PAKISTAN has slipped 20 rungs on the ladder of human development this year. Last year, Pakistan was ranked 125th on the Human Development Index (HDI) and was in the category of ‘medium human development’.
This year Pakistan has been ranked 145 and thus falls in the category of ‘low human development’ countries. The latest annual Human Development Report of UNDP has ranked 187 countries on the HDI. Among the Saarc countries, Pakistan has performed better than Bangladesh (146), Afghanistan (172) and Nepal (157), whereas India (134), Sri Lanka (97), Bhutan (141) and the Maldives (109) have outshone Pakistan. No South Asian country is ranked in the ‘very high human development’ category though nearby Iran ranking at 88 falls in the category of ‘high human development’. Sri Lanka and the Maldives are the only two Saarc countries ranked among the countries in the ‘medium human development’ category.
HDI is a composite index made up of an assortment of indicators including gender inequality, poverty, environmental sustainability, impact of natural disasters, education, health, population and the economy. Each country is ranked on these indicators. A cursory look at a few indicators and comparison with closely ranked Asian countries would help in understanding Pakistan’s overall performance.
While an analysis of HDI rankings since 1990 shows that Pakistan has steadily improved on its scale, its annual average HDI growth is marginal at 1.12 per cent. Bangladesh, India and even Afghanistan have marked faster strides on this with annual average HDI growth rates of 1.69, 1.38 and 2.32 per cent respectively. This clearly shows that successive governments in Pakistan have not accorded due importance to human development; certainly not in comparison with regional countries.
On the ‘gender inequality index’, female participation in secondary education and the labour force is lower in Pakistan compared to India and Bangladesh. In fact, the latter country has higher female participation in secondary education i.e. 30.8 compared to Pakistan’s 23.5 and India’s 26.6 per cent. Female participation in the labour force is also higher in Bangladesh with 58.7 compared to India’s 32.8 and Pakistan’s dismally low 23.5 per cent. Even Afghanistan with all its socio-political odds demonstrated an impressive 33.1 per cent female participation in the labour force.
Iran, which is often derided as a conservative society, has a 39 per cent female population that has benefited from secondary education and 31.9 per cent female participation in the labour force. This indicates the gravity of gender discrimination in Pakistan. Both education and participation in the labour force are key indicators of women’s empowerment, social emancipation and political contribution.
On the ‘poverty index’, Pakistan has a smaller percentage of people living in severe poverty (27.4 per cent) compared to India (28.6 per cent) but Bangladesh fares slightly better at 26.2 per cent. Given that Bangladesh is a relatively younger economy and a chronic victim of disasters, its performance on this account is appreciable.
Environmental sustainability is another indicator of Pakistan’s dreary performance. Pakistan’s land under forest cover is a mere 2.3 per cent against Bangladesh’s 11.1 and India’s 22.9 per cent. The rate of deforestation in Pakistan is alarming.
According to some estimates, the country loses some 66,718 acres of forest cover annually.In the areas of core human development i.e. water quality, education and health, Pakistan’s performance is a major reason behind its overall dismal ranking. On all three counts, Pakistan’s performance on several key sub indicators is the lowest in the region.
For example, only 55 per cent of population in the country is satisfied with the quality of water. In Bangladesh, the percentage is 69.5, in Afghanistan 60.7 and in India 62.7. In the Saarc region, the mortality rate of under-five years children at 87 per 1,000 live births is the highest in Pakistan compared to India’s 66, Nepal’s 48, Sri Lanka’s 15, the Maldives’ 13, Bhutan’s 79 and Bangladesh’s 52. The only exception is Afghanistan where this figure is 199 for understandable reasons.
Resource allocation on health and education is a signature indicator to fathom the state’s commitment to human development. On these, Pakistan fares preposterously low, in fact the lowest in the Saarc countries.
Public expenditure on education and health as percentage of GDP in Pakistan is 2.6 per cent. India (4.2 per cent), Sri Lanka (four per cent), Bangladesh (3.4 per cent), Bhutan (5.5 per cent), Nepal (5.8 per cent), Afghanistan (7.4 per cent) and the Maldives (eight per cent) are spending higher on education and health as a percentage of their GDPs. As a result of this, Pakistan today has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world and the infant mortality rate as indicated earlier is also deplorable.
The 2011 HDI shows that South Asia continues to be the cradle of human deprivation. Chronic conflicts, egregious governance, unstable democracies, malevolent natural disasters, rampant corruption, large population and a fast-depleting natural resource base are some of the maladies that preclude South Asia’s growth on the human development indicators.
Pakistan with perpetuating dictatorial regimes, punctuated by impressive spells of economic growth has yet to show its citizens political commitment. The country with its enormous human and natural capital possesses great potential for human development. However, misplaced priorities and weak political institutions have deprived the people of opportunities of growth and well-being. The country needs to veer its focus from illusive border security to the greater objective of human security by investing in its people.
The writer is chief executive of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation. firstname.lastname@example.org