Human Development from a Cuban Perspective

By Dalia Acosta,
HAVANA, Oct 10, 2011 (IPS) – Excluded from the 2010 Human Development Index, Cuba will issue a report of its own, which will reflect the impact of an economic crisis that has lasted for 20-plus years, and will show social and health indicators typical of the developed world.

This decision, which has the support of the Human Development Report (HDR) Office of the United Nations Development Programme, is one of the results of a process of dialogue and consultation that followed the exclusion of Cuba from the U.N. agency’s global report in 2010.

After a Sep. 30 visit to Cuba, Khalid Malik, the new director of the HDR Office, said they were ready to work together with the UNDP office in Cuba.

This is not the first time that the UNDP has supported efforts by Cuba to measure human development in this Caribbean island nation. Three studies were conducted by the government-run Centre for the Study of the World Economy in 1996, 1999 and 2003, in the latter two cases devoted specifically to equity and science and technology.

Khalid Malik said that, in parallel with this effort, his office hoped Cuba would participate in a global human development forum to be held in January or February of 2012.

Khalid Malik said that at the conference the UN Development Programme HDR Office would analyse the HDI and how to best gauge progress in human development among countries. And he added that the more all the countries work together with the UNDP, the more everyone will benefit. His trip to the island was one of his first missions as director of the HDR office.

One of the main aims of the visit was the official presentation to Cuban authorities of the results of the process that followed the publication of the report “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development” and the methodological changes that made it possible to retroactively include Cuba.

According to the UNDP, Cuba was omitted from the 2010 Human Development Index (HDI) due to the absence of current internationally reported data for one of the three required indicators: health, education and income (which are used to calculate the composite HDI value, which in turn determines a country’s HDI ranking.)

The missing indicator for Cuba was for income, because there is no internationally reported figure for Cuba’s Gross National Income adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (GNI-PPP): the figure used for all countries for the income component of the HDI, and which is normally provided by the World Bank and/or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Doubts were also raised about the reliability of Cuba’s ranking in the HDI reports from previous years, due to the difficulty of comparing data from a country where the economy operates with a dual currency system (the Cuban peso and the Cuban convertible peso).

“They provided very unusual numbers and that happens because there were two types of exchange,” Khalid Malik told IPS. “When you have to compare country by country, you compare the local currency with the international and then all of the countries. And that gave rise to figures that did not seem real and that could give an erroneous impression.”

“This is a technical problem and perhaps it was not the right decision,” he said, referring to the decision not to include Cuba.

“What we did after that was to invest a lot of time trying to find a reliable method to see how we could come up with a formula that does not need conversion, in order to arrive at a figure that seems to be accurate. And then we updated all of the results from all the years about Cuba, as well as the formula,” he explained.

In addition to Cuba, the 2010 report excluded Palau and the Occupied Palestinian Territories due to problems with data. The situation, which sparked debate and joint work by statistics specialists at various institutions, eventually led to the return of all three countries to the HDI, and to the expansion of its coverage from 169 to more than 180 nations

The methodology developed made it possible to make a retroactive estimate, according to which Cuba would have ranked 53rd in the UN Development Programme HDI 2010, among the group of countries with high human development. In the Latin American and Caribbean region, it would have been in sixth place.

In the case of Cuba, the new method for calculating GNI takes into account per capita GDP with relation to international trade, per capita energy consumption, proportion of the population with Internet access, and a set of regional variables.

The result, according to sources from the HDR Office, reflects national achievements such as an average of 10 years of schooling among the adult population, almost 18 expected years of schooling among the younger generations, a life expectancy of 79 years, and 5,747 dollars in income per capita in PPP terms.

“Cuba is the only Latin American country in the top ten non-income-HDI movers over the past decade, with life expectancy increasing by two years and expected years of schooling increasing by five years. These are remarkable improvements for a country that already had very high health and education indicators at the outset of the decade,” says an article by Francisco Rodríguez and Clara García, head of research and statistics and research analyst, respectively, in the UN Development Programme HDR Office.

The global reports, however, are not able to take into account highly specific aspects from each nation, such as the possible impact on human development of the nearly five-decade United States embargo against Cuba, Khalid Malik admitted during his remarks to reporters in Havana.

“The more we see each other and work together, the more we can all benefit,” the U.N. official said, after meeting with Cuban authorities and experts, accompanied by Barbara Pesce-Monteiro, U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Cuba.

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