Pakistan has moved up to 125th place from the 141st rank it occupied last year in the UNDP’s annual Human Development Report, which includes its Human Development Index, rating countries on the basis of attainments in health, education, income generation and a wide list of other factors. The improvement reflects some change for the better in social indicators. But we must also keep in mind that the list this year comprises, at 169, fewer countries than in previous years and also reflects an improved GDP in some of the years between 2005 and 2010, on which the ranking is based.
However, the gains are something to build on. Pakistan’s life expectancy, for instance, now stands above that of India, indicating a better quality of life for its people. Average years of schooling in Pakistan are also higher than in India. This, of course, is nothing to gloat over because India stands at the 119th position and overall fares better, six places to be exact, than its neighbour to the west. The potential Pakistan possesses to climb higher up the ladder is, however, obvious and shows us that despite all the negativity in the country there is still hope for improvement. The UNDP’s findings that the countries that made the most significant gains are Oman, Nepal and Laos are also something for Pakistan’s planners to study and learn from.
As the report emphasises, people represent the real wealth of nations. They matter far more than the macro-economic data so often presented to us as a means to assess gains. This is something Pakistan needs to focus on so it can overcome the many problems that plague it in terms of health care, education and other factors. There is a fear too that growing unemployment, food price inflation and consequent malnutrition, partly due to the floods, will only add to the dismal figures for child mortality and rates of stunting or wasting.
In an age of ‘globalisation’, the disparities between nations are also disquieting. We live in an unequal world, where some people have almost everything and others, next to nothing. This too is something for the UN to address and see how we can create a world where excess food is not dumped and where wealthier nations can support, rather than exploit, others.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2010.