Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Robert Piper during the launch of the Global Human Development Report 2009

05 Oct 2009

Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Robert Piper during the launch of the Global Human Development Report 2009
October 05, 2009

Welcome, and thank you for your presence.

This is the 20th year of UNDP’s global Human Development Reports. The annual country tables produced in these reports have given us over the years, an invaluable snapshot of the quality of our development ‘trajectory’. The core of the report - the Human Development Index or ‘HDI’ - is simple and crude in its composite measurement of income, education and life expectancy. But it is effective. With the benefit of comparisons and the insights derived from trends over time, we can get critical clues as to where to look to find the kinds of policy choices that are producing the right kinds of outcomes.

Each year, the report looks more closely at a particular theme that might give us greater insight into the science of development. Over the years, these global HDRs have picked a range of themes, from Climate Change to People’s Participation, from Human Rights to Globalization. This year’s theme ‘ mobility - could hardly be more relevant to Nepal. The report looks at this issue from the vantage point of both source as well as destination countries.

On the HDI in the global league table there are a few things to report. Sadly, Nepal is still ranked low at 144th place out of 182 countries. In terms of the immediate region, Nepal has edged marginally higher than Bangladesh in this latest calculation. Although it is difficult to pin point why, it appears improvements in Nepal’s education indicators explains this change. It is also important to note, that according to this year’s report, Nepal has recorded the fastest annualized growth in the HDI between 1980 and 2007. An opportunity perhaps to recognize how far Nepal has had to travel over the last 30 years. Yet the trend of Nepal’s development benefits being unevenly shared continues, with Nepal’s Gini co-efficient the highest in Asia and apparently still widening. As we saw more closely in our recent Nepal National Human Development Report launched in August, the national numbers for Nepal disguise fundamental inequities in access to development outcomes and this always need to be borne in mind if this kind of analysis is to be relevant to Nepal’s current transition process.

Unsurprisingly, the economic component of the HDI for Nepal continues to be the primary drag that is holding back faster progress. With average growth rates of 1.9% over the last decades and a forecast of 4.7% for this financial year, this remains a source of real concern. There is no substitute for economic growth to create jobs and to raise living standards. To Nepal’s credit, the country does continue to significantly outrank a number of countries with similar economic indicators ‘ Uganda for example, has roughly the same GDP per capita but is ranked 13 places below Nepal on the HDI. This suggests that Nepal continues to get greater social returns if you will ‘ ie. improved education enrollments and longer life expectancy ‘ than countries of a similar economic strength.

This relationship between economic vs. social indicators is one of the most important dynamics in the HDI equation and in my view goes to the heart of the utility of the HDI as an instrument in helping us plan and measure development. The choices made by Governments on social policy have fundamental implications on human development incomes. The patterns have been seen again and again ‘ the balance Government strikes between primary vs. tertiary education or health, rural vs. urban investments, support to social safety nets, regressive vs. progressive tax policies and so forth ‘ have profound consequences on whether economic growth will translate into human development. Nepal’s relatively high rank compared to its purely economic indicators points to many of the right kinds of decisions by policy makers over the last three decades.

The theme of this year’s report ‘ mobility ‘ perhaps also provides part of the answer. Remittances have grown extraordinarily during this period. It is surely no coincidence that whilst Nepal has enjoyed the fastest annualized HDI growth since 1980, remittances in that period have grown from less than $150 million to approximately $2.5 billion and now represent some 20% of GDP. Individual family members have voted with their feet, and made their own often difficult decisions about how to lift the living standards of their own households as they have done for millennia.

Mr. Gurung from the Institute of Development Studies will walk us through some of the specific migration and mobility findings and messages from the Report. The Report valuably reminds us that the greatest mobility is seen in people moving within countries estimating internal migrants to be approximately 740 million today, or almost four times the 200 million that are international migrants. In fact, the number of internal migrants in China and India alone are more than the total number of international migrants. The vast number of these international migrants are moving from one developing country or developed country to another, rather than between developing to developed. The Report warns of the vulnerabilities of the estimated 55 million unregistered migrants in the world. It also touches briefly on the issues affecting the 14 million refugees and 26 million internally displaced that make up part of the movement of people. All of these categories are relevant to Nepal.

The core message of this year’s Report is that internal and international migration has important consequences for human development and this needs greater recognition in our development planning. The Report also offers a specific set of recommendations to source as well as destination country. Governments to improve the management of mobility and to maximize the potential human development impact of this age-old trend of people moving to where they can find opportunity. These include greater international cooperation, lowering the barriers to mobility so that less well-off people can participate, protecting the rights of migrants and regulating the sector more effectively. I very much hope this Report can contribute to the important debates on migration policy in Nepal over the coming months.

Thank you.