mr Tlohelang Aumane, UN Resident Coordinator, Mr Salvator Niyonzima and the UNDP Resident Representative, Ms Betty Wabunoha. The report was discussed by experts from the National University of Lesotho, Ministry of Health and Bureau of Statistics.

Lesotho’s human development index is estimated at 0.518, and falls to 0.35, when adjusted for inequality; refl ecting a loss of 32 percent on the overall human development. This is growth of 3 points basis from the 2014 average, refl ecting a growth in incomes of the bottom 40 percent in comparison to the top 10 percent of the population. Lesotho is among the four countries in the Southern Africa region, including Botswana, eSwatini and Namibia, which also experienced growth in income at the bottom 40 percent. Despite this, Lesotho is still classifi ed among the top 20 most unequal countries and ranked in the low human development category.

The human development approach was pioneered in 1990, providing an alternative measure to socio-economic progress across countries beyond income, using indicators for access to knowledge, health and longevity of life and living standards. This approach has been used in the global development community as a more meaningful measure of progress – the HDR2019 is the 26th report in the series.
According to the HDR2019, the gap in basic living standard is narrowing, with more people having access to basic capabilities and necessities to thrive, including improved access to basic education, access to entry level technologies and improved primary health indicators. However, a new face of inequality – defined by increasing disparities in enhanced capabilities including access to tertiary education, quality health services, resilience to seismic eff ects of climate crisis and technology – is emerging.

Africa, according to this report, has experienced one of the most significant improvements in human development. Between 1990 and 2018 life expectancy increased by more than 11 years, achieving almost universal primary education, and declining income inequalities. In 2019, at least seventeen African countries have risen in ranking, and moved into the medium to high human development groups. However, Africa also has most countries that are off track to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Lesotho is ranked 164/189 countries, three places down from its ranking in 2016. According to Ms Betty Wabunoha, the UNDP hopes that the report will be used to inform policy debates and investment decisions to ensure graduation into a higher human development bracket, “to ensure that people are well positioned to get ahead tomorrow, as goalposts are moving”.

The report has five key messages:
1) While many people are stepping above minimum fl oors of achievement in human development, widespread disparities remain.
Many countries, Lesotho included, have achieved remarkable progress on average, in reducing extreme deprivations. Improvements have been noted in human development areas, especially declines in infant mortality rates, life expectancy at birth, increased access to primary education and access to basic technologies. However, gaps remain between the people in high- and lowincome levels, between countries in low- and high- human development and developed- and least- developed categories.

Disparities in achievements in education, health, technology and overall behavioural indicators, portray a widening gap and increasing inequalities between countries and societies.
For example, 42 percent of adults in the low human development countries have primary education, compared to 94% in high human development countries. In Lesotho, there are at least 30 percent more children from rich households than poor households who are likely to complete school at all school levels.

2) A new generation of severe inequalities in human development is emerging, even if many of the unresolved inequalities of the 20th century are declining.
The 21st century is characterised by seismic changes in climate and technology, which may aff ect achievements attained in human development and defi ne capabilities that are more likely to become important in the future. While most countries have achieved basic capabilities, including securing early childhood survival, primary education, entry level technologies and resilience to recurrent shocks, enhanced capability will likely determine aspects of life that will be more important tomorrow and the ability of people to get ahead. Progress in access to secondary education, quality health services at all levels, access to modern-day technology and resilience to unknown shocks present some of the emerging inequalities.

3) Inequalities in human development can accumulate through life, frequently heightened by deep power imbalances
Addressing inequalities means tackling challenges associated with power imbalances, driven by societal, political and economic structures. As such, disparities cannot be addressed for adult and income related diff erentials alone, as most of the inequalities happen even before birth. Health disparities cut across socio-economic groups and accumulate into adulthood. Parents’ social status have a way of determining the socioeconomic future status of the child; making them more prone to poor health and poor education, and also unlikely to earn more – if coming from a poor household.
Gender disparities are among the most entrenched inequalities everywhere. In Lesotho, the high education outcomes for women have not led to improved access to economic resources or leadership positions. Social and cultural norms are among those that perpetuate inequalities. The report presents a new social norms index that looks at links between social beliefs and gender equality in multiple dimensions.

4) Assessing inequalities in human development demands a revolution in metrics.Data and statistics play a major role in determining the degree of inequalities and formulating mitigating policies.

Good policies start with good measurement, and a new generation of inequalities requires a new generation of measurement. Clearer concepts tied to the challenges of current times, broader combinations of data sources, sharper analytical tools — all are needed. This suggests that traditional measures for wealth and income my not accurately refl ect the growing inequalities in many countries. It is important to engage broadly, among academics, multi-lateral organisations and government, to develop innovative metrices to ensure systematic and comparable statistics on income and inequality. This means even addressing some of the existing gaps in most basic statistics in countries. Based on the assessment for readiness to report for the SDGs, the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics only has readily available data for 56% of the selected national indicators.

5) Redressing inequalities in human development in the 21st century is possible—if acted on now, before imbalances in economic power translate into entrenched political dominance.
A policy stance that redress emerging and the intergenerational inequalities is necessary. There is need to accelerate convergence in the basic capabilities and reversing divergences in the enhanced capabilities, eliminating gender and other group-based inequalities, to advance equity and effi ciency in markets and increasing productivity that will translate to shared prosperity and growing incomes.

In his remarks at the launch event for the HDR2019, the Minister of Development Planning, Hon Tlohelang Aumane, acknowledged the challenges facing the country relative to building a human development and capital base that may drive the ambitious Government objectives for attaining inclusive economic growth and jobs creation. He mentioned that through the NSDP II, the Government has put more emphasis on enhancement of skills and health outcomes to retain the gains achieved in the past decade, as well as to address emerging gaps for increased productivity. He further invited partnerships with development partners, academia and all national stakeholders to join the Government to ensure economic transformation and progress in human development.

The Ministry of Development Planning will work with the UNDP and stakeholders to develop the next National Human Development Report for Lesotho.
This article is the first in a series of four, with the objective to share and contextualise the findings and recommendations of the 2019 Human Development Report in Lesotho. These are also expected to heighten the debates toward development of the new National Human Development Report.
Feedback and comments on this article should be sent to, with the title HDR2019 in subject.

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