Monday, 6 December, 2021

Human Development In Post-COVID Era

Kushal Pokharel


Marking its third decade of measuring the human development based on income, health and education, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently unveiled Human Development Report 2020 titled ‘The next frontier: Human development and the Anthropocene’. Emerging as an alternative to the dominant development discourse centred on economic thinking in 1990, UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) stands as a valid measure of holistic development.
Norway retained its first position in the HDI rankings for 2019 followed by Ireland and Switzerland. While Malaysia is ranked 62nd among emerging Asian economies, Sri Lanka, Thailand and China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam are classified as economies with high human development. India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Cambodia fall under countries with medium human development.
Impact of pandemic
This year’s report comes at a time when the entire humanity is going through COVID-19, one of the deadliest crises of their time. Humans are arguably embarking upon a new geological epoch ‘Anthropocene’ i.e. age of humans as per the report. Determined entirely by the human choice, this new age is characterised by the fact that the risk to human survival is only themselves. Documenting the unfolding and devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human development, the report sheds light on the opportunities and challenges of advancing human development while reducing the planetary pressure. In this regard, a fresh thinking to explore new measures of human development in the new era adopting non-linear and dynamic approach is high on the recommendation. A just transformation in the way we live, work and cooperate incorporating new social norms and improved incentives would be valuable as we march ahead in the path of advancing human development in the post-COVID era.
The report also examines the pre-existing crises such as climate change adaptation and mitigation, biodiversity conservation, among others, and their adverse impacts on realising the goals of human development. For instance, it is estimated that by 2100, the poorest countries in the world could experience up to 100 more days of extreme weather due to climate change each year- a number that could be reduced by half if the famous Paris Agreement on climate change is fully implemented.
Planetary pressures have been considered as the most pressing issue that requires multidimensional and interconnected approach to problem solving rather than discrete solutions. Pursuing development in harmony with nature has become urgent for humankind for their survival. Against this backdrop, the report proposes a new metrics named planetary pressures adjusted human development index (PPHDI) to measure a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and its material footprint while measuring human development in the new epoch.
Democratic backsliding and rising authoritarianism emerging in the global politics are described as key challenges for ensuring the well-being of humans. Non-participative decision-making process that tends to undermine the local knowledge, value and culture has exacerbated inequalities. In this sense, the report is highly critical of the global community that has failed to appreciate the contribution of indigenous people towards building a better planet. For example, the land stewarded by indigenous peoples in the Amazon absorbs, on a per person basis, the equivalent carbon dioxide of that emitted by the richest 1 per cent of people in the world. But indigenous peoples continue to become the victims of marginalisation and subjugation, including various forms of discrimination. Limited voice of the vulnerable group of population in decision-making is a matter of grave concern. No human development can be contemplated without ensuring the say of every group of population living in society irrespective of class, caste, gender, ethnicity and occupation. Having said that, promoting three pillars-- capabilities, agency (ability to participate in decision making) and values (choices that are most desired) with special attention to our interaction-- has been greatly emphasised

Nepal’s HDI ranking
While Nepal has made remarkable progress from HDI of 0.378 in 1990 to 0.587 in 2019, pertinent policy issues concerning human development remain unaddressed. Along the sidelines of the global human development report, Nepal also published its HD report under the theme ‘Beyond Graduation: Productive Transformation and Prosperity’. Warning that the COVID-19 contagion could halt or even reverse the gains achieved in human development ultimately affecting the timeline for the country’s graduation from the least developed country status, the report calls for implementing a comprehensive relief package accompanied by a medium to long- term strategic plan to mitigate the crisis and build resilience.
Even though it is welcoming to note that Nepal inches close to or little ahead of the average of both South Asia and the middle human development group in terms of life expectancy at birth, the country is lagging behind in average years of education and average per capita income. More worrisome is the persisting inequality in human development in various regions of the country. While the HDI status in urban areas stands at 0.487, it is 0.431 in rural areas. From the province wise statistics, it is evident that Bagmati Province is at the highest level with its HDI value at 0.661 and Province 2 has 0.51, the lowest score.
Summing up, the HD report is a wake-up call for the entire humanity to further their actions towards making the best choices founded upon those values that ensure the wellbeing of humans but not at the cost of destroying the planet.

(Pokharel is a social science and research faculty.