Clarke: Region faces growing multidimensional poverty
The Bahamas topped the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) among Caribbean nations in 2005, and according to a report prepared by the authors based on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2015 regained the top ranking from Belize in 2014. But still hovering at just under 80 percent, The Bahamas has demonstrated little to no improvement in human development in the intervening decade.
And the new human development report issued days ago reveals that the challenges facing The Bahamas – near 30 percent youth unemployment and near 15 percent overall unemployment; a contracting economy; and a recent rise in the poverty rate that shows more than 43,000 people living below the poverty line – are shared across the region. This has led to a rethinking of the way progress is being measured and plotted.
The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. A long and healthy life is measured by life expectancy. Access to knowledge is measured by the average number of years of education received in a lifetime by people aged 25 years and older, and the total number of years of schooling a child of school-entrance age can expect to receive if prevailing patterns of age-specific enrollment rates stay the same throughout the child’s life. Standard of living is measured by gross national income (GNI) per capita expressed in constant 2005 international dollars converted using purchasing power parity (PPP) rates.
Helen Clarke, administrator of the UNDP, said in the executive summary of the 2016 Caribbean Human Development Report – titled
“Multidimensional progress: human resilience beyond income” – that vulnerabilities are increasing in the Caribbean as the region faces growing multidimensional poverty.
Clarke pointed out that each human development report since 1990 has focused on some aspect of well-being “beyond income”. The 2016 Caribbean Human Development Report focuses on human resilience, and builds on the 2016 Regional Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The vulnerabilities of Caribbean states are well known. Prominent among them are geographic location in a hurricane belt and earthquake zone with climate change exacerbating weather-related threats, and limited scope for economic diversification,” Clarke said, adding that bringing the concept of multidimensional progress into the discourse on Caribbean development is an invitation to rethink building resilience in the region.
“Vulnerabilities are increasing in the Caribbean. The region faces growing multidimensional poverty. There has been persistent low growth and an erosion of human development gains over the past decade – as evidenced by deteriorating regional human development indicators and multidimensional poverty data.
Poverty and unemployment rates, especially among youth, are high and stand above the regional average for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole. Public social protection and health expenditures, which contribute to resilience and adaptive capacity, measured as a proportion of GDP, lag behind the population weighted average of 13.2 percent for Latin America. They also lag, except for Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, behind the worldwide average of 8.6 percent.
“Economic growth is insufficient on its own for lifting and keeping people out of poverty.
“Thus, measures to target and address key sources of vulnerability and deprivation and to strengthen adaptive capabilities, as in the areas of education, health, training, employment opportunities and social protection, are of critical importance,” Clarke said.
She also noted that for middle income countries, “development” does not expire at a GDP threshold.
Inequalities, discrimination and longstanding exclusions – including on the basis of gender and ethnicity – require policy attention.
“The Caribbean is faced with a dual challenge: to boost inclusive economic growth and to build multidimensional progress which contributes to eradicating poverty in all its forms, tackling vulnerability at the state, household, and individual levels, and ensuring sustainability,” she said.
A new paradigm
In the first chapter of the report, the UN asserts that the factors associated with people escaping poverty are not the same factors as those associated with resilience to adverse economic, personal and environmental events. The former tend to be related to educational attainment and the labor market, while the latter tend to be related to the existence of social protection in the form of social transfers or non-contributory pensions, access to physical and financial assets and access to systems of care for children and dependents.
The report cites unemployment rates, which are more severe among youth, with the exception of Belize, Guyana and St. Kitts & Nevis. That, the UN says, suggests strong evidence of increasing human vulnerability in the Caribbean.
In addition to high poverty and unemployment rates, especially among youth, the UN reported that combined public social protection and health expenditures, which contribute to resilience and adaptive capacity, lag for all Caribbean countries as a proportion of GDP behind the population weighted average of 13.2 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole.
“At the core of the multidimensional perspective on progress is the recognition that economic growth and income accretion are insufficient for lifting and keeping people out of poverty. As a consequence, measures to target and address key sources of vulnerability and deprivation and to strengthen adaptive capabilities, such as in the areas of education, health, training, employment opportunities and social protection are of critical importance.
“In this regard, the Caribbean faces a distinct challenge amongst developing countries since poverty as traditionally measured, and growing multidimensional poverty, which takes account of the near-poor and vulnerable, exist alongside persistent low growth, and the incipient erosion of the human development gains that have been long regarded as the region’s strong suit relative to other developing countries,” the report said.
The report also argues that policies insufficiently oriented towards protecting and consolidating human development gains – even during the period that was in large measure coterminous with the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals by the global community – have begun to erode the region’s human development gains and its relative standing in this important area.
The UN points to this retrogression over the past decade or more, and calls for decisive action to halt and reverse the slide.
Most CARICOM countries have had a negative evolution in the HDI ranking over the last five years. Jamaica and Dominica, two extreme cases, have fallen 23 and 10 positions respectively, the report said.
This fact becomes more relevant considering that, since 2008, there has been a deceleration in the growth of all three components of the human development index in most regions of the world.