On Wednesday, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released its 2011 Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI ranks the world's nations according to levels of education, income and life expectancy of citizens.
In its 2011 report entitled "Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for all," Nigeria, Africa's largest country population-wise, with a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of $2,069, was ranked among the least developed countries of the world in terms of a number of human development indicators, in 157 place out of 187. Norway, Australia and Netherlands were the top three countries on the new UNDP HDI ranking.
The UNDP report, according to The Vanguard, estimated the life expectancy of Nigerians at 51.9, compared to Libya, 74, Mauritius, 73.4, Gabon, 62.7, and South Africa, 52.8. UNDP estimates life expectancy of a country's citizens by reference to the pattern of age specific mortality rates at the time of birth. UNDP estimates the average number of years of schooling received by Nigerians under 25 years as 5 years.
Nigeria's Gross National Income per capita of $2,069 places her far behind several fellow African nations. Equatorial Guineas has a GNI per capita of $17,608, Botswana, $13,049, and Gabon, $12,249.
The only good news for Nigeria in this year's HDI ranking of the world's nations is that Nigeria is among the sub-Saharan countries with the highest average HDI growth in the last decade. The UNDP HDI ranking, however, suggests that countries ranked among the 25 percent least developed countries in the world in HDI terms have been making remarkable improvement in recent times. Between 1970 and 2010, these countries, mostly African, have improved their HDI performance by 82 percent, a rate which is twice the global average.
Mauritius has the distinction of being the country with the highest HDI in sub-Saharan Africa. Gabon, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa follow in the order shown.
VOA News reports, however, that the UNDP, in its 2011 Human Development Report, has warned that environmental degradation could cancel out the modest gains the world's poorest countries have achieved in recent years. The report states that all the gains made so far could be halted and reversed by the middle of the century if something is not done to reverse the effects of environmental degradation. According to the UNDP report, climate change and habitat destruction are the major challenges to achievement of sustained growth in standard of living of citizens of the world's poorest countries. Half of all malnutrition in sub-Saharan African countries is caused by environmental factors, the UNDP report said. The report said environmental degradation may cut agricultural productivity and cause food prices to increase up to 50 percent in the next few decades.
Dying livestock in Kenya.
According to the lead author of the report Jeni Klugman:
"The main problems that we see in sub-Saharan Africa are around land degradation and desertification, which are affecting livelihoods of many millions of people, obviously in rural areas. We also see some significant problems around access to water and safe sanitation in both rural and urban areas."
In spite of posting the highest rates of HDI improvement, sub-Saharan African countries still dominate the bottom of the HDI ranking. The 10 countries with the lowest HDI in the 2011 report, are all sub-Saharan African countries: Guinea, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Chad, Mozambique, Burundi, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In contrast, 10 countries with the highest HDI are mostly countries of the West and the Northern Hemisphere, and include Sweden, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Canada, Germany and New Zealand.
A Somali mother holds her child at the stabilization centre at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.
Jeni Klugman, lead author of the UNDP Human Development report, highlights the stark differences between the richest and poorest nations of the world:
"For example, life expectancy in Democratic Republic of Congo is 48 years if someone is born today, whereas if they were born in Norway, it would be 81 years. So, it is a huge difference. And, if you go to each of the components of the index, so for example, the average number of years that you would expect a child to go to school in Norway is nearly 13. If they are in the DRC, it is only three-and-one-half years. So, it is just stark differences."
The UNDP report, however, says armed conflicts are a major factor in the poor performance of African countries on the HDI scale.