The annual UNDP human development index is out for the year, and it is not good news for Pakistanis. We stay at the same position as last and many previous years at 146th among 187 countries. Pakistan is 11 points lower than India, which starts at 135. India and Bangladesh have each improved one position. Bangladesh has slightly better ranking than us. The Human Development Index offers the best method of measuring human progress and ranking of countries thus far. The index takes into account multiple factors like gender equality, poverty, education, health, access to primary services, infant mortality and life expectancy. Covering a broad range of dimensions of human progress or lack of it, the index has become an acceptable international standard.
Unfortunately, the announcement of the index for the past several years has passed without serious debate and comment in our political circles, media and the think tank community. Barring few occasional comments and review in a few policy-research institutions, no discussion takes place in a serious fashion. Why? Because those who are responsible for human development planning, and more importantly execution of policy at the provincial and district levels, can get away with their failure.
How we can do better depends a lot on knowing first why we are doing so poorly in human development. Three reasons are important to ponder over. First, the demand pull from the peoples and communities at the local level is neither well organised through community organisation, nor is it strong enough to get the bureaucracy at the district level and the political bosses at provincial and federal levels sensitive to basic human needs. The first step should be sensitising people and communities about their rights and energise them enough to question the quality of services at the local level. In my view, when communities become more and more development conscious, they put more and more pressure on the bureaucracy and the public representatives to provide services.
The second important reason is lack of accountability of the bureaucracy at the district and higher levels in every field that is used for measurement for the human development index, like education, health and other services. In Punjab, and may be in other provinces, we have a district-wise human development index. Rajanpur, for instance, stands at the lowest point on the human development index in the province and there are so many other districts in Balochistan and interior Sindh that haven’t progressed. How many district officials have been fired, demoted or denied promotion? None. They get away with inefficiency, corruption and mismanagement of resources because of the poor system of accountability. They are supposed to serve the political purposes of their provinces’ bosses more than looking after the interests of the citizens of the districts.
Finally, the areas that are the core of human development — education and health — have poor political and administrative leadership both at the higher level as well as at the local institutional level. Our public representatives and governments expend their energies and resources on physical projects for very obvious reasons and very little on human development initiatives. Low allocation of resources is yet another reason, but the problem is that whatever the governments allocated on education, health or gender equality is either wasted or misused. With ghost schools, ghost teachers and ghost doctors and poor law and justice regimes, we have continuously failed to improve our human development conditions.
It is a sad reflection on the performance of our political governments that morally and in terms of their legal mandate must be devoted to developing our human potential. Not even the much praised civil society groups seem to be alive to this basic human problem in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2014.