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1 in 5 South Africans Are Living in Extreme Poverty: UN Report


Why Global Citizens Should Care
South Africa is grappling with great inequalities, which contribute to extreme poverty. The United Nations’ 17 Global Goals together work towards ending extreme poverty and its systemic causes.. Yet these goals can only be achieved if unequal countries like South Africa come to terms with serious inequalities and work towards sustainable solutions to eradicate poverty. Join the movement and take action on this issue here

Last year, the World Bank determined that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world — and the recently released 2020 UN Human Development Index and Human Development Report show that the country has made little to no progress in eradicating its inequalities. 

The United Nations Human Development Report (HDR) — which looks at a range of socioeconomic indicators such as average life expectancy, education, and income inequality — provides a detailed look of the progression of the world. 

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a measurement of equality developed by the UN that ranks countries by analysing their quality of life against the backdrop of their industrial development. 

South Africa has been ranked 114 out of 189 countries assessed in the index due to its declining standards of living and worsening income inequality. Since 2014, the country has dropped two ranks lower on the index, and as the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of more than 2 million job losses, the case of South Africa’s inequality is expected to get worse

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The country’s wealthiest 10%, meanwhile, possesses more than half the nation’s income, while the poorest 40% shares just 7.2%. According to Business Insider, this level of income inequality is the largest anomaly observed by the UN’s HDI. The country’s inequality in life expectancy and education also rank as some of the highest deviations in the world.

The HDR also indicates that there are a number of South African citizens living below the international poverty line. The report notes that 18.9% of the population — about 11 million South Africans — live on less than R28 ($1.90) a day, which is around R800 ($55) per month.

The report also looks at different forms of poverty which it categorises as “multidimensional poverty.” This looks at poor health, malnutrition, a lack of clean water, inadequate access to health care services and poor, if any, housing conditions. According to the report, nearly 4 million South Africans are in a state of multidimensional poverty. 

South Africa also ranked lower on the HDI as a result of planetary pressure monitoring, which  adjusts the overall HDI score by measuring the level of carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint per capita. This is an area in which South Africa has not progressed. 

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Finally, the HDR analyses and highlights the socioeconomic inequalities between men and women. According to the report, on average, South African women earn 38% less than men, and fewer women have received a tertiary education as compared to men.

Countries ranked the lowest on the HDI include Niger, Central African Republic, Chad, South Sudan, Burundi, and Mali. At the top of the ranks are Norway, Ireland, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Iceland, Germany, and Sweden.