Human development indicators

Wednesday, 17 November 2010 00:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I was recently reading the International Human Development Indicators (HDI), an index created by the UNDP, which had marked out Sri Lanka as the 91st out of the 169 countries on their list.

The top country gaining the highest marks in this index was Norway, followed by Australia, New Zealand and the USA. The four countries at the bottom were Burundi, Niger, Congo and Zimbabwe.Sri Lanka’s stand at 91 is a position higher than all the other SAARC countries. According to information given in Wikipedia, “The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic used to rank countries by level of ‘human development’ and separate developed (high development), developing (middle development), and underdeveloped (low development) countries. The statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita GDP (as an indicator of standard of living) collected at national level.”

I am a little confused (as I am sure columnists are allowed to be), because as I delve into the statistics given by this august international body – the United Nations – I see that in the United States statistics, there is no record of poverty. Sri Lanka’s poverty is at 38.7, which they call intensity of deprivation. India stands at 53.5 and Pakistan at 54.

There is no poverty in the USA. That’s what one can perceive from this index. Strange, that this 2010 United Nations Report does not seem to co-relate to what CNN says in their report that about 14.7 percent of US households were “food insecure” in 2009, meaning they had difficulty feeding one or more of their members at some point last year due to a lack of financial resources.

The situation was considered especially dire for more than one-third of those households – 6.8 million total, equating to 5.7 per cent of all US households – that the report’s four authors classified it as having “very low food security”. This number, too, changed little in 2009 compared to the previous year.

Let’s look at another factor. In the United States HDI, on which the USA holds the No. 4 position from the top, has as its index for human security (robbery rate per 100,000) as 141.8. The last country on the HDI is Zimbabwe and its human security level on the same criteria is 70.6.

Given this, I think I am entitled to be a little confused at these indicators. But it is indexes such as this which create the perceptions we have of countries, which confuse our third world citizens into thinking that the USA is the fourth best country in the world – nobody bothers to look at the fine print.

Now, I must say that I am no statistician. I am a normal human being who can read English and this is what I perceive from this HDI. But if I have to analyse the security levels of the USA (which has no poverty according to the index) and Zimbabwe, the USA must be living up to its Hollywood image where people just go robbing each other for the heck of it – in Lucky Luke style – whereas in Zimbabwe the figures are so low that one has to assume there isn’t anything much to rob.

Another interesting statistic that I found under the heading Sustainability (adjusted net savings % of Gross National Income) is that the USA is at 0.9 and China who is at 89th position on the overall HDI is at 35.1.

But the Economist in an article on 9 November under the headline ‘Why is America So Rich?’ says “Wealth underlies America’s sense of itself as a special country, and it’s also cited as evidence that America is better than other economies on a range of variables, on economic freedom, to optimism to business savvy to work ethic.”

I once had the pleasure of listening to a now senior minister in our Government who said that the West create indexes and fashion them to suit their ends. The points that they would be strong in, they would position into the basket of evaluation.

The perceptions that they create is no doubt for a purpose. It is particularly to drain the human resources of other countries. As the Economist report states ‘Why America is So Rich’ is a combination of three factors i.e. their common law, their massive immigration and the great scientific exodus during World War II.”

Let us not be fooled, countries like America’s wealth is in the people who migrate from countries like Sri Lanka and it is time we looked at things from the right perspective when we make decisions on which is the best country in the world to live in.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

Recent columns