MAPUTO, Mozambique - Mozambique is set to be Africa's fastest-growing economy this year but a United Nations poverty expert Tuesday urged the government to do more with the country's natural resource boom.
"It is an unavoidable fact that significant numbers of Mozambicans are living in extreme deprivation and social exclusion," said Magdalena Sepulveda, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on poverty and human rights.
Coal and natural gas windfalls have made once civil war-torn Mozambique among the world's fastest growing economies, with the International Monetary Fund on Monday forecasting 8.4 percent growth for 2013.
But experts have been sounding the alarm about worrying inequality levels despite the country's two decades of peace, stability and economic growth.
The country ranks 185th out of 187 countries on the 2013 U.N. human development index. "There is no room for complacency," warned Sepulveda, at the end of a week-long visit to the country.
The government should adopt the same energy used to rebuild after the civil war and "redouble the effort otherwise they are going to be going in the wrong direction", she said.
In 2010, street riots broke out in several Mozambican cities in response to rising living costs, including that of bread.
"The vast majority of people have little opportunity to access formal employment and live in dire conditions," said Sepulveda.
Her visit came as Mozambique's government began to consider proposals on minimum wages. While wages are set to increase between 5% and 31%, most employees will still earn under $130 a month and many considerably less.
The basic pay was "completely insufficient for basic needs" and out of line with inflation, said Sepulveda.
"If not urgently addressed, these evident disparities and high levels of social exclusion could present a threat to social stability," she said.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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