SA has moved up one position in the latest Human Development Index released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Tuesday.

The country is now ranked 123 out of 187 countries in the general rankings.

The HDI ranked nations according to three criteria: the standard of living of its people, its population's access to knowledge and its population's chance of living a long and healthy life.

The report found that sub-Saharan Africa had the greatest inequality while it said that in Southern Africa, high HIV/Aids prevalence rates had stalled improvement in health equity.

Income has also become more concentrated among top earners in South Africa, China and India, the report found.

“In China, for example, the top quintile of income earners had 41% of total income in 2008, and the Gini coefficient for income inequality rose from 0.31 in 1981 to 0.42 in 2005.”

Commenting on SA's performance in the HDI, the Democratic Alliance said: “While SA's ranking has improved by one position this year, we still have a long way to go in realising the full potential of our people and creating a more equal society.”

The DA added that the country's levels of inequality could only be addressed by increasing the size of the economic pie through elevated levels of growth and improving education.

The latest HDI explored in depth the link between environmental sustainability and equity.

“In the 176 countries and territories where the UNDP is working every day, many disadvantaged people carry a double burden of deprivation.

“They are more vulnerable to the wider effects of environmental degradation, because of more severe stresses and fewer coping tools. They must also deal with threats to their immediate environment from indoor air pollution, dirty water and unimproved sanitation.”

Forecasts suggested that continuing failure to reduce the grave environmental risks and deepening social inequalities threatened to slow decades of sustained progress by the world's poor majority. - I-Net Bridge