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Pioneering work was done by the late Dr. Mahbubul Haq in the early 90s on the construction of a Human Development Index (HDI) at the country level. The HDI has three components, viz., the human capital endowment of the people measured by the level of literacy and enrollments, the health status as given by the life expectancy and per capita income.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has been bringing out an annual Global Human Development Report (GHDR) which contains the HDI ranking of countries since the early 90s. Pakistan is ranked 154th out of 189 countries in the latest HDI ranking of 2020. The HDI value is 0.557, which places Pakistan at the middle level of human development. Earlier in 2015, Pakistan had an index value of 0.538 and was placed in the 147th position out of 185 countries with a low level of human development. Pakistan has a lower HDI than Bangladesh and India.

The recently launched UNDP National Human Development Report (NHDR) of Pakistan of 2020 has estimated over time the Human Development Index of the provinces, urban and rural areas of the country and for the each of the five quintiles of the population with respect to human development. The findings are very revealing and highlight the extent of inequality in the country.

The first set of results presented in Table 1 are estimates of the HDI of the population of each province for 2006-07 and 2018-19. This highlights the regional variation not only in the HDI but also in its rate of increase over time.

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Table 1
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Human Development Index by Province
=======================================================================================
                                        2006-07             2018-19             Rate of
                                                                           Increase (%)
=======================================================================================
Punjab                                    0.527               0.572                 0.7
Sindh                                     0.529               0.574                 0.7
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa                        0.491               0.546                 0.9
Balochistan                               0.470               0.473                 0.1
Pakistan                                  0.529               0.570                 0.6
=======================================================================================
Source: UNDP, NHDR 2020.

The highest HDI in 2018-19 is of Sindh, closely followed by Punjab. Both provinces are at the middle level of development as per the international standards. Both Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are at a low level of development. However, the former province has shown the fastest rate of progress. The HDI of Balochistan has improved only marginally since 2006-07.

The levels of the education, health and income indices within the HDI are presented below for the country in Table 2. Pakistan does poorly in the education index and stands at the low level of development. It is at the middle level in health and in per capita income. Clearly, Pakistan will have to invest more in education if it wants to improve its international human development ranking.

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Table 2
=======================================================================================
Sub-Indices of the HDI of Pakistan
=======================================================================================
                                        2006-07             2018-19             Rate of
                                                                           Increase (%)
=======================================================================================
Education Index                           0.453               0.505                 0.9
Health Index                              0.605               0.648                 0.6
Income Index                              0.539               0.564                 0.4
HDI                                       0.529               0.570                 0.6
=======================================================================================
Source: UNDP, NHDR 2020.

Turning to inequality, a comparison is made between the HDI of the top quintile and the bottom quintile in Table 3.

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Table 3
=======================================================================================
HDI of the top quintile and the bottom quintile in Pakistan
=======================================================================================
                                        2006-07             2018-19             Rate of
                                                                           Increase (%)
=======================================================================================
Top Quintile                              0.663               0.698                 0.4
Bottom Quintile                           0.383               0.419                 0.7
Ratio                                      1.73                1.67                -0.3
=======================================================================================
Source: UNDP, NHDR 2020.

The tope quintile has almost reached the high level of HDI. Unfortunately, the bottom quintile is at a very low level of human development. The former 20 percent of population has a HDI close to that of populations of countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Egypt. The bottom quintile has a very low HDI corresponding to that of the least developed countries of Africa.

This stark level of inequality highlights the existence of the 'Two Pakistans' which is frequently referred to by the Prime Minister. There is, however, some catching up which is taking place, but the pace is very slow. Also, the inequality is the most pronounced in the health index.

Within Provinces, the NHDR estimates reveal that the highest level of inequality between the top and bottom quintiles of population is in Sindh, followed by Balochistan. It is lower in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The only province where this inequality has increased since 2006-07 is Balochistan.

Turning to a comparison of the HDIs of the urban and rural populations of the country, the estimates are presented in Table 4. As expected, the urban HDI is higher. However, the urban-rural gap is not too large and there is a slow process of catching up taking place here also.

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Table 4
=======================================================================================
HDI of the Urban and Rural Populations of Pakistan
=======================================================================================
                                        2006-07            2018-19              Rate of
                                                                           Increase (%)
=======================================================================================
Urban Population                          0.606               0.641                 0.5
Rural Population                          0.483               0.527                 0.7
Ratio                                     1.254               1.216                -0.2
=======================================================================================
Source: UNDP, NHDR 2020.

Overall, the objective must be to enhance the rate of improvement of the HDI of Pakistan, especially with faster growth in the literacy rate, in enrollment rate and in real per capita income. The top priority focus must also be to reduce the development gap faced by Balochistan.

(The author is Professor Emeritus at BNU and former Federal Minister)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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