Human development: “Much to celebrate, yet formidable challenges remain”: DEW
Following is the keynote address delivered by Senior Minister of Human Resources D.E.W. Gunasekera at the South Asian Regional Consultative Seminar on Human Development and Measurement of Human Development Progress, held at the IPS Auditorium from 30-31 January 2012
Public understanding of human development was galvanised by the appearance of the first Human Development Report in 1990. Ever since then, the concept of human development has acquired each year wider dimension and recognition across the world.
Instead of concentrating on the traditional indicators of economic progress such as Gross National Product, a more systematic examination of economic progress such as the Human Development Index (HDI) was introduced as an alternative measurement. It called for a new approach to economics and development – one that put people at the centre. People were made both beneficiaries and drivers of the development process.
In this regard, I feel that we should express our deep debt of gratitude to those visionaries, Mahbub Ul Haq and Amartya Sen, for their pioneering strategic contribution to the science of economics, in particular for developing the HDI. The creative passion and vision of Haq and Sen is ever remembered for their intellectual inputs. Naturally we as South Asians feel proud of them, since they both are products of this region.
Much to celebrate
The world has moved on since the initial contribution of Haq and Sen, and there have been more gains on the human development front. In this 22nd year after the appearance of the first Human Development Report, there is much to celebrate in what has been achieved. Here, the role played by the UNDP deserves our deep appreciation. We also acknowledge the contribution made by so many others directly or indirectly involved towards the efforts of Human Development Indices.
As a result of this intellectual endeavour, most people today are healthier, live longer and are more educated and have more access to goods and services. People’s power to elect their leaders, influence public decisions and share knowledge has expanded. The world’s average HDI increased by 18% since 1990, reflecting large improvements in life expectancy, school enrolment and income.
Despite great strides on human development over the last decades, we witness and do face formidable challenges as poverty, inequality and insecurity, both within countries and across countries. Also, production and consumption patterns have also considerably changed, revealing un-sustainability.
It is encouraging that the HDI itself is evolving – recognising the inadequacy, the UNDP has now developed new indices reflecting gender improvement, sustainability and inequality. So, focus is now given to what remains to be done.
Sri Lanka has embraced this concept very much, since it reflects to a large degree the policies of successive governments. In fact, Sri Lanka’s welfare policies go so far as 1940s, and that, I venture to say, was a result of universal suffrage enjoyed by us as from 1930s. Representing the Left Movement, I feel proud of the initiatives taken in this regard by our pioneering leaders of the Sri Lanka Left Movement.
Even though Sri Lanka is still a lower middle income country, we note with pride that our social welfare policies have paid dividends by improving the health and education level of our people. We are equally proud today that most of the MDG (Millennium Development Goals) indicators have been achieved. Even the HDI indicator places Sri Lanka above all the other South Asian nations and we are in fact third in the medium Human Development category.
However, this does not in any way mean that there are no disparities and inequalities within the country. As a member of the Government, I wish to say that we have now aggressively embarked on infrastructure development, regional development, development of rural economy and SME sector. The informal economy too is well within our focus.
I know that the UNDP is supporting the Government via the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) to develop a National Human Development Report specially focusing on the regional disparities and inequalities. I as Senior Minister of Human Resources have embarked on an exercise to formulate a Human Resource and Employment Policy for the Government. This means, we are focusing more on improving the human development status of the country.
Taking a more global view, in a globalised world each country cannot work in isolation and implement policies to improve human development. We live in an inter-dependent, inter-related and integrated world on the same planet. Decisions taken by one country affect the others. Even physical and natural resources cannot be used in isolation. Hence, global challenges do affect us, our region and the world at large.
We are passing through a period of poverty, inequality and insecurity worldwide. During the last few years we faced formidable global challenges posed by food, energy, and financial crises. We continue to co-exist with an unprecedented economic recession with disastrous consequences.
In fact, much of the human development achievement we secured in the developing world in the last two decades is threatened with erosion. The larger global issue of climate change poses the greatest challenge and a potentially dangerous challenge to the existence of humanity, in fact, the very existence of the planet – the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.
In 2012, world leaders are due to meet in Rio de Janeiro to discuss these global issues and seek a new consensus on global actions on the future of development and the right of future generations. We continue to live with hope and optimism.
New world developments
When I say that we live with optimism, I say so in the context of new world developments. The world order is undergoing transformation – shifting from unipolarity to multiporlarity. The emerging economies are a new factor which causes a shift in the world balance of forces.
BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) is aspiring to become a global institution. The Latin America and Caribbean States with all its 33 members are forming into regional economic bloc called CELAC, after over 200 years. This will be the largest economic grouping in the world Euro-Asia too is moving towards such an economic bloc – with Russia and former Soviet states. The trends in the Arab World are far deep-seated – much more than mere expressions of dissent or protest. The reality of booming Asia leading the world economy is irrefutable. The African continent slowly and steadily has entered the process of democratisation. All these factors lead to change world balance of forces.
So, the demand for a new international monetary system will emerge sooner than later. This is why I value very much the closer cooperation on South Asian issues. I welcome these new initiatives and I believe the South Asian Consultative Seminar on Human Development will bring us closer and collectively contribute towards our efforts in meeting with the current challenges.