South Asia Lags in Human Development

In spite of the fact that Pakistan's Human Development Index (HDI) has risen by 1.30 percent per year from 0.402 to 0.572 during 1980-2007 period, and it has accelerated to 1.9% increase since 2000 when it was reported to be 0.499, its progress is not yet sufficient to improve the nation's ranking relative to other countries in regions like East Asia, which have been moving considerably faster. Pakistan's index grew by 1.75% in the 1980s but slipped to less than 1.3% during the lost decade of the 1990s.

South Asia Lagging

In fact, the latest Human Development Report for 2009 shows that all major South Asian nations have slipped further down relative to other regions of the world. Pakistan's HDI ranking dropped 3 places from 138 last year to 141 this year, and India slipped six places from 128 in 2008 to 134 this year. The report includes human development data on 182 countries on the index, which measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income.

Rankings of other South Asian countries in 2009 are as follows: Bangladesh 146 (140 in 2008), Sri Lanka 102 (99 in 2008), Maldives 95 (100 in 2008), Nepal 146 (142 in 2006) and Bhutan 132 (135 in 2008). Norway continues to top the chart, while Australia, Iceland, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Switzerland and Japan make up the top 10. The US is ranked 13, while Britain and Germany are further down at 21 and 22.

Human Development Defined:

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 enrollment in education); and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity) income.

Human Poverty Index (HPI-1) focuses on the proportion of people below certain threshold levels in each of the dimensions of the index. By looking beyond income deprivation, HPI-1 represents a multi-dimensional alternative to the $1.25 a day poverty measure. The HPI-1 value is 33.4 percent for Pakistan ranks 101st among 135 counties for which the index has been calculated. This figure of 33.4% poverty differs sharply from 17.2% poverty calculated for 2007-08 by the UNDP analysts in Islamabad.

Pakistan's Gender Development Index value means that the greater the gender disparity in basic human development the lower is the country's GDI relative to its HDI. Pakistan's GDI value, 0.532, should be compared to its HDI value of 0.572. Its GDI value is 93 percent of its HDI value. Out of the 155 countries with both HDI and GDI values, 152 countries have a better ratio than Pakistan. The Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) shows whether women take an active part in economic and political life and is different to GDI as the GEM exposes inequalities in opportunities in selected areas. GEM says Pakistan ranks 99th out of 109 countries in the GEM index, with a value of 0.386.

Allowing for migration-both within and between countries-has the potential to increase people's freedom and improve the lives of millions around the world, according the Human Development Report. "We live in a highly mobile world, where migration is not only inevitable but also an important dimension of human development. Nearly one billion-or one out of seven-people are migrants.

"Migration can be a force for good, contributing significantly to human development," says United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark. "But to realize its benefits, there needs to be a supportive policy environment as this Report suggests."

Comparing HDI and PHI:

Unlike HDI which adds other dimensions such as literacy, the new index PHI focuses specifically on the most basic parameters of poverty and hunger in developing nations.

On PHI, Pakistan at 45 ranks well ahead of India at 62, and it is included in the medium performing countries. PHI is a new composite indicator – the Poverty and Hunger Index (PHI) – developed to measure countries’ performance towards achieving MDG1 on halving poverty and hunger by 2015. The PHI combines all five official MDG1 indicators, including a) the proportion of population living on less than US$ 1/day, b) poverty gap ratio, c) share of the poorest quintile in national income or consumption, d) prevalence of underweight in children under five years of age, and d) the proportion of population undernourished.

UNDP Criticisms:

Dr. Mahbub ul Haq of Pakistan, the creator of the human development report, intended the HDI for use as a more reliable indicator of human condition than the gross domestic product (GDP) of various nations. It has not quite met the expectations of some in the human development community. There have been many criticisms of HDI, ranging from the use of stale and skewed data to clear disconnect between the HDI ranking and the ground reality as seen by most observers.

In a 2003 letter to the UNDP, the former director of the UNDP-funded Center for Research on Poverty Reduction and Income Distribution (CRRPRID), Dr Mushtaq A. Khan, challenged the basic data on which the UNDP had ranked Pakistan. Dr. Khan argued that using the factual data of life expectancy at 63.56 years, literacy rate at 44 percent, combined gross enrollment rate at 36 per cent and PPP GDP per capita at $1890, the country should have been ranked at 136th position for 2001, rather than 144th, "bringing it in the group of medium human development countries instead of the low human development countries". Rather than responding to the issues raised in Dr. Khan's letter, the UNDP had him fired from his post. More recently, there continues to be a discrepancy between the poverty figures reported by UNDP analysts in Islamabad and the figures used in HDI computation.

