Life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is lower now than 30 years ago: UN index

9 November 2006 –

Human development in sub-Saharan Africa has stagnated while progress in other parts of the world has accelerated, widening the gap between the world’s richest and poorest countries, warns this year’s United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), which finds life expectancy in the region lower today than 30 years ago mainly because of the ravages of HIV/AIDS.

The HDI, released today as part of the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2006 Human Development Report (HDR), shows that after a setback in human development in the first half of the 1990s, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States recovered strongly, and progress since 1990 in East and South Asia continues to accelerate. But sub-Saharan Africa shows no sign of improving.

The index analyses 2004 statistics from 175 UN member countries along with Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region, China), and the occupied Palestinian territories. This year’s rankings do not include 17 UN member nations, among them Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, due to insufficient data.

“In the 31 countries at the bottom of the list, 28 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, a person can hope to live on average only 46 years, or 32 years less than the average life expectancy in countries of advanced human development, with 20 years slashed off life expectancy due to HIV/AIDS,” according to a UNDP press release.

“The countries at the top and bottom of the rankings in the 2006 HDR are unchanged from the 2005 HDR; Norway ranks highest, while Niger is last of the countries for which sufficient information is available. People in Norway are more than 40 times wealthier than people in Niger and they live almost twice as long.”

This year’s index also provides a snapshot of the disparities between income groups within countries, showing for example that children born into the poorest 20 per cent of households in Indonesia are four times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children born into the richest 20 per cent of families.

In Bolivia, the richest 20 per cent of people rank in the upper echelons of human development, alongside Poland, while the poorest 20 per cent equate to the average HDI for Pakistan. Poland and Pakistan are separated by 97 places on the global HDI ranking.

The same trend is found in affluent countries, says the report, noting that while the richest 20 per cent of the United States population tops the list of human-development achievements, alongside Norway, the poorest 20 per cent rank considerably lower – slightly below the HDI for Argentina and on par with Cuba.

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