Poor marks for progress on MDG

The gap between rich and poor in Angola, Africa's second biggest oil exporter, is widening, according to a report sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

More than two-thirds of the country's 16 million people live on US$2 or less a day, and 4 million of those survive on US$0.75 or less a day.

"Another indicator that clearly illustrates the level of poverty is the measure of inequality in the distribution of wealth," said the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2005 Progress Report on Angola released last week. In terms of the Gini Coefficient, an income distribution measure that rates 0 as perfect equality and 100 as perfect inequality, the size of the gap expanded from 0.52 to 0.62.

Angola is one of 191 countries that adopted the Millennium Declaration in 2000, in which signatories aim to cut poverty by half, and provide food to all families and education for all children by 2015.

UNDP's senior economist in Angola, Michel Botomazava, said factors contributing to the disparity of wealth were the capital-intensive nature of the oil sector, and other sectors of the economy had collapsed during three decades of civil war. "There are very few people working in the [oil] sector. This is the main reason why inequalities are widening, as oil revenues benefit only very few groups."

The government has implemented a poverty reduction strategy since the advent of peace in 2002, although "there is a feeling that government is wasting money on white elephants", such as a new international airport, which were not seen as contributing to the goals of the declaration, "but maybe government has a new strategy," Botomazava said.

"A big chunk [about 17 percent] of the [national] budget is for 'special use', and no one really knows what it is used for," he said. Little of the country's oil wealth is reflected in the daily lives of its people.

Angola is perceived by the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International, as the 151st most corrupt country on a list of 158 countries. The US State Department said the country's wealth was "concentrated in the hands of a small elite, who often used government positions for massive personal enrichment."

The International Monetary Fund estimated that in the late 1990s and early 2000s about US$1 billion was siphoned from the country's oil revenues annually.

According to Angolense, a newspaper based in the capital, Luanda, ten Angolans have fortunes exceeding US$100 million, while another 49 have more than US$50 million. President José Eduardo Dos Santos was rated as the richest of the rich, followed by a parliamentary deputy, two officials in the president's office, an ambassador, a former army chief of staff, and the minister of public works. The seven richest Angolans were all in the ruling MPLA government.

After five years, Angola scored the lowest mark in six of the declaration's eight categories - eradicating extreme hunger, promoting gender equality, reducing infant mortality, improving maternal healthcare, fighting HIV/AIDS and ensuring environmental sustainability - but attained the highest mark for achieving universal primary education, and a moderate score for developing global partnerships. With ten years left before the deadline, the report rated its chances of achieving the MDGs as "moderate."

Three decades of war ended in 2002, when government forces killed rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The progress report estimated that nearly all the 4.4 million internally displaced people had been resettled, and about 314,000 refugees, or 68.7 percent, had returned from outside the country.

"This vast demographic movement will take some time to have a positive impact on the production of food, which is also dependant on the rehabilitation of infrastructure," the report pointed out, as will the reintegration of about 100,000 ex-combatants.

Food vulnerability affected about 3.5 million people when the war ended, but with the resurgence of traditional agriculture, supported by donor and state distribution of farming inputs to about 600,000 small-scale farmers, this has since been reduced to about 1.1 million.

Farming production is being limited by "the poor state of communication systems, the difficulty in shipping goods (as a consequence of the slow rehabilitation of roads and bridges), the undeveloped system of food conservation, and rudimentary livestock and farming methods."

The report recommended that the ruling MPLA government increase its budget allocation to farming, fishing and the environment, currently at about 3 percent, "so as to sustain hopes of achieving the MDGs, particularly with respect to improving nutrition."

Between 2002 and 2004, Angola's oil-dominated economy achieved a growth rate of about 10 percent, which is expected to increase to about 16 percent in the next few years, while inflation dropped from more than 100 percent to about 31 percent in 2004, although it was still "amongst the least developed countries in the world."

Augusto Santana, country director of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, told IRIN the reconstruction of the country "is not reflecting on people's lives."

China's $2bn oil-backed credit for reconstruction projects has not tackled local unemployment, as the emerging superpower has brought in its own labour and experts for the projects, Santana said, and this "lack of [government] policy" was causing ex-combatants and the youth to sit idly by on the sidelines.

Although no date has been set for national elections, voter registration is scheduled to begin on 15 November. The last elections, in 1992, provided a brief respite from the war, but the disputed results plunged the country back into conflict.

"The bad experience of 1992 means that most people associate elections with war, so it is difficult for people to see democracy as an improvement of their lives," said Santana.

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