Recently, UNDP became part of a controversial report by Mumbai's municipality in claiming that “Dharavi is not Asia’s largest slum, Karachi’s Orangi Township has surpassed Dharavi.” It is clear that UNDP did not bother to check the facts on the ground before allowing itself to be used by Mumbai's BMC. The fact is that Orangi is nothing like Dharavi in terms of the quality of its housing or the services available to its residents. While Dharavi has only one toilet per 1440 residents and most of its residents use Mahim Creek, a local river, for urination and defecation, Orangi has an elaborate sanitation system built by its citizens. Under Orangi Pilot Project's guidance, between 1981 and 1993 Orangi residents installed sewers serving 72,070 of 94,122 houses. To achieve this, community members spent more than US$2 million of their own money, and OPP invested about US$150,000 in research and extension of new technologies. Orangi pilot project has been admired widely for its work with urban poor.

Foreign visitors to Pakistan and India have often reported that Pakistanis generally look better fed, clothed and housed than their counterparts in India. There is much less poverty on show in Pakistan than in India. However, the UNDP HDI reports continue to show India ranking higher than Pakistan. There could be many possible reasons for such a disconnect.

One example of the disconnect between the UNDP reports and ground reality can be found in the purchasing power parity calculations. The most recent real per capita income data was calculated and reported by Asian Development Bank based on a detailed study of a list of around 800 household and nonhousehold products in 2005 and early 2006 to compare real purchasing power for ADB's trans-national income comparison program (ICP). The ICP concluded that Pakistan had the highest per capita income at HK$ 13,528 in South Asia. It reported India’s per capita as HK $12,090.

In terms of being better fed, Pakistanis consume significantly more dairy products, sugar, wheat, meat, eggs and poultry on a per capita basis than Indians. Average Pakistani gets about 50% of daily calories from non-food-grain sources versus 33% for average Indians.

There is widespread hunger and malnutrition in all parts of India. India ranks 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries while Pakistan is slightly better at 61 and Bangladesh slightly worse at 70. The first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) report in 2008 found that Madhya Pradesh had the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia. Four states — Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam — fell in the 'serious' category. "Affluent" Gujarat, 13th on the Indian list is below Haiti, ranked 69. The authors said India's poor performance was primarily due to its relatively high levels of child malnutrition and under-nourishment resulting from calorie deficient diets.

According to Werner International, Pakistan's per capita consumption of textile fibers is about 4 Kg versus 2.8 Kg for India.

There is widespread homelessness in India with the urgent need for 72 million housing units. Pakistan, too, has a housing crisis and needs about 7 million additional housing units, according to the data presented at the World Bank Regional Conference on Housing last year.

India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.

Lizette Burgers, chief of water and environment sanitation of the Unicef, recently said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia. A former Indian minister Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh told the BBC that more than 65% of India's rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day.


In spite of the many valid criticisms and the major flaws in UNDP's methodology and HDI computation and reporting, the HDI rankings are an important ballpark indicator of the state of human development in a nation or region. The report is a very useful document that the governments must take seriously and make the necessary efforts to improve their human resources by providing the required funding and support for proper nutrition, education and health care to ensure a better future for their people.

Pakistan has consistently scored lower on the HDI sub-index on education than its overall HDI index. It is obvious from the UNDP report and other sources that Pakistan's dismal record in enrolling and educating its young people, particularly girls, stands in the way of any significant positive development in the nation. The recent announcement of a new education policy that calls for more than doubling the education spending from about 3% to 7% of GDP is a step in the right direction. However, money alone will not solve the deep-seated problems of poor access to education, rampant corruption and the ghost schools that only exist on paper, that have simply lined the pockets of corrupt politicians and officials. Any additional money allocated must be part of a broader push for transparent and effective delivery of useful education to save the people from the curses of poverty, ignorance and extremism which are seriously hurting the nation.

Here's a video report about Pakistan's decrepit public education:


Population living under $1.25 a day - India: 41.6% Pakistan: 22.6% Source: UNDP

Underweight Children Under Five (in percent) Pakistan 38% India 46% Source: UNICEF

Life expectancy at birth (years), 2007 India: 63.4 Pakistan: 66.2 Source: HDR2009


Youth (15–24 years) literacy rate, 2000 to 2007, male Pakistan: 80% India 87% Source: UNICEF

Youth (15–24 years) literacy rate, 2000 to 2007, female Pakistan 60% India 77% Source: UNICEF


GDP per capita (US$), 2008 Pak:$1000-1022 India $1017-1100

Child Protection:

Child marriage under 15-years ; 1998–2007*, total Pakistan - 32% India - 47% Source: UNICEF

Under-5 mortality rate per 1000 live births (2007), Value Pakistan - 90 India 72 Source: UNICEF

Related Links:

