March 18, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan languished at the lower end of the latest Human Development Index (HDI) published recently by the United Nations, ranking 171 out of 187 countries included world-wide.
While the ranking puts Sudan above 16 other mainly African nations, Sudan’s HDI of 0.414 is still below the average of 0.466 for countries with the lowest levels of human development.
Sudan also ranked behind other Arab countries with similar population size, including Yemen and Djibouti, at 160 and 164 respectively.
The figures were published as part of the 2013 Human Development Report – The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World – which was launched in Mexico City on 14 March by UNDP administrator Helen Clark and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto.
The HDI is a composite index using mortality rates, education and income to measure achievement within three basic dimensions of human development, including a long and healthy life, attainment of knowledge and a decent standard of living.
In recognition of the disparities in global development, nations are classified in four human development groups: very high, high, medium and low.
According to the figures given for Sudan and used to assess its ranking, average life expectancy stands at 68.1 years, compared to 59.1 for low-HDI countries. The expected and mean years of schooling is 4.5 and 3.1 respectively in comparison to the 8.5 and 4.2 average for lower end countries, while the average annual income is $1,848 in comparison to $1,633 for those in the same bracket.
In terms of annual HDI gains, Sudan still ranked behind war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Liberia, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who have all made significant recent progress in school attendance, life expectancy and per capita income growth, despite being at the bottom end of the overall index scale.
Eritrea rank “dismal”
Eritrea was the lowest ranked of the Horn of Africa countries at 181. Responding to the UN report on its website, independent Eritrean news platform Awate said Eritrea’s human development index of 0.351 is “dismal” even by the standards of the low human development countries.
It said the ranking made a mockery out of claims by the country’s secretive regime that it was focused on improving the quality of life.
“The most reliable report on Eritreans quality of life is the UN’s Human Development Report and Eritreans quality of life is either stuck or regressing. So, Eritreans now find themselves in the unenviable situation where they have no human rights, no civil liberties and no improvement in their quality of life to use as a consolation prize”, Awate said.
While Sub-Saharan Africa still has the lowest average national HDI, it continues to experience higher than average levels of development. Out of 14 countries in the world that recorded HDI gains of more than 2 percent annually since 2000, 11 are in this region, with Ethiopia and Uganda among the best performers ranked at 173 and 161 overall respectively.
Countries were divided into six distinct geographical regions as part of the report, with Sudan among 20 nations and territories grouped as part of the Arab states.
The grouping includes a number of countries ranked in the very high (Qatar and United Arab Emirates) to high (Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, Oman, Algeria and Tunisia) end of human development, reflecting the often extreme internal inequalities within both wealthy and poorer countries in the region.
The Arab states region has both the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest labour force participation rate, especially for women, with the report warning that failure to accelerate job growth could further exacerbate social and economic tensions in the region, which flared in 2011.
It said misguided austerity policies, lack of equity and shortfalls in political participation may also lead to further instability, undermining development gains in other areas across the region.
Assessing gender equality
For the first time, the latest report also includes two experimental indices, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and the Gender Inequality Index (GII).
The GII is designed to measure gender inequalities according to national data on reproductive health, women’s empowerment and labour market participation.
While the report’s research showed educating women through adulthood is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” formula for accelerating human development, in reality many countries continued to place harsh restrictions on women’s education and employment participation.
Sudan ranked relatively well on the GII scale, despite the Arab states region recording the highest levels of gender inequality behind sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Sudan’s GII value of 0.604 placed it at 129 out of 148 countries included in the 2012 index ahead of Saudi Arabia (145) and Yemen (148).
Within the Arab states, Sudan was in the top four countries in terms of female participation in political spheres, with 24.1% of parliamentary seats held by women, while the country ranked in sixth place according women’s participation in the labour market (30.9%).
At the other end of the GII scale, Sudan recorded the sixth highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with a staggering 730 women dying from pregnancy-related causes per every 100,000 live births, well above even the worst performing countries in the Arab states, including Yemen and Djibouti both registering 200 deaths for the same amount of births, according to the report.
Sudan, which still practices teen marriage and strict segregation of the sexes, also ranked poorly in terms of education, with just 12.8 percent of adult women reaching a secondary or higher level of education. Out of the Arab states only Yemen performed worse (7.6%).
South driving economic growth
One of the most significant overall trends highlighted in the 2013 report shows developing nations – referred to in the report as the South – are now driving economic growth, leading to massive poverty reduction and an expanding middle class.
“The rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale,” the report says. “Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast.”
Indeed, no country for which complete data was available has a lower HDI value now than it had in 2000.
“Over the past decades, countries across the world have been converging towards higher levels of human development, as shown by the Human Development Index,” the report says. “All groups and regions have seen notable improvement in all HDI components, with faster progress in low and medium HDI countries. On this basis, the world is becoming less unequal.”
Despite the strides made in the South, severe poverty remains a major problem throughout much of the developing world, the report stresses.
An estimated 1.57 billion people, or more than 30 percent of the population of the 104 countries studied for the report, live in what it terms “multidimensional” poverty.
However, the report argues that ambitious, well-conceived policies can sustain current progress made in human development in the coming decades and expand its reach to still more developing countries.
But it also warns that short-sighted austerity measures, failures to address persistent inequalities, and a lack of opportunities for meaningful civic participation could threaten this progress unless leaders take bold corrective action.
South Sudan was among eight countries precluded from the index due to data constraints.
At the other end of the scale, Norway, Australia and the United States topped the rankings as the highest achievers in terms of human development.