Volume 28 - Issue 25 :: Dec. 03-16, 2011
INDIA'S NATIONAL MAGAZINE
from the publishers of THE HINDU
|India ranks a dismal 134 among 187 countries in terms of human development index in the UNDP's latest Human Development Report.|
BEGGING ON A busy street in Mumbai. According to the HDR, ending absolute deprivations could increase higher-order capabilities, expand people's choices and advance human development.
AS the "Occupy Wall Street" syndrome spreads to more and more cities across the world, the course traversed by global capitalism from the time of the Washington Consensus in the early 1990s to the recent imperceptible siege of Wall Street which signifies the heft of global finance appears to be a veritable study in contrast. It is not that the world has abruptly become weary of the growth mantra to deliver developmental benefits that its inhabitants, the so-called 99 per cent as picturesquely put by the campaigners, are up in arms against growing inequities and inequalities engendered by the pursuit of neoliberalism. The reality itself starkly captures the sense of gloom among millions of people who find that the gap between them and the 'filthily rich' in the matter of a decent existence is widening and is increasingly circumscribed by forces beyond "their manpower or brainpower" and "there is no reason to tolerate the waste of lives and talent that poverty brings with it", as elegantly expressed in a different context by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) economists Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo in their latest celebrated tome Poor Economics.
Against this bleak backdrop, the bugle of caution is rightly sounded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its latest Human Development Report (HDR), released in Copenhagen on November 2 jointly by Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. As the international community is busy preparing for the landmark U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, the HDR has hoisted the warning that development progress in the world's poorest countries could be halted or even reversed by the middle of this century unless "bold steps are taken now to slow climate change, prevent further environmental damage and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations". Helen Clark aptly noted that "sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue, as this report so persuasively argues. It is fundamentally about how we choose to live our lives, with an awareness that everything we do has a consequence for the seven billions of us here today, as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come." The report succinctly says that health and income advancement in developing countries is jeopardised by inaction on climate change and habitat destruction.
Paradoxically, even as the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Sweden round out the top 10 countries (the leaders being Norway, Australia and the Netherlands) in the 2011 human development index (or HDI – a summary measure for assessing the progress in three basic dimensions of human development, namely, a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living), some of the wealthiest nations drop out of the HDI's top 20 when the index is adjusted for internal inequalities in health, education and income. The U.S. and Israel drop in the report's inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI) mainly because of income inequality, though health care is also a factor as far as the U.S. ranking is concerned. Wide gaps in education between generations lower the Republic of Korea's (South Korea) IHDI performance.
Making a case for the need to carve out the IHDI out of the HDI, Milorad Kovacevic, Chief Statistician for the HDR, justifiably stated that the "inequality-adjusted human development index helps us assess better the levels of development for all segments of society, rather than for just the mythical 'average' person". He found "health and education distribution to be just as important in this equation as income, and the data show great inequities in many countries", and this sums up the deplorable state of affairs globally.
While India's HDI value for 2011 is 0.547 (in the medium human development category), positioning the country at 134 among the 187 countries surveyed, the HDI for India plummets to 0.392, a loss of 28.3 per cent, when the value is discounted for inequality. India's gender inequality index (GII) value in 2011 is 0.617, giving it the 129th slot among 146 countries. According to the HDR, 10.7 per cent of parliamentary seats in India are held by women; and 26.6 per cent of the adult women have reached a secondary or higher level of education compared with 50.4 per cent of the men. Female participation in the labour market is 32.8 per cent compared with 81.1 per cent for men. For every one lakh live births, 230 women die from pregnancy-related causes, and the adolescent fertility rate is 86.3 births per 1,000 live births.
IN A LOWER primary school at Khankar village on the outskirts of Guwahati, Assam. At least 80 poor children study in the school, which was set up by residents of the village without government aid. India's population suffers from multiple deprivations, including the deprivation of education.
On top of these benchmarks, the HDR introduced the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) last year, which identifies multiple deprivations in a household in education, health and standard of living. The most recent survey data that were publicly available for India's MPI estimation were from 2005. According to them, 53.7 per cent of India's population suffered from multiple deprivations while an additional 16.4 per cent was vulnerable to multiple deprivations. The breadth of deprivation (intensity) in India, which is the average percentage of deprivation experienced by people in multidimensional poverty, is 52.7 per cent. This poverty statistic comes when there is a controversy about who can be categorised as below the poverty line (BPL) for access to basic provisions for a decent living. This may be an eye-opener for India in the matter of ensuring 'growth with equity' or inclusive growth for millions.
Elaborating on the issue of deprivation and coalescing it with the nub of the report, the HDR highlights how the most disadvantaged people carry a double burden of deprivation. More vulnerable to the wider fallouts of environmental degradation, they must also cope with threats to their immediate milieu from indoor air pollution, dirty water, unimproved sanitation and open defecation. The report's thrust on poverty has brought to light the environmental deprivations in accessing modern cooking fuel, clean water and basic sanitation. These absolute deprivations, important in themselves, are major violations of human rights. Ending these deprivations could increase higher-order capabilities, expand people's choices and advance human development.
The report's prescription of embedding environmental rights in national constitutions and legislation or interpreting general constitutional provisions for individual rights to include a fundamental right to a healthy environment will no doubt carry cost to the authorities. But in a society increasingly driven and riven by the widening divide between the rich and the poor, a rights-based approach is the only guarantee to the poor with little means to participate in real economic activities and with scant choice or capabilities.
As finance is the bugbear of many a poor country, including emerging economies such as India with its growing plate of competing demands for welfare programmes and a rights-based approach to ensure inclusive growth, the HDR has an answer. The report joins the chorus urging consideration of an international currency trading tax or broader financial transaction levies to fund the fight against climate change and extreme poverty. A tax of just 0.005 per cent on foreign exchange trading can raise $40 billion or more yearly, significantly boosting aid flows to poor countries – amounting to $130 billion in 2010 – at a time when development finance is lagging behind previously pledged levels owing to the global financial crisis. In a cryptic comment, it says "the tax would allow those who benefit most from globalisation to help those who benefit least", adding that about $105 billion is needed annually just to finance adaptation to climate change, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Crystal-gazing, the report warns that by 2050 in an "environmental challenge" scenario, factoring in the effects of global warming on food production and of pollution, the average HDI will be 12 per cent lower in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa than would otherwise be the case. Under an even more appalling "environmental disaster" situation – with vast deforestation, dramatic biodiversity declines and increasingly extreme weather – the global HDI would fall 15 per cent below the baseline projections for 2050, with the deepest losses in the poorest regions. The global community should weigh this seriously before things get out of control or from the present bad to future worse scenario, development economists and social activists unanimously caution.
The UNDP has been commissioning the editorially independent HDR each year since 1990. Its HDI assessments have challenged purely economic measures of national achievement and called for consistent global tracking of progress in overall living standards. Hence, stakeholders and nations will be the losers if they brush aside its cautionary account of the future.