HDR 2023-2024: “Reimagining cooperation in a polarised world in the context of Zimbabwe”?

By: Dr. Ayodele Odusola, UNDP Zimbabwe Resident Representative

March 14, 2024

This year’s UNDP Global Human Development Report (HDR) marks a dramatic shift away from the cautious optimism espoused in the HDR just four years ago: despite reaching a new high, the Global Human Development Index now evolves meaningfully below the 2019 trend – threatening to make global development losses permanent.  

Perhaps for citizens of many countries, it is easy to see why this would be the case.

In our relentlessly interconnected world, citizens bear witness to dangerous geopolitical quagmires; unpredictable climate shocks threaten everyday livelihoods; and the world still struggles with the human consequences of insecurity and inequality in nearly every form.  It is because of these inequalities – at least – that every Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country has rebounded to recover to its pre-2019 Human Development Index trend – yet only about half of the world’s Least Developed Countries have done so.  

That is, while wealthier countries recover, much of the rest of the world has lost – and remains below – the encouraging trajectory countries had once experienced before 2019.

Can I surprise the reader by saying not all is doom and gloom?

Twenty-five (25) of the African countries recovered to their pre-COVID-19 trend.  

Further, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Human Development Index for Zimbabwe rose from 0.549 in 2021 to 0.550 in 2022 (the closer this number stands to 1.0, the higher the level of human capability and individual choice). This result puts Zimbabwe in the Medium Human Development category.

Still, although Zimbabwe increased in HDI value – and was ranked 159 out of 193 countries – its ranking dropped by 13 points between 2021 and 2022, implying that 13 countries (including Angola, Cameroon, Comoros, Kenya, Solomon Islands, and Zambia) outperformed Zimbabwe in improving their levels of human capability in 2022.  

This notwithstanding, Zimbabwe is ranked 22nd in Africa, along with Uganda. It is also one of the best 10 countries in Africa on mean years of schooling – and one of the best 15 in the Gender Development Index with a value of 0.936 out of 1.0.

To build on successes and even further advance Zimbabwe’s development, there remains quite a lot we can do.

The United Nations Development Programme, in partnership with the Government of Zimbabwe, is making significant strides towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Zimbabwe, with real successes in areas of food security (SDG2), health and wellbeing (SDG3), access to energy (SDG7), and building resilience (a cross-cutting issue) across the SDGs.

Towards eliminating hunger, UNDP and the Government of Zimbabwe have supported over 40,000 farmers in southern Zimbabwe with climate-smart crop varieties, producing nutritious produce resistant to climate stress.  These efforts have produced yields as high as 74% beyond traditional harvest levels, supported by new climate-change-informed infrastructure, such as automatic weather stations, rain gauges, hydro stations, and irrigation facilities – with over 1.1 million beneficiaries.  This partnership has also established 230 Farmer Field Schools to establish peer-to-peer learning between smallholder farmers.

Further, an ongoing partnership has ensured that 98% of Zimbabwe’s 1.3 million people living with HIV are currently on Anti-Retroviral Therapy, while 1,044 health facilities have now installed solar power, including 447 solarized boreholes to supply safe water.  In terms of staffing, 25,000 critical health workers are now on paid retention to provide support, along with 6,606 village health workers.

Additional government partnerships led to the installation of a 152-kilowatt solar mini-grid system with lithium battery storage in Binge and Chipinge, as well as 150 biogas digesters to facilitate safer, environmentally-friendly cooking.  Existing boreholes are now equipped with solar pumps and improved water storage, while 100 vulnerable households have solar lighting.

Programmes to build resilience in Zimbabwean communities trained thousands of people on new vocational skills, provided affordable financial services to smallholders, and supported livestock management to over 85,000 farmers – investing dramatically to improve the quality of life with the support of our development partners.

These achievements are all thanks to the partnership and collaboration among the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Global Fund, and UNDP Zimbabwe, as well as strategic collaboration with the European Union, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and the governments of Sweden and Denmark.

While these efforts constitute solid progress, of course, more must be done.

One major challenge that development partners must confront is the “chilling effect” the debt arrears – and other economic conditions – have had on Foreign Direct Investments. I want to commend the 2024 Budget of the Government of Zimbabwe which committed $55 million to deal with issues relating to the Global Compensation Deed and Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements.  Committed implementation of the budgetary provision and improved governance across all levels of government are all key to accelerating progress on clearing debt arrears.

While UNDP and its Government partners have cooperated in a Structured Dialogue Platform to decrease debt and increase Zimbabwe’s fiscal health, creditors must do more to clear Zimbabwe of these external debt arrears.  Rolling back the arrears, placing the country towards a financially healthy condition, would signify the kind of risk reduction that appeals to private investment.

To this end, the Government alone cannot achieve the SDGs.  Instead, a whole-of-society approach is central to their achievement.  The private sector must be aggressively engaged to profitably invest in Zimbabwe’s development, offering sustainable opportunities to build upon the above achievements, and scaling up the kinds of successes that dramatically advance the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Towards providing all stakeholders – including the general public – with valuable services and constructive information, Zimbabwe’s CSOs and media houses have a valuable role to play, as well.

Too many opportunities for progress exist to be disheartened.  As always, we have solutions as well as problems – and our own dedication, hard work, and ingenuity remain key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal