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Kingdom up on development index

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A Cambodian teacher conducts a biology class in a modern high school built under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration campaign for the ‘new generation’ schools programme in Phnom Penh. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP

Kingdom up on development index

Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland and Germany lead the ranking of 189 countries and territories in the latest Human Development Index (HDI), while Niger, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Chad and Burundi have the lowest scores in the HDI’s measurement of national achievements in health, education and income, released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The overall trend globally is toward continued human development improvements, with many countries moving up through the human development categories: out of the 189 countries for which the HDI is calculated, 59 countries are today in the very high human development group and only 38 countries fall in the low HDI group. Just eight years ago in 2010, the figures were 46 and 49 countries respectively.

Movements in the HDI are driven by changes in health, education and income. Health has improved considerably as shown by life expectancy at birth which has increased by almost seven years globally, with Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia showing the greatest progress, each experiencing increases of about 11 years since 1990. And, today’s school-age children can expect to be in school for 3.4 years longer than those in 1990.

Disparities between and within countries continue to stifle progress.

Globally, the average HDI levels have risen significantly since 1990 – 22 per cent globally and 51 per cent in least developed countries – reflecting that on average people are living longer, are more educated and have greater income. But there remain massive differences across the world in wellbeing.

A child born today in Norway, the country with the highest HDI, can expect to live beyond 82 years old and spend almost 18 years in school. While a child born in Niger, the country with the lowest HDI, can expect only to live to 60 and spend just five years in school. Such striking differences can be seen again and again.

“On average, a child born today in a country with low human development can expect to live just over 60 years, while a child born in a country with very high human development can expect to live to almost 80. Similarly, children in low human development countries can expect to be in school seven years less than children in very high human development countries,” said Achim Steiner UNDP Administrator.

“While these statistics present a stark picture in themselves, they also speak to the tragedy of millions of individuals whose lives are affected by inequity and lost opportunities, neither of which are inevitable.”

The findings also shed light on the unequal distribution of outcomes in education, life expectancy and income within countries. The Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index allows a comparison levels of inequality within countries, and the greater the inequality, the more a country’s HDI falls.

Cambodia bucks trend

While significant inequality occurs in many countries, including in some of the wealthiest ones, on average it takes a bigger toll on nations with lower human development levels. Low and medium human development countries lose respectively 31 and 25 per cent of their human development level from inequality, while for very high human development nations, the average loss is 11 per cent.

“While there is ground for optimism that the gaps are narrowing, disparities in people’s well-being are still unacceptably wide. Inequality in all its forms and dimensions, between and within countries, limits people’s choices and opportunities, withholding progress,” said Selim Jahan, Director of the Human Development Report Office at UNDP.

Cambodia continues to stand out and bucks the trend towards greater inequality.

A closer look at the latest (2017) HDI data for Cambodia we see a rise of 1 per cent on 2016, a rank of 146 out of 189 countries – and solidly within the Medium human development category.

A longer-term perspective makes clear Cambodia’s core strength – its sustained high rate of improvement since 1990 its annual HDI growth is ranked within the top ten globally and second within the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, improving life expectancy and economic growth have been the major contributors.

“Although starting from a low base, Cambodia has one of the highest rates of growth in its Human Development Index in the Asia Pacific Region. Globally, in the period 1990 to 2017 Cambodia has the 8th fastest rate of HDI growth. This is a remarkable achievement,” said Nick Beresford, UNDP Country Director in Cambodia.

Impressively between 1990 and 2017, Cambodia’s Gross National Income per capita has risen by about 265.8 per cent; life expectancy at birth increased by 15.7 years; mean years of schooling increased by 2.1 years; and expected years of schooling increased by 5.0 years.

A further facet, and one that stands in contrast to global trends is the declining level of inequality in human development in Cambodia. The 2017 Inequality-Adjusted HDI shows that the loss in human development due to inequality is 19.4 per cent – considerably better than the global averages for developing countries and medium human development countries (losses of 22 and 25.1 per cent respectively); and this also shows an improvement on the previously reported data for Cambodia published in 2015 (a loss of 22.5 per cent).

Though these achievements are laudable, the data suggest that more attention needs to be directed towards education. Both expected years of schooling and mean years of schooling have little improvement since 2015, and moreover, inequality in education is high relative to the other components, and a potential block on further reductions in inequality.

“The release of the HDI is timely, as Cambodia is currently experiencing a demographic dividend – a population boom of young people. By investing in children and young people, particularly in education, safety, health and well-being, and other programmes that enhance their lives, Cambodia can continue its impressive rise through the HDI ranks,” said Beresford.

In December 2018, UNDP in Cambodia will be releasing the National Human Development Report on the “Sustainable management of ecosystems for Cambodian people today and tomorrow”. This report aims to recognise that human development in Cambodia, as in many developing countries, is fundamentally related to the integrity of its ecosystems and the natural resources they provide.

The Human Development Index (HDI) was introduced in the first Human Development Report in 1990 as a composite measurement of development that challenged purely economic assessments of national progress. The HDI covers 189 countries and territories.
The UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in nearly 170 countries and territories, it offers global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

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