Redefining the meaning of development
Here's some relatively good news, for a change. Dominica has placed ahead of a number of Caribbean countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) 2014 report released recently, registering a somewhat flattering 93rd in the 187-country document. The only Caribbean countries which ranked above Dominica are Barbados (59), Antigua and Barbuda (61), Cuba (44) St. Kitts and Nevis (73), Trinidad and Tobago (64) and Grenada (79). A number of so-called more-developed countries such as Jamaica (96) and India (135) as well as Guyana (112) were placed behind Dominica in that index.
The report, measuring not only per-capita income, but also educational levels, health care and life expectancy in estimating general standards of living, ranked Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, USA, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and Denmark as the best ten countries to live in. It was produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
In the document, the United States placed 5th, after Netherlands and Switzerland. African countries, as always, monopolised the bottom places with Niger placing last.
Cuba was rated the 44th, the top-rated nation in the Caribbean and Latin America. The UNDP ranked Barbados among the top 59 countries with what the organisation called "very high human development." The authors described nations in 1 -77 category as having a "high level of human development" whereas countries placing 84-158 are considered to have "medium human development", while those below are deemed underdeveloped and/or failed states.
The Human Development Index (HDI) looks beyond the controversial Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to a broader definition of well-being. According to the UNDP, "the HDI provides a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), being educated (measured by adult literacy and gross enrolment in education) and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income)". The HDI was first published in 1990.
Nevertheless, critics maintain that the HDI does not provide a complete analysis of the development process of a country. For example, the HDI does not include more difficult-to- measure concepts like respect for human rights, political freedoms and corruption. Nonetheless, many economists have concluded that the HDI provides a broadened prism for viewing human progress and the complex relationship between income and well-being.
The 2014 report is entitled "Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience."
It makes the case that "the sustained enhancement of individuals and societies is necessary to reduce these persistent vulnerabilities—many of them structural and many of them tied to the life cycle. Progress has to be about fostering resilient human development. There is much debate about the meaning of resilience, but our emphasis is on human resilience—ensuring that people's choices are robust, now and in the future, and enabling people to cope and adjust to adverse".
According to the report reducing both poverty and people's vulnerability to falling into poverty must be a central objective of the post-2015 agenda. The authors stress that "eliminating extreme poverty is not just about 'getting to zero'; it is also about staying there".
This can be achieved only with a renewed focus on vulnerability and human development, the report stated. It requires ensuring that those lifted from extreme deprivation benefit from sustained public support that strengthens their social and economic resilience and greatly reduces the systemic sources of their vulnerability.
The UNDP-HDI report states that people living in extreme poverty and deprivation are among the most vulnerable. Despite recent progress in poverty reduction, more than 2.2 billion people are either near or living in multidimensional poverty. That means more than 15 percent of the world's people remain vulnerable to multidimensional poverty.
At the same time, nearly 80 percent of the global population lack comprehensive social protection; about 12 percent (842 million) suffer from chronic hunger; nearly half of all workers—more than 1.5 billion—are in informal or precarious employment. In many cases the poor—along with, for example, women, immigrants, indigenous groups and older people—are structurally vulnerable.
What does the new HDI report mean for Dominicans? It tells Dominicans that they need to make radical changes to their concept of development and government's economists, in particular, must review their tendency to be over reliant on GDP as a measure of growth. We advance the view that development implies the empowering of people and providing them not with handouts but with the tools and the opportunities to make sound choices. Though all models of development include the availability of adequate levels of material wealth, there is the need to underline that the quality of life of the population is of foremost importance.
Distinguished Caribbean political economist, the late Norman Girvan, made that point rather succinctly in an article on the subject. He said: "The idea of human progress needs to be delinked from the fantasy of never-ending increases in material consumption. This has been seen to be physically impossible for the individual, morally questionable for society and economically non-viable for the human race."
But to many Dominicans a discussion on the definition of development is no big deal as long as they have a country where the land remains green and watered and is used productively. They want an environment of peace, safety, respect and harmony and a country in which inhabitants exercise high levels of personal responsibility, lower levels of corruption and depends less on government handouts.