FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 34

Pakistan’s poor human development record

It is well known that Pakistan has always fared poorly as compared with other countries in South Asia so far as human development is concerned. According to the 2023-2024 Human Development report entitled “Breaking the Gridlock: Reimagining Cooperation in a Polarised World” released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Pakistan ranks 164th on a list of 193 countries, dropping three places from its earlier ranking.

The UN Human Development indicators are used to create a health index, an education index and an income index, each with a value between 0 and 1. The Human Development Index (HDI) seeks to quantify a country’s level of prosperity based on both economic and non-economic factors. Non-economic factors include life expectancy and educational attainment. Economic factors are measured by gross national income (GNI) per capita.

The report, which covers the progress made in 2023, finds that uneven development progress is leaving the poorest behind, exacerbating inequality, and stoking political polarisation globally. The report also acknowledged that “rich countries experienced unprecedented development, yet half of the world’s poorest nations continue to languish.”

The 2023-2024 report places Pakistan in the ‘low’ human development category. In 2022, Pakistan had a Human Development Index (HDI) value of 0.540 with a global ranking of 161 out of 192 countries. In 2023, the country dropped three places to 164 in the global ranking. To quote the report, “Despite managing well the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan’s HDI and global ranking have suffered due to persistent social, economic and political pressures, including macroeconomic challenges as well as the lingering effect of the 2022 floods.”

As a result, there is a steep 33 percent decline in Pakistan’s inequality-adjusted HDI, bringing it to 0.360. In the Gender Inequality Index (GII), the country’s rank remains the same at 135 out of 166 countries. Moreover, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) score stays unaffected at 0.198, indicating persistent challenges. The HDI report observes that for a better future Pakistan requires significant mobilization of climate and SDGs financing as well as indigenous resources.

Pakistan has the highest infant mortality rate in South Asia and the lowest life expectancy in the region, barring Afghanistan. Pakistan is facing a severe health crisis and yet its healthcare system is not being provided the resources it needs. Pakistani hospitals have only 6 hospital beds per 10,000 people. The doctor-to-patient ratio is also extremely low, with 1 doctor for every 1300 people.

Government expenditure on education is not only insufficient but also inefficiently utilised. Teacher absenteeism and inadequate school infrastructure remain major problems. The quality of education provided by low-income private schools is also not much better. A recent study by Aga Khan University tested student performance in grades 5, 6 and 8 in both private and public schools across the country. The study found more than 90 percent of students at the primary and secondary level to have performed dismally in math and science exams.

The report reveals that following pandemic-caused setbacks for their HDI in 2020, the South Asian region demonstrated an overall more resilient recovery compared to East Asia and the Pacific, as well as the global average. However, major disparities remain between ‘high’ HDI and ‘low’ HDI countries, indicating ongoing challenges in achieving equitable development. Sri Lanka, ranked 78th, is the top in South Asia with 0.780 points, followed by Bangladesh at 129th with 0.670 points, while India is 134th with 0.644 points. Nepal is at 146th, and Afghanistan is at the bottom in the region at 182nd with 0.462 points, although it’s slightly above the 10 lowest. Somalia, ranked 193rd with 0.380 points, is last on the list, while Switzerland is number 1 with 0.967 points, followed by Norway with 0.966 points.

The United States has an HDI of 0.921 as per recent data, signifying a high level of human development. But it is not in the top ten countries with the highest HDI score. Five countries — Switzerland, Norway, Iceland (0.959), Hong Kong (0.956), and Denmark (0.952) — stand at the top of the HDI chart with soaring figures. Demonstrating an optimal balance of economic prosperity, educational attainment, and healthy life expectancy, they set the standard for global development aspirations.

The UNDP Human Development report also calls for reevaluating global interdependence and identifies four critical areas for action: prioritising planetary public goods for climate stability, fostering digital global public goods for fair technology access, implementing innovative financial mechanisms for low-income countries, and adopting new governance paradigm to reduce political polarisation and combat misinformation.

In the words of the Chief Administrator of UNDP, “The widening human development gap revealed by the report shows that the two-decade trend of steadily reducing inequalities between wealthy and poor nations is now in reverse. This gridlock carries a significant human toll. The failure of collective action to advance our response to climate change, digitalisation or poverty and inequality not only hinders human development but also worsens polarisation and further erodes trust in people and institutions worldwide.” At present, uneven development trends worldwide are exacerbating inequality, and deepening political polarization on a global scale. The result is a dangerous deadlock that needs to be urgently tackled through collective action.