Silver Bullet

by Juan L. Mercado

“Eradication  of poverty is not just about getting to zero”, explains United Nations Development Program  administrator Helen Clark. “It’s  also about staying there.” That’s the main thrust of  the 2014 Human Development Report’s: “Sustaining Progress: “Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience”.

“This is not about rocket science”, says Clark “Where people address vulnerabilities, development comes very, very nicely. Where they haven’t addressed development deficits, as in Syria, it all comes spectacularly unstuck.”

The 14th HDR study breaks away from  conventional  economic  yardsticks which. “set  toothpaste prices,” the late Mahbub ul Haq of  World Bank noted. Focus on life spans, hunger, schools, and human aspirations, 1998 Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen responded. “We need a measure that’s not as blind to social aspects as ‘GNP’ is.”

Sen and Haq crafted human development indices. They track performance, by a country, in longevity, knowledge, and decent standard of living. HDIs were first  deployed in the 1990 global HDR. “People are the real wealth of a nation,” the lead sentence read.

In 1995, HDR focused on gender, followed by water scarcity in 2006. The 2011 report analyzed “Sustainability and Equity.”

In Asia today, HDR ranks  Singapore as No. 9, followed by  South Korea at 15. Japan trails at 17th due to its lower income and schooling measures. Worldwide, Norway tops and is followed  by Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands and the US.

In today’s ranking of 187 countries,  the Philippines is lodged in Slot 117, sandwiched between Uzbekistan at 116 and South Africa 118.  See the ASEAN context: Indoesnia is in  Slot 108, Thailand 89 and Malaysia 62.

Countries in Asia and Pacific  “do not have become rich to provide adequate social protection or basic social services. Nordic countries, as well as South  Korea and Costa Rica, provided” universal basic social services when their per capita GDP was lower than that of India or Pakistan today. “

Governments must  commit to universal provision of basic services and social protection to build resilience, especially for the poor and other vulnerable groups.  The Report stresses  that a lack of decent, well-paid jobs – especially for youth – is a major challenge, including  Asia and the Pacific.

Youth joblessness is is 22 percent in Indonesia, 17 percent in Sri Lanka, 16 percent in Philippines and Samoa  and 14 percent in Timor-Leste.   Some societies recover more quickly than others. Why?

Fast-track education reform. Schooling  enables people to create  stable societies. In contrast , food insecurity stokes  violence against women, and civil conflict. Disaster risks,  such as landslides and rising sea levels,  linked to climate change further threaten the security of millions of people.

The Guardian of UK summarizes the 2014 HDR findings:  More than 2.2 billion people are crammed into living in multi-dimensional poverty . They  bear the features  of  poor health, school dropouts, malnutrition –to  ever-present threat of violence outbreaks.

Worldwide,  eight out of 10 lack social protection and  842 million people suffer from chronic hunger. Nearly half of all workers across the world are locked into in informal or precarious employment.

Gaps between people going into jobs and available jobs is going to widen substantially in the decade ahead. The stress will be felt most  in Africa.

Another finding was the effect of globalization on economic vulnerability: “Globalization brought countries together and provided more opportunities. But it also, increased the risk of adverse events, like the recession, being transmitted more rapidly.”

Most people in most countries are doing better than ever before thanks to advances in education, technology and incomes, the report said. But it notes a “widespread sense of precariousness in the world today in livelihoods, the environment, personal security and politics.”

Gains made in the late 20th century risk being eroded by climate change. In addition, a global “race to the bottom” by big corporations is forcing more and more workers to live on less and government budgets “balanced on the backs of the poor,” said Khalid Malik, a lead author of the report.

The 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people.”Most problems are due to inadequate policies and poor institutions,” Malik said. “It’s not innate that people have to suffer so much.”

Reducing vulnerability is a key ingredient,   writes Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, in a contribution to the Report. “[ We ] need to a broad systemic perspective”. That calls for an approach, using a human development lens to take a fresh look at vulnerability as an overlapping and mutually reinforcing set of risks.

Aside from structural vulnerabilities, HDR 2014 “introduces the idea of life cycle vulnerabilities” These are , sensitive points in life where shocks can have greater impact. They include the first 1,000 days of life, and the transitions from school to work, and from work to retirement. “Capabilities accumulate over an individual’s lifetime and have to be nurtured and maintained. Otherwise, they can stagnate and even decline,” it warns. “Life capabilities are affected by investments made in preceding stages of life, and there can be long-term consequences of exposure to short-term shocks.” Poor children in Ecuador were shown to be already at a vocabulary disadvantage by the age of six.”  Timely interventions—such as investments in early childhood development.

Oh and one more thing: The UK Guardian notes the data shows “educating women as the closest thing to a silver bullet in human development.”

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