FeaturedInternationalVolume 14 Issue # 09

Pakistan lags far behind in human development

Pakistan has once again fared poorly in the latest UN Human Development Report. Pakistan is placed at 150 among 189 countries in the UN’s 2018 Human Development Index’s (HDI) annual ranking that is measured by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income. The HDI forms part of the Human Development Report (HDR) 2018, a flagship study produced annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The report is 28th in a series which began in 1990. The first UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) was prepared and launched under the leadership of the late Dr. Mahbubul Haq, a former Pakistan finance minister.


In other South Asian countries, India ranked at 130 on the index; Bangladesh: 136; Sri Lanka: 76; Maldives: 101; Nepal: 149, and Bhutan 130. During the period, Pakistan’s HDI value was 0.562; life expectancy 66.6 years; average years of schooling 5.2 years and gross national income per capita $5,311.


While Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland and Germany led the ranking, Niger, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Chad and Burundi have the lowest scores in the HDI’s measurement of national achievements in health, education and income. Looking at the widening gap in real terms — both among and within countries — the report says that a child born in Norway today – the country with the highest human development index (HDI) – can expect to live beyond the age of 82, and spend almost 18 years in school. But the same child, if born in Niger – placed at the lowest HDI – can expect only to live to 60, with just five years of formal education.


According to Achim Steiner of the UN Development Programme, while these statistics present a stark picture in themselves, they also speak to the tragedy of millions of individuals whose lives are affected by inequality and lost opportunities, neither of which are inevitable.


Inequality occurs in many countries, including in some of the wealthiest ones, but it ends up taking a much bigger toll on countries with lower HDI levels; with low HDI countries losing almost a third of their human development capacity. For countries with a high HDI, the average loss is 11 per cent.

The striking differences both within and among countries, are stifling progress and the trend can be seen again and again, according to UNDP. Inequality in all its forms and dimensions, between and within countries, limits people’s choices and opportunities, withholding progress.


A key source of inequality within countries is the gap in opportunities, achievements and empowerment between women and men. On average, the HDI for women is 6 per cent lower than that for men. And when women are working, their unemployment rates are 24 per cent higher than their male counterparts. Women globally also do much more unpaid domestic and care work than men. Furthermore, while there has been laudable progress in the number of girls attending school, there remain big differences in other key aspects of men and women’s lives. For instance, labour force participation rates for women globally are lower than for men – 49 per cent, versus 75 per cent.


The Human Development Report 2018 update also shows tremendous variation between countries in quality of education, healthcare and many other key aspects of life. This difference can be illustrated by looking at the number of students per teacher, in primary schools. Sub-Saharan Africa has, on average, 39 pupils per teacher while in developed regions, there is an average of one teacher for every 16-18 primary school pupils. Similar difference exists in terms of healthcare: OECD countries and East Asia and the Pacific have, on average, 29 and 28 physicians for every 10,000 people, respectively. In South Asia overall, there are only eight per 10,000, falling to less than two, in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Much of the world’s attention is on data that tells only a part of the story about people’s lives. For, it is clearly not enough simply to count how many children are in the classroom. The important dimension is to know whether they are learning anything. Focusing on quality is essential to foster sustainable and sustained human development progress.


The overall trend globally is toward continued human development improvements, with many countries moving up through the human development categories: out of the 189 countries for which the HDI is calculated, 59 countries are today in the very high human development group and only 38 countries fall in the low HDI group. Just eight years ago in 2010, the figures were 46 and 49 countries respectively.


Movements in the HDI are driven by changes in health, education, and income. Health has improved considerably as shown by life expectancy at birth, which has increased by almost seven years globally, with Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia showing the greatest progress, each experiencing increases of about 11 years since 1990. And, today’s school-age children can expect to be in school for 3.4 years longer than those in 1990.


A closer look at the HDI’s components sheds light on the unequal distribution of outcomes in education, life expectancy and income within countries. The Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) allows one to compare levels of inequality within countries, and the greater the inequality, the more a country’s HDI falls.