Friday, November 5, 2010

What the Human Development Index Misses

- Aaron Leaf

Source: allAfrica
Monrovia — In grade ten my teacher reprimanded me in class for suggesting that in Canada we had people, aboriginal people primarily, who lived in developing world conditions. Third world was the term used then.

I had spent much of the previous summer camping and windsurfing in an area on the west coast accessed only by many hours of driving on gravel logging roads. Often rain-scarred and pot-holed, if you saw a logging truck approaching you had to swerve your car into the ditch to avoid a collision.

In the town near the lake we stayed at, life seemed inexplicably hard.

Relatively wealthy in some ways (the local native Band owned a Sea-Doo), it was a community with few jobs and few services. Many of the adults in this town were survivors of the residential school system, a government policy for much of the twentieth century that saw native children taken from their parents, their culture beaten out of them by priests and nuns. They were often sexually and physically abused.

Unsurprisingly this town had many social problems. Although it was a dry town (no alcohol sold), alcoholism was rampant and child abuse common. Life in Canada's native communities can be hard: Infant mortality is one and a half times the Canadian average, and the life expectancy significantly less.

According to Health Canada, approximately one quarter of all water systems on reserves are a high risk to human health.

It was also at this time in Vancouver, the city where I lived, that women, predominantly native, often prostitutes, were disappearing at an alarming rate with little official response. The police ignored it, as did the press.

Only recently have they convicted anyone, a serial killer responsible for many of the cases, but not all.

My teacher was angry at me. "You can't compare poverty in Canada to the Third World," she said. "Any Canadian's life is better than that. You don't understand how privileged we are."

I sheepishly backed down.

It was months later when I read in the newspaper that according to a study done by Canada's Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs, in fact, life in Canadian first nations communities (native, aboriginal) when analysed by the criteria of the UN's Human Development Index ranked somewhere in between Thailand and Bulgaria, sixty third in the world.

The Human Development Index is an annual United Nations report that ranks countries by three factors: life expectancy, education (adult literacy and gross enrolment), and standard of living (purchasing power parity, income).

Its stated purpose is to get beyond GDP in measuring development.

What it doesn't do, however, is factor in gender inequality or income inequality. This means a country like Canada, with minority populations living in very poor conditions will perennially be in the top ten while South Africa, with a large minority population that lives much like wealthy Canadians is near the bottom.

The 2010 report comes out today. A country that will surely rank right near the bottom as it has for many years is Liberia. It also happens to be where I'm writing from, my new home for the next while and a remarkably difficult place for the majority of its more than 3 million inhabitants.

Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected woman president, was recently honoured by the UN for her leadership around the third millennium development goal to promote gender equality and empower women. Under her watch, the ratio of female to male enrolment in primary and secondary schools has increased from 72% in 2000 to 90% in 2009 at the primary level and 71 to 75% at the secondary level.

As significant as it is, this decrease in inequality doesn't factor into the human development index ranking.

Last week I spent a day in an area called Zimbabwe, a township north of Monrovia, Liberia's capital, speaking with some of its residents.

Many of the young men here were child combatants during the civil war and have almost no hope of finding jobs in the current economy. Of the women I met, many work as prostitutes to get by.

Government services here are minimal. Community chairman, Joseph Mulbah, told me the area is under-served by public education and almost devoid of police. Law and order is kept by a local vigilante organisation and sickness like Malaria and Typhoid is rampant. Housing consists of small rooms made from tin sheets and salvaged bricks. It is fair to say that the residents here have not seen any benefit from the development that they hear is happening in the country.

The jobs that are being created, mostly in government, according to Mulbah, are being given to returnees who spent the war years in America and are taking the money they make here out of the country; tax money, he says, that should be spent on development in communities like his.
In a way, my grade ten teacher was correct. When judged by things like infrastructure and income, the lives of the worst-off in Canada are measurably better than the worst-off in a country like Liberia. A simple ranking like the Human Development Index will never be able to reflect the complexity of inequality within countries. Likewise it can never reflect the many narratives and paths of the individuals struggling to better themselves and others. It is only one tool among many, and one we should always use in conjunction with many other measurements.

Aaron Leaf is a Canadian journalist currently working in Liberia with Journalists for Human Rights (jhr). This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

News Headline

Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


Statements and opinions expressed in articles, reviews and other materials herein are those of the authors. While every care has been taken in the compilation of information on this website/blog, and every attempt made to present up-to-date and accurate information, I cannot guarantee that inaccuracies will not occur. Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this website/blog. The content of any organizations websites which you link to from this website/blog are entirely out of the control of Inside Liberia With Bernard Gbayee Goah, and you proceed at your own risk. These links are provided purely for your convenience. They do not imply Inside Liberia With Bernard Gbayee Goah's endorsement of or association with any products, services, content, information or materials offered by or accessible to you at said organizations site.