FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 24

Pakistan’s falling human development indicators

Amidst a dangerous confluence of political instability and worsening economic conditions, Pakistan’s human development indicators are flashing red signals. Over the years, the UN Human Development Reports have rated Pakistan among the worst performing nations in the world.

In 2021-2022 Pakistan went down by seven slots in the Human Development Index (HDI) ranking, whereas in 2020, the country’s HDI had fallen by two points, placing it in the low human development category due to its low scores in the education, health, and income sectors. At present Pakistan ranks 161 out of 192 countries in HDI.

No wonder, Pakistan trails far behind other regional countries in human development.Among the South Asian countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka — only Pakistan and Afghanistan (180th position) are placed in the low human development category. By contrast, Bhutan (127), Bangladesh (129), India (132) and Nepal (143) are in the medium human development category. Iran is at 76 with Maldives at the 90th position.

Some figures are tell-tale. Life expectancy at birth in Pakistan is a little over 66 years. The average Pakistan receives only eight years of schooling, and the gross per capita national income is just over $4,600. Pakistan has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy in the region, barring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s health sector after suffering years of neglect is in a state of severe crisis due to lack of resources. Pakistani hospitals have only 6 beds per 10,000 people. The doctor-to-patient ratio is also very low, with 1 doctor for every 1300 people.

Education is another grossly neglected sector in Pakistan. Government expenditure on education – at around 2 percent of GDP – is not only short of the need but whatever funds are allocated are also under-utilised. High teacher absenteeism and collapsing school infrastructures are major problems afflicting public sector education. The quality of education is equally abysmal in the private school system.

Pakistan has also badly neglected technical and vocational education with the result that the bulk of our labor force lack market-oriented skills. Productivity levels are low and remuneration inadequate. This negative nexus is at the root of slow industrial growth.It is apprehended that with skyrocketing inflation and soaring joblessness, the country’s human development indicators will worsen in the days ahead.

The question is: Why is Pakistan’s HDI falling and what can we do to reverse the situation? The reasons are many and complex. An important one is the failure of the top leadership in the country to identify the relative needs of various sectors of the economy and allocate state resources accordingly. No doubt, we have a democratic system in place but it is not genuinely reflective of the aspirations of the people for a better life. The bulk of government revenue is diverted to provide a cushy life to the elite classes. The perks and privileges provided to legislators and civil and military bureaucrats total billions of rupees, while minuscule amounts are provided to meet the needs of the health, housing and education sectors. Little attention is paid to organize and develop new opportunities and windows for gainful jobs to the teeming millions.

Parliamentarians are wont to fight over their perks and privileges but they hardly ever discuss the lack of health, education and other facilities for the common people. The bureaucracy is equally guilty of neglect, inefficiency and irresponsibility when it comes to implementing policies and reform measures designed to improve living conditions for the masses in various sectors.

This is due to lack of mechanism for the accountability of officials at the district and higher levels who fail to do their job properly. At the lower levels of bureaucracy corruption is rampant due to which project implementation remains faulty and below standard. The result is that most of the government allocations on education, health or gender equality are either wasted or embezzled. We all know about dysfunctional rural dispensaries, ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost doctors but no serious action has ever been taken to correct the situation.

The best remedy for the malaise is to activate the system already in place in every field, including health and education, for the measurement of the human development index. A system of quarterly report on district-wise human development index should be developed, and the concerned district head should be held responsible if human development indicators fail to show improvement as per the given target.If found guilty of neglect and mismanagement, the relevant authority should be penalized, demoted or dismissed from service. Pakistan’s human development indicators are a standing shame. It is time the country’s top leadership woke up and took notice of the situation.