Cuba tops the class in UN development report

Issue 

The United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report 2009 was released on October 5. It again highlighted some of Cuba's extraordinary achievements.

The report is the most commonly referenced source on development statistics and measures. It compares the development status and progress in every country.

Among this year's wide-ranging statistics, the report provides a summary indicator of people's well-being using the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI combines measures of life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita for 182 countries and territories.

The results for Cuba, an impoverished small island subjected to a crippling economic blockade from the United States, stand out, primarily in the areas of the health and education of its people.

Cuba's education index is equal highest in the world, along with Australia, Finland, Denmark and New Zealand. Cuba's education index is 0.993 of a possible score of 1.

Its adult literacy rate is 99.8% and school enrolments are 100%. Public expenditure on education in Cuba is 14.2% of total government expenditure. This is higher than Australia (13.3%) and the US (13.7%).

Cuba tops the world in the ratio of female to male enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education, at 121%.

Cuba's life expectancy is 78.5 years, the highest along with Chile in Latin America and the Caribbean. It compares favourably with Australia (81.4 years) and the US (79.1 years).

While Cuba ranks at or near the top in health and education measures, its low GDP per capita, the third element of the HDI, reduces its HDI score. With GDP included, the report ranks Cuba 51st overall in the overall HDR ranking.

Cuba is ranked 95th in the world in GDP per capita. The gap between its low GDP ranking and much higher overall HDI ranking reveals its human development is significantly higher than its GDP per capita might indicate.

The difference between these two rankings can be seen as a measure of the efficiency of converting a nation's income into the health and education of its people. Cuba heads the world in this category, by a wide margin.

For example, Mexico has more than double Cuba's GDP, but has a lower HDI. The US is ranked nine in GDP per capita but falls to 13 in HDI ranking, demonstrating a relatively poor conversion of its wealth into health and education for its people.

"Gender empowerment measure" is another indicator listed in the report. One element of this indicator is the percentage of seats held by women in parliament.

In Cuba, 43% of parliamentary seats are held by women, the third-highest level in the world after Rwanda (51%) and Sweden (47%).

In Australia, some 30% of seats in parliament are held by women and the US figure is only 17%.

Since 2005, Azerbaijan, Cuba and Venezuela have improved their HDI more than any other countries. Venezuela was one of the few countries that significantly bettered its HDI ranking since last year, jumping four places from 62 to 58.

Venezuela has achieved a relatively rapid rise of 5.2% in its HDI between 2000 to 2007, compared to a 4.8% increase in its HDI over the previous 20 years.

Inequality is another key development indicator. Australia, which ranked second in human development, is one of the most unequal countries in the so called developed world.

The report said the income of the richest 10% of the Australian population is 12.5 times the income of the poorest 10%. Japan, by contrast, has a ratio of 4.5, Norway 6.1 and Sweden 6.2.

Of the 20 top-ranking countries in this year's HDI list, only the US, with an inequality ratio of 15.9, has greater inequality than Australia.

Insufficient data was available to measure Cuba's equality for the report. However, the only such figures that have been recorded for Cuba indicate a ratio between the top 10% and the bottom 10% at around four. Again, this would be close to the best in the world.

The report does not attempt to analyse why some countries do better than others in improving the lives of their people. However, its statistics paint a clear picture.

A government, like in the US and Australia, that makes quality health care and education a privilege for a few will create and exacerbate inequalities.

A government like Cuba's, which provides free education and health care for everyone, will make gains for all.

Over the 50 years of Cuba's socialist revolution, in spite of the ongoing economic blockade and with meagre resources, Cuba has achieved health and education standards for its people that are the envy of the world.

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