Pakistan ranked lowest on human development index 2019 in South Asia. Pakistan is ranked 152nd in the index of 189 countries. Pakistan was at 151st position in 2018 index. Pakistan even ranked behind countries like Sri Lanka- India and Bangladesh. This is something alarming and worrying. The situation is getting worse- despite all the claims by PTI government of improving the situation. Now Pakistan’s ranking stands at 152nd out of the total 189 countries and falls in the medium human development category.
According to the Human Development Report launched by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Islamabad states that “Pakistan’s ranking stood at 13 percent below the average HDI of South Asia including Bangladesh and India. Pakistan made progress from 2000 to 2015 but its progress slowed down afterwards.” This report once again exposed that human development is not our priority.
The Human Development Index offers the best method of measuring human progress and ranking of countries thus far. The index takes into account multiple factors like gender equality, poverty, education, health, access to primary services, infant mortality and life expectancy. Covering a broad range of dimensions of human progress or lack of it, the index has become an acceptable international standard.
Unfortunately, the announcement of the index for the past several years has passed without serious debate and comment in our political circles, media and the think tank community. Barring few occasional comments and review in a few policy-research institutions, no discussion takes place in a serious fashion. Why? Because those who are responsible for human development planning, and more importantly execution of policy at the provincial and district levels, can get away with their failure.
In 2017, Pakistan ranked at 151st position. The HDI improved by 25 percent from 2000 to 2015 with an average annual growth of 1.2 percent but the progress slowed down since then. The improvement could be attributed mainly to education and income indicators.
Despite improvements, Pakistan’s HDI was still lower than comparable economies of South Asian region as it was 13 percent below the average HDI of South Asia and 12 percent below the average HDI of medium human development category. Pakistan was lower on performing on account of life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling and GNI per capita with all the regional countries of South Asia.
Pakistan had a higher percentage of inequality in the health and education dimension as compared to the average of South Asia and other medium HDI countries. On account of Gender Development Index (GDI), Pakistan performed even worse. This signifies low equality in HDI achievements and absolute deviation from gender parity. Pakistan performed below the average values of South Asia and other medium HDI countries. Pakistan is among the worst performing countries as far as gender parity is concerned.
The report further said that there were 541 million poor people in South Asia in accordance with Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) out of which 75 million were in Pakistan and 40 million were children.
The report indicates one out of three children is poor on account of deprivation index of MPI in Pakistan. She highlighted that inequality in MPI across South Asian region as it stood at 0.8 percent in Maldives while 56.9 percent in Afghanistan. The report said that 11 percent South Asian girls poor were poor and out of school in accordance with MPI definition but this number stood at 27 percent in case of Pakistani girls. In South Asia, 23% children aged 0 to 4 experience intra household inequality in nutrition but in Pakistan it’s over 33 percent.
There were striking facts as Pakistan lagged behind even Bangladesh as our ranking stood at 152nd position while Bangladesh clinched 135th position out of total 189 countries. Pakistan’s life expectancy stood at 67 years while in Bangladesh it was 72 years.
Now the question is why Pakistan lagged behind on human development. Simply because it is never been the priority of our state and ruling classes. Because we spent little on education-health and on improving the living conditions of our poorest sections of society. We never made human development as our top priority in policy making. We are lagging behind because we ignore the human development.
We are failing on three fronts. The lack of awareness about political, legal and economic rights among the poor communities makes it easier for local authorities and political leadership to deprive them from basic services. The community based organisations and groups are not well organised- , nor is it strong enough to get the bureaucracy at the district level and the political bosses at provincial and federal levels sensitive to basic human needs. The first step should be sensitising people and communities about their rights and energise them enough to question the quality of services at the local level. In my view, when communities become more and more development conscious and well aware of their rights, they put more and more pressure on the bureaucracy and the public representatives to provide services.
The second important reason is lack of accountability of the bureaucracy at the district and higher levels in every field that is used for measurement for the human development index, like education, health and other services. In Punjab, and may be in other provinces, we have a district-wise human development index. Rajan pur, for instance, stands at the lowest point on the human development index in the province and there are so many other districts in Balochistan and interior Sindh that haven’t progressed. Not a single one. They get away with inefficiency, corruption and mismanagement of resources because of the poor system of accountability. They are supposed to serve the political purposes of their provinces’ bosses more than looking after the interests of the citizens of the districts.
Third, the areas that are the core of human development — education and health — have poor political and administrative leadership both at the higher level as well as at the local institutional level. Our public representatives and governments expend their energies and resources on physical projects for very obvious reasons and very little on human development initiatives. Low allocation of resources is yet another reason, but the problem is that whatever the governments allocated on education, health or gender equality is either wasted or misused. With ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost doctors and poor law and justice regimes, we have continuously failed to improve our human development conditions.
There is a strong causal link between human development and economic growth. Few countries have sustained economic growth without investments in human capital. Yes you can have sporadic growth which Pakistan witnessed during the last government, but that only lasts for a while. There is immediate need for greater investment in girls’ education and create more economic opportunities. Currently Pakistan’s policies are clearly not working and human development cannot happen when nearly 45% of our budget goes to debt serving and 25 per cent on defense while slightly over two per cent is spent on education and 1 per cent on health.
First, Pakistan doesn’t spend sufficient public resources on education and health. Among regional countries, Nepal has the highest public expenditure on health at 6 per cent of GDP. India’s recent low expenditure on health at 1.4pc is still higher than Pakistan’s 0.9pc.
Similarly, Nepal has on average spent more than 3.5pc of GDP on education. Pakistan’s public expenditure on education stands at 2.2pc — higher than Bangladesh’s but lower than both Nepal’s and India’s.
But it is not just the amount spent that impacts human development, it is also quality. While infrastructure investments are essential to national development, for investments to improve people’s education and health, there must be well-managed schools and hospitals with skilled, motivated staff. This is where Pakistan lags.
Another challenge that stands out is population growth. The 2017 census shows an annual growth of 2.4pc, significantly above the earlier believed rate of 1.9pc. Nepal’s population growth rate is 1.1pc, India’s 1.2pc and Bangladesh’s 1.1pc. This means that for Pakistan to increase its share of people with access to education and health services, it has to move faster than its neighbours. It also means there are unsustainable strains on scarce resources such as water when Pakistan also has to adapt to the rapid effects of climate change.
The regional disparity is huge and visible. The better-off districts in Pakistan receive a more significant share of public finances. The lagging areas, therefore, need to increase public investments and access to social services. If Pakistan chooses to target public investments to reduce inequalities, as well as regional disparities, it will leap forward in human development.
The report have proposed a ‘Three E’s’ recipe – quality education, gainful employment and meaningful engagement – to not let the youth boom burst into a horrifying bust. Health will also require tripling of current expenditure on primary and specialised healthcare, especially of children and women. In a new World Bank report on ‘The state of water supply, sanitation and its impact on child stunting’, “critical markers of child health– rates of diarrhea and stunting – still do not show any real improvement”. In a food-surplus country, food insecurity continues to add to hunger, impoverishment and malnutrition. We need to set our priorities right. Human development should be the focus of our development and economic policies.
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17 November, 2019