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Old Wednesday, November 06, 2013
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Default Consultation on HDR 2014

Consultation on HDR 2014
Dr Ashfaque H Khan

The Human Development Report Office of UNDP New York, UNDP Pakistan, and the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) jointly organised a two-day South Asian Regional Consultation on Human Development Report HDR 2014 and accelerating human development in South Asia.

The regional consultation was attended by senior government officials, eminent social scientists, parliamentarians, civil society from South Asian countries and faculty and students of NUST.

The consultation was inaugurated by the special assistant to the prime minister on foreign affairs. Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations also sent a message for the participants of this consultation. The secretary general stated that despite rapid economic growth throughout South Asia, the region is still plagued with widespread poverty. As global leaders and citizens working towards defining a post-2015 agenda, it is an appropriate time to reflect on priorities.

The secretary general further added that one of the important emerging issues in the post-2015 debate is reducing inequalities and vulnerability and building more resilience so that individuals, communities and nations can better withstand and recover from natural disasters and economic crisis. In South Asia, vulnerability is widespread, built into social and political structures that perpetuate inequality.

The theme for the Human Development Report 2014 is ‘Sustaining Human Development: Addressing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience’. Ever since its launch some two decades ago, the Human Development Report has contributed immensely towards highlighting the importance of human development, sensitising member states, civil society and social scientists around the world towards improving the various indicators of human development.

By publishing the report each year with a new theme, the UN continues to pay tributes to two illustrious sons of South Asia – the late Mahbubul Haq from Pakistan and Amartya Kumar Sen, a Nobel Laureate from India. Their work has helped policymakers understand that people are the real wealth of the nations and must therefore be at the centre of development policy.

The publication of the Human Development Report with greater regularity since the early 1990s forced the global leaders to work collectively towards the amelioration of the sufferings of billions of poor individuals around the world. It is in this perspective that the global community in the year 2000, under the umbrella of the UN, adopted the Millennium Declaration and committed themselves to work together to improve the lives of billions of poor around the world.

A set of Millennium Development Goals with indicators were created in 2001. Indicators included reducing extreme poverty, improving education and health, and reducing gender inequality among others.

Looking back to the year 2000, the achievement of MDGs by 2015 appeared a difficult proposition for most countries. Notwithstanding many headwinds that interrupted and even retarded the progress of the developing countries – especially in the Asia-Pacific region – towards achieving the MDGs, the region, nevertheless, made remarkable progress.

Between 1990 (the benchmark year for all of the MDGs) and 2009, that is, in two decades, the region succeeded in reducing poverty by more than one-half. In other words, the region succeeded in taking 700 million poor people out of poverty. The region also succeeded in improving education and health and reducing gender disparity.

Despite these successes, the region is still lagging behind achieving the MDGs in several areas. Almost 800s day to 2015, the region as a whole is unlikely to attain all the MDGs. Yet, it is important to recognise that no other development agenda can lay claim to having such broad-based global support as that enjoyed by the MDGs. The MDGs have mobilised global community with significant results. We have seen extreme poverty reduced to more than one-half; more girls are in school; more people have access to improved sources of water and so on. But much more is still to be achieved for which more efforts are required in the remaining 800 days.

How the progress made thus far can be sustained by reducing vulnerabilities and enhancing resilience is the theme of Human Development Report 2014, whose South Asian consultation took place in NUST. In fact the theme for the 2014 HDR is consistent with the post-2015 ‘getting to zero’ poverty agenda; the goal is to eradicate extreme poverty. This requires that the poor should manage to get out of their poverty in a more robust or resilient way, and for the near-poor not to fall back into poverty as a result of shocks.

Human development is a process of enhancing capabilities to address the issues of vulnerabilities. Human development enhances resilience which is essential to sustain progress. South Asia did not make as much progress as others in the region. We have seen how poor people are vulnerable to various kinds of shocks – global food and fuel shocks, floods, draught, conflicts etc. South Asia needs to make more efforts towards enhancing resilience to sustain whatever progress we have made thus far.

There are four elements necessary for enhancing resilience and sustaining progress. These include the provision of public goods, social protection, employment, and basic services. Better quality of education and health services are essential for empowering people and reducing vulnerabilities. Different conditional or unconditional cash transfer is an important instrument of social protection. It helps the poor withstand unanticipated shocks.

Employment not only provides income but also offers a source of dignity and social inclusion. It also enhances capabilities and resilience to sustain progress. Provision of basic services through better governance is essential for easing pressures on the poor. It helps build the capabilities of individuals, communities and nations.

The resilience of communities to adverse shocks depends on their capabilities which, in turn, can be enhanced through human development. South Asian governments need to spend more on people to build their capabilities.

They need to create more employment opportunities through broad-based and inclusive growth – growth which provides jobs to the poor, unskilled, semi-skilled workforce and women. But at the same time they need to protect the most vulnerable sections of society through social protection. Less unequal and more cohesive communities not only tend to respond better to sudden shocks but also prove good for inclusive growth. The HDR 2014 will examine the issue of vulnerabilities and policies to strengthen resilience through national and international strategies.

There are several major outcomes of the regional consultation. First, it provided opportunities to South Asian experts to share their views and give suggestions on how to accelerate human development to strengthen resilience against various shocks. Second, since the South Asian Consultation took place in Pakistan, the government has committed itself to be the host of the launch of the South Asian part of HDR 2014 in Pakistan.

Third, in his closing remarks at the consultation, the rector of NUST announced the establishment of the NUST Centre for Human Development Studies, to be located at its School of Social Sciences & Humanities – a step reflecting the commitment of the university towards human development.

The writer is the principal and dean of NUST Business School.Email:
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