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Human Development Indicators

The aim of 'development' is to increase people’s options and improve their quality of life. Meeting human development goals is a long and complex progress that requires regular monitoring to understand the impacts of programs and to learn from past successes and failure in the development trajectory.

Issues such as Food Security, HIV/AIDS and the impacts of Climate Change and disasters can hinder or even reverse efforts made at the national and international level to improve the livelihoods of the people in development countries. The most impoverished are the most vulnerable to external hazards - this segment of the population often exist on the most marginal land, in rural settings or in crowded conditions - and are the least able to react or recover when impacted by a hazard such as conflict or famine. Women and children are more at risk than other segments of the population.

Due to their economic position, most impoverished people usually live in conditions with poor sanitation and limited or no access to clean water, thus further increasing their vulnerability. These combined multiple factors are often referred to as the cycle of poverty: numerous factors, such as malnutrition, illness and poor living conditions, that when combined, make it difficult for people to break out of the conditions of poverty to improve their level of well-being and create a more positive livelihood.

The indicators outlined below measure the different aspects of human development for the states of the Limpopo River basin. These range from overall human development, to access to water sources and sanitation, child mortality rates, primary education completion rate, prevalence of HIV, and gender.

Human Development Index

The Human Development Index (HDI) measures human development by combining three dimensions of development: longevity (life expectancy at birth), knowledge (adult literacy and mean years of schooling), and income (UNDP HDR 2008).

A comparison of the HDI (2009) for the states of the Limpopo River basin illustrates that Botswana has the highest HDI ranking at 125 out of 182 countries measured, followed closely by South Africa (129), both are ranked under Medium Human Development (UNDP HDR 2009).  Mozambique falls under Low Human Development ranked at 172 out of 182 countries, and Zimbabwe was either "unable or unwilling" to provide the information necessary for ranking.

Life Expectancy

The "Life Expectancy at Birth" indicator measures the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life (World Bank 2008).

Life expectancy in the Limpopo River basin countries remains very low, ranging from 44 years in Zimbabwe to 54 years in Botswana (2007). There have been slight improvements over the last three years.

Source: World Bank 2010

Prevalence of HIV

The Prevalence of HIV indicator refers to the percentage of people ages 15 to 49, who are infected with HIV. HIV rates have remained relatively consistent in the basin states with the exception of Zimbabwe. Increased awareness and use of condoms has resulted in a dramatic drop in infection rates since 1999.

Source: World Bank 2010

As HIV continues to seriously impact the population of Africa, its indirect effects are also taking a toll on the continent. People living with HIV have an increased susceptibility to illness and are therefore more vulnerable. People living in impoverished conditions are even more exposed as malnourishment, poor sanitation, and lack of access to clean water further increase vulnerability.

Child Mortality

The Child Mortality indicator is the probability per 1 000 that a newborn baby will die before reaching age five, if subject to current age-specific mortality rates (World Bank 2008). Annually, more than 10 million children worldwide die before their fifth birthday, and for every child that dies there are millions more living in the vicious cycle of poverty, malnutrition and disease. Developing countries account for 98% of child mortality deaths, and over half of those are in sub-Saharan Africa, where child mortality rates are increasing (Nile RAK 2007).

Child mortality rates in the Limpopo River basin range from 31/1 000 in Botswana to 130/1 000 in Mozambique (2008). 

Source: World Bank 2010

Improved Water Sources

Access to Improved Water Sources is measured by the proportion of the population with access to an adequate amount of safe drinking water located within a convenient distance from the user’s dwelling (WHO/UNICEF 2008). Reasonable access is broadly defined as the availability of at least 20 litres per person per day from a source within 1 km of the user's dwelling (WHO/UNICEF 2008).

Two of every five Africans lack access to an improved water supply, reflecting a continent-wide lag in the provision of water services to rural areas (UNEP 2008). Lack of access to safe and reliable water sources results in labour-intensive and time consuming collection of water. Women bear the majority of the responsibility for gathering water and are required to travel long distances in search of water sources and takes away from other household and income generating activities. This journey to gather water often requires women to be in unsafe and hazard environments.

As can be seen in the graph below, the percentage of urban-dwelling people with access to improved water sources is generally high in the basin countries. As most of the basin is rural, rural access is the focus here; this is generally much lower than urban access. 

Source: World Bank 2010

Access to Improved Drinking Water Supply

Access to Improved Drinking Water Supply is the percentage of population with access to an improved drinking water source in a given year (World Bank 2008). Improved drinking water sources, refers to the types of technology and levels are service that are more likely to provide safe water. These may include household connections, public standpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collections (WHO/UNICEF 2008).

The lack of access to safe drinking water is caused by a number of environmental and political reasons and reflects in part the inability of governments to provide for satisfactory water and sanitation systems. The results of these failings include disease and health problems, and places severe limitations on economic development possibilities.

The percentage of the population with access to improved water sources is very similar to the percentage of people with access to improved drinking water sources, as is shown in the graph below.

Source: WHO 2010

Access to Improved Sanitation

Access to Improved Sanitation Facilities refers to the percentage of the population with at least adequate access to excreta disposal facilities that can effectively prevent human, animal, and insect contact with excreta. Improved facilities range from simple but protected pit latrines to flush toilets with a sewerage connection. To be effective, facilities must be correctly constructed and properly maintained (World Bank 2008).

The percentage of the population with access to improved sanitation facilities in Limpopo basin states is lower than access to drinking water; however the trend that access is higher in urban areas than rural areas remains the same.

Source: WHO 2010


The Gender-Related Development Index (GDI) is an indication of the standard of living in a country, which aims to show the inequalities between men and women in the following areas: long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living (World Bank 2008).

Gender disparities are among the deepest and most pervasive of all inequalities, and are reflected in inequalities from the household level to the national level. Women are under-represented in government and local political structures, and generally have less control over household resources, access to information and health care than men. Higher mortality rates among girls and woman points to structural inequalities in nutrition, healthcare, and status.

The GDI values for the basin states, with the exception of Zimbabwe, are shown below. 

Source: UNDP 2010


Although gender disparities are prevalent in the basin states, literacy rates are fairly even and even rank higher for females than males in three of the basin states.

Source: World Bank 2010