UNDP HDI: A Poor Representation of Human Development

HDI Ranking 2009

Housing in South Asia

Education, Society and Development

Pakistan Questions HDI Ranking

Pakistan's Decrepit Public School System

Globalis-Pakistan Human Development by Decades

Globalis-India Human Development by Decades

Pakistan Poverty Declines to 17.2%

Pakistanis Dietary Habits

UNDP Watch


Riaz Haq said…
In a recently published book "Superfreakonomics", the authors cite two American economists' finding that cable TV in 2700 households empowered Indian women to be more autonomous. Cable TV households had lower birthrates, less domestic abuse and kept daughter in school. Here are some more highlight from the book about India:

1. If women could choose their birthplace, India might not a wise choice to be born.

2. In spite of recent economic success and euphoria about India, the people of India remain excruciatingly poor.

3. Literacy is low, corruption is high.

4. Only half the households have electricity.

5. Only one in 4 Indian homes has a toilet.

6. 40% of families with girls want to have more children, but families with boys do not want a baby girl.

7. It's especially unlucky to be born female, baby boy is like a 401 K retirement plan, baby girl requires a dowry fund.

8. Smile train Chennai did cleft repair surgery. A man was asked how many children he had. He said had 1, a boy. It turned out that he had 5 daughters which he did not mention.

9. Indian midwives paid $2.50 to kill girl with cleft deformity

10. Girls are highly undervalued, there are 35 million fewer females than males, presumed dead, killed by midwife or parent or starved to death. Unltrasound are used mainly to find and destroy female fetuses. Ultrasound and abortion are available even in the smallest villages with no electricity or clean water

11. If not aborted, baby girls face inequality and cruelty at every turn,

12. 61% of Indian men say wife beating is justified, 54% women agree, especially when dinner is burned or they leave home without husband's permission.

13. Unwanted pregnancies, STDs, HIV infections happen when 15% o the condoms fail. Indian council of med research found that 60% of Indian men's genitalia are too small by international standards.

14. Indian laws to protect women are widely ignored. The government has tried monetary rewards to keep baby girls and supported microfinance for women. NGOs programs, smaller condoms, other projects have had limited success.

15. People had little interest in State TV due to poor reception or boring programs. But cable television has helped women, as 150 million people between 2001-2006 got cable
TV which gave exposure to world.

16. American economists found that the effect of TV in 2700 households empowered women to be more autonomous. Cable TV households had lower birthrates, less domestic abuse and kept daughter in school.
Riaz Haq said…
Interpreting India's low HDI rank

HDI essentially is a composite index that integrates three basic dimensions of human development: ability to lead a long and healthy life; ability to acquire knowledge and ability to achieve a decent standard of living. The first dimension is captured by life expectancy at birth. Mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling combined capture the second, while Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (PPP in US$) captures the last dimension. Each dimension is then quantified as an index, calculated as the ratio between (Actual Value – Minimum Value)/(Maximum Value – Minimum Value). Note that the minimum and maximum values are fixed values (boundary limits), same for all the countries. These three indices are then aggregated and their geometric mean is taken as the HDI score for a particular country.

Let us take an example. For the year 2016, the Minimum Life Expectancy was fixed as 20 years and Maximum 85 years. India’s life expectancy was 68.3 years. Therefore, the Health Index for India would be computed as (68.3 – 20) / (85 - 20) = 0.743. Using a similar approach, the other two indices – education and income would be computed. Finally, the HDI score for India would be the geometric mean of all three indices. And this score would determine India’s relative rank across several countries. A higher HDI rank should ideally reflect better human development opportunities. Similarly, a year on year increase in HDI rank, would reflect an increase in a country’s relative performance.

However, there are several issues that complicate this. First, the HDI computation methodology itself keeps changing. As can be seen in the table (inset), earlier, Health index was measured by life expectancy at birth; Education index by a combination of adult literacy rate and gross school enrolment rates; and Income index by GDP per capita adjusted for PPP (in US$). Except the health index, methodology for computing the other two indices has now changed significantly. Second, simple arithmetic mean was used to compute HDI scores earlier. Now, geometric mean of each index provides the HDI score. Third, the number of countries for which data is collated also changes year on year. In 2010, there were 169 countries. This number increased to 188 in 2016. Fourth, there have been issues related to timelines of input data. For example, Life expectancy at birth for HDR 2013 corresponded to data for the year 2011. The HDR 2016, on the other hand, used the data for 2015. Especially for the social sectors, there are significant time-lags in data. Finally, and possibly the most serious concerns have been raised over the usage of only three dimensions and giving them equal weights while computing HDI. Experts argue that crucial variables such as political voice, democratic freedom, social connections and relationships, environmental sustainability, and economic/physical security are completely left out. On the other hand, equal weightage to all three indices pulls HDI score of countries like India down. Given the huge population base, India gets consistently low scores on GNI per capita. In fact, on this particular index, India’s score was very similar to that of Pakistan and Congo, but less than that of Iraq.

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