Zambia has a population of 13.8 million people (nearly half under 15 years) dispersed over an area three times the size of the UK. The country has seen significant progress since 2000 after three decades of economic mismanagement and decline in human development. Fourteen successive years of growth have seen per capita income increase from $330 (2002) to $1,160 (2011) and brought Zambia to lower middle income status. This growth has been built on sound macroeconomic management debt relief and a friendly business climate drawing in major foreign investment, mostly in mining. This helped urban poverty to fall by a third from 1996-2006. However, as mining employs only 60,000 people and until recently has contributed less than 2% of GDP in tax (projected to rise to 4% of GDP in 2012) it has meant little for the rural areas where two thirds of Zambians live. Three quarters of the rural population survive on less than $1 a day.
Progress on human and social development has been mixed. Zambia is on-track to meet the education, under-five mortality and HIV Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with net enrolment in primary education at around 93.7% in 2010, up from 70% in 1999. The incidence of malaria has fallen sharply and is now under 10% while HIV prevalence is at 14%. However, Zambia still ranks 163rd out of 187 on the Human Development Index. It is seriously off track on MDG 1 (Poverty).
Around 60% of Zambians live in poverty with 42% unable to meet even basic food needs and inequality remains very high. Only a quarter of children under two have a minimum acceptable diet and 45% of children under five are stunted, meaning that they are chronically undernourished. Zambia is failing to achieve its health MDGs partly because of the challenges of serving a geographically dispersed population. Maternal and child mortality are high with over 7 million years of healthy life lost annually due to a high disease burden and inadequate health services. Zambia is also off-track on MDG 7 (Environmental Sustainability). Nearly 5 million Zambians lack access to safe water and a further 6.5 million lack access to adequate sanitation. There has been a lack of progress on empowering women, with violence against women persisting while girls and women’s participation in decision-making remains low. Women’s rights to access and control productive assets are limited and the impacts of poverty on girls and women remain poorly understood and poorly captured in official statistics.
Zambia has long been relatively stable and peaceful, with twenty years of elections that have been free and generally fair. The 2011 elections led to a peaceful transition to a new Government although intense competition between political parties sometimes descends into incidents of electoral violence. Governance has improved in recent years with the state broadly more capable, accountable and responsive. There has been broad commitment to governance reforms though implementation has been uneven and has slowed recently due to short term political thinking. The risk of the misuse of Government funds remains significant with corruption a persistent challenge. The Government seems committed to tackling the issue and has brought some lower level cases to court. State institutions for accountability are developing and civil society organisations (CSOs) are active but unfocused in attempting to hold Government to account.
As a land-locked nation bordered by seven other countries, further regional integration in particular progress on the North-South corridor connecting East and South Africa will be an important driver of prosperity. A co-ordinated regional response also offers the best prospect for Zambia to combat climate change.
As the economy has grown, dependence on traditional donors’ development aid (ODA) has fallen to an estimated 9% of the Government’s budget. Non-ODA sources of development finance are becoming increasingly important, especially from China. Government and CPs are beginning to think through how Zambia can graduate from aid in the medium term using its own resources to achieve the MDGs and sustain growth built on private sector investment in sectors other than copper.
To make real progress in poverty reduction, Zambia will need to maximise its domestic tax base (especially from mining) and spend its growing wealth more effectively to support better service delivery and more inclusive growth especially in rural areas and among girls and women.