On March 21st 2017, UNDP launched the 2016 Global Human Development Report (HDR), prepared under the theme: “human development for all”, in Stockholm. Since 1990, UNDP has regularly prepared the HDR as one of its core flagship knowledge products. The Human Development Index (HDI) at the core of this report assesses progress on three main dimensions:  a long life, measured by life expectancy at birth; access to knowledge, measured by mean years of education by the adult population and expected years of schooling for children of school-entry age; and a decent standard of living, measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. Other indicators were used to broaden our understanding on human development including in the areas of income and gender inequality.

The 2016 report presents a myriad of learning points in the realm of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development particularly, related to the principle of leaving no one behind. Its thematic focus clearly emphasizes the fundamental principal of universalism. It starts with the assurance, based on past successes in poverty reduction and other social indicators, that it is possible to achieve human development for everyone and then recognizes the mutually reinforcing challenges which could undermine this aspiration. Some of these include: deprivations affecting vulnerable groups; inequalities, the increasing threat of climate change; and emerging violent extremism.

foto: Sven Torfinn. December 2009. Ethiopia, South Omo province, Male district, Dioso village. Almaz Dalsha, Health Extension Worker in Doiso examining Gantuto Gazai, pregnant woman, during home visit. They are discussing health issues and tips for a safe delivery.

The report also highlights how universal human development can be ensured. It partly calls for reaching: those left out using universal policies, by for instance pursuing inclusive growth, enhancing opportunities for the vulnerable, and building individual capabilities along the life cycle; making human development resilient through addressing epidemics, shocks and risks, combating violence; and ensuring that global institutional reforms are inclusive.

For Uganda, this is the best time to launch this report. Ugandan policy makers are reflecting on the potential vulnerabilities affecting human development resulting from environment-related shocks such as prolonged droughts that is affecting over 30% of the population and the slowdown in the economy, among others.

In this piece, I wish to focus on a few basics that underpin delivery on the above issues, because I find them critical for all interested in seeing Uganda fast-track its transition to the prosperous nation we envisage by 2040. I will try to generate momentum for what has for some time been at the forefront to the national policy debate. I will not claim to be exhaustive in this space, nor to exploit new ground.

Now let’s begin with the data. According to the report, Uganda’s Human Development Index, currently at 0.493 has remained persistently below the index for countries in the low human development category and for Sub Saharan Africa.

The good news is that Uganda’s standard of living reflected in GNI per capita improved by 120% between 1990 and 2015. It is estimated to be higher than Rwanda and Burundi, although the gap with Rwanda has been converging since 2012. Furthermore, life expectancy has improved steadily since 1990 reaching 59.2 years in 2015, however, the picture isn’t bright yet. The country lags behind the rest of the East African region with Kenya and Tanzania still remaining stronger in this aspect.

A comparison within the East African Region gives compelling reasons why we need to re-think our strategies on building a strong base for human development in this country. Uganda lags behind the rest of the East African Region, except for Burundi in almost all human development dimensions. In 1990, Rwanda’s HDI was 0.244 compared to 0.309 for Uganda. Having overtaken Uganda in 2012, Rwanda has consistently been above by 5 percentage points, currently standing at 0.498. Subsequently, Rwanda now ranks 159th out of 188 countries while Uganda is 163rd in the HDI country ranking in 2016. There are strong indicators that Rwanda will hit the 0.50 threshold for medium human development category shortly, while Kenya is already there with an index of 0.555.

The 2016 report notes that Uganda has made significant progress in improving health outcomes, which it must accelerate and sustain. Significant attention needs to be given to the heath sector as deficiencies can impact negatively on the economy and overall welfare of Ugandans. Investment in vibrant inclusive health systems, even in hard to reach locations, matter significantly. Threats posed by the rise of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), HIV/AIDs and risks associated with food insecurity cannot be underestimated.

A healthy population can work efficiently and the long term economic costs of investing in health care will undoubtedly decline if sustained attention is given to this sector in the short term. In this context, it is time to bring back the discussion on rolling out a smart, inclusive and sustainable health insurance scheme to ensure responsive and affordable coverage for all.

Bed ridden man in Lugazi but cannot access health service due to poverty

Gains were also registered in the expected years of schooling, which captures the total number of years of schooling of a child of school-entry age can expect to receive throughout their life span. On average, a child in Uganda once enrolled in primary one expects to complete up to the third year of secondary education (10 years). This implies significant challenges in attaining full secondary education that should be considered. It is evident that the government has provided free education, but questions arise around why a significant number of children are unable to complete the full course. There is a need to rethink the concept of affordability, beyond school fees and take into consideration other aspects including the density of schools in rural areas; the opportunity costs teachers are faced with regarding work in hard to reach locations; as well as other competing short-term benefits that poor households consider to keep their children out of school.

Similarly, the average number of years of education received in a life time by adults registered steady progress from 2.8 in 1990 to 4.4 in the early to mid-2000s but has stagnated at 5 since 2010. Exclusion from literacy opportunities implies constraints in building the capability of the community to undertake social investments such as keeping children in schools, affordability of health care and constructing household livelihoods for poverty eradication. It is also important to note that the extent to which Uganda educates its adult population will determine the success of its transformation and the achievement of Vision 2040. The Functional Adult Literacy programmes of the 1990s and early 2000s were successful in inculcating a skill-specific curriculum coupled with literacy and numeracy for adults who missed formal education. Reactivating such programmes will help bridge the generation gap and reinforce the national workforce.

But emphasis must be both on access to education as well as the quality of education available. Uganda’s official education statistics reveal that only 52 percent of children in primary six possess the literacy skills commensurate with their level of schooling. Simply stated, while children attend school, they do not obtain the requisite qualifications meant for their level. This quality gap can have serious implications throughout their life time. We also need to pay attention to regional imbalances. Overall education performance indicators place the northern and eastern regions of Uganda at a disadvantage. Let us ensure that schooling at all levels is affordable to everyone, including the poorest. We must transition from emphasizing access to ensuring equity, quality and improved learning outcomes.

In light of these discussions, it goes without saying that a shift from low levels of human development to medium and eventually high levels of human development, while feasible will not come easily.It will require, in part, a highly redistributive and broad-based public purse.

As Uganda prepares its national budget, I wish to urge our planners and decision makers to ensure judicious consideration of social spending in the national budget. The proposed budget for 2017/2018 reduces the share of the Health sector budget from 8.9 percent of the total in the 2016/17 to 5.7% in 2017/18.  Unfortunately, allocation over time has persistently been half of the 15 percent commitment in the Abuja Declaration. Similarly, the share of the Education sector budget has been reduced from 12% to 10.6% in the latest budget framework paper. I implore planners to avoid the temptation to postpone social spending in favour of infrastructure and other large scale investments, in anticipation of utilizing oil resources to address social spending in future. Sustainable accelerated economic transformation requires a healthy and skilled community of workers and entrepreneurs.

Let me share two extra reasons: First, poor health and mortality will not wait. Coupled with deficiencies in education at all levels, this is likely to have a debilitating impact on the country. Second, economic investments, in the face of weak human capital cannot propel sustainable development, but may instead perpetuate social exclusion by benefiting sections of the population that can afford to harness opportunities that may arise. Inclusive plans and budgets should be followed by a deliberate effort to empower the citizens to participate, demand and monitor service delivery.

National Water and Sewerage boss Dr Silver Mugisha inspecting slums of Kampala in a bid to improve water services in slums

Investing in human capital development can be effective when development cooperation can complement government efforts. A clear example is the stellar performance of the Karamoja sub region in most health indicators when compared to the rest of the country. These results from the 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey demonstrate the value that development partner investments can add to the improvement of health outcomes, when complementing government efforts. This example of effective development cooperation can be replicated at national level.

In conclusion, the progress we made in human development so far gives me enough reasons to believe that we will achieve human development for everyone in Uganda. Human development for all, however, will require that we depart from the business as usual approach and take on new innovative approaches. We must change course and adopt a multi-pronged set of national policy options if we are to reach those who are left out when applying universal policies like those shared in this piece.

The Global Human Development Report has played a pivotal role in assessing progress in human development around the globe for decades. The 2016 Report provides us with valid recommendations that could help us accelerate sustainable development in Uganda as it implements its National Vision 2040 and the global sustainable development agenda 2030 including its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

I invite development actors, policy makers and decision makers from both the public and private sectors in Uganda to read the 2016 Global Human Development Report. As UNDP we look forward to organizing opportunities to have in depth discussions on the possible added value of its findings and recommendations. I am confident that going forward Uganda’s rating will be improved and its aspirations for accelerated and inclusive transformation will be reflected in future reports. The full report is available at: –http://report.hdr.undp.org/

Ms Rosa Malango is UN Resident Coordinator |UNDP Resident Representative

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