Provinces and human development

Every year, the publication of the UNDP’s HDI reminds us of our abysmal performance compared to other countries

Dr Pervez Tahir January 12, 2017

Every year, the publication of the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) reminds us of our abysmal performance compared to other countries. As a member of the Statistical Advisory Panel of the global Human Development Report from 2003 to 2006, I remember some serious discussions on the disparities that the national rankings inevitably gloss over. The UNDP encouraged the preparation of national human development reports to bridge this gap. In Pakistan, an early attempt was made in the National Human Development Report 2003, led by friend Akmal Hussain. Subsequent reports discontinued the effort, only to be revived, as I understand, in the yet to be published latest report. Before that, Haroon Jamal, a home-grown researcher affiliated with the Karachi-based think tank, Social Policy and Development Centre, has published his paper, ‘Quantifying Sub-National Human Development Indices from Household Survey Data’. It produces the most authentic estimates so far. He uses Pakistan Social and Living-standard Measurement survey for 2014-15, a district representative survey covering 78,000 households across provinces.

In the paper, the national HDI is estimated at 0.524, indicating a low level of human development. As expected, urban areas are above the national estimate in the medium category and the rural areas are below the national estimate and in the low category. Islamabad leads the provinces and the districts with a score of 0.7, but remains at the medium human development level. Quantification of provincial ranking also corresponds to the public perception. Punjab, with an HDI score of 0.55, tops the list, followed by Sindh (0.51), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (0.48) and Balochistan (0.41). Not only does Punjab rank the highest, it is the only province lying in the medium human development category. All other provinces fail to rise above the low human development category. Among the bottom 15 districts, 11 are from Balochistan, two each from Sindh and K-P, and none from Punjab. Top 15 districts falling in the medium human development category include 12 from Punjab. The other three are Karachi from Sindh and the Hazara districts of Abbottabad and Haripur in K-P.

The variation between districts across Pakistan and within provinces is very large. Provincial estimates conceal inter-district disparities. All districts of Balochistan, including Quetta, suffer from low human development. Quetta scores the highest (0.5) compared to the lowest scoring Dera Bugti (0.32). Gwadar, it may be noted, is a close second to Quetta. Except Karachi, all districts of Sindh are categorised as low human development districts. Karachi (0.65) scores about twice the lowest scoring Kashmore (0.34). All but two districts of K-P, including Peshawar, fall in the low human development category. The highest scoring Abbottabad and Haripur (0.57) score a lot higher than the lowest scoring Tor Ghar (0.32). Punjab is far ahead of others with 16 districts enjoying medium human development category. However, 20 districts — all 11 from south Punjab and nine others are in the low human development category. The value of HDI is 0.67 for the highest scoring Lahore and 0.43 for the lowest scoring Rajanpur in south Punjab. But the variation between these scores is the lowest compared to the other three provinces. Rajanpur is well above the lowest scoring districts in other provinces. As a matter of fact, 13 districts of Sindh, seven districts of K-P and 24 districts of Balochistan score below Rajanpur.

Human development is a composite measure of access to knowledge, long and healthy life, and a decent living standard. Education and health are subjects fully devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment. Haroon Jamal’s message is that though Punjab fares better than others, all have a long way to go.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2017.

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