THE EARTH TIMES
JUNE 30 – JULY 14, 1995
New development center for S.Asia
BY ASHALI VARMA
Mahbub ul Haq, the prime author of the annual Human Development Report—which is commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme—is launching a Human Development Center in Islamabad, the capital of his native Pakistan, this fall. Haq says he will continue with the UNDP on a part-time basis, commuting between Islamabad and New York.
“I believe the world has ignored South Asia,” he said in an interview at his office in New York. “Over one billion of the poorest people in the world live in this region—and the largest number of the absolute poor.” Many of the poor, Haq said, earn the equivalent of a dollar a day. His new center, Haq said, would be a combination of a think-tank and a publishing organization that would release an annual “human development report” focusing on South Asia, conduct regional seminars, and prepare papers on “practical human development strategies.
Haq said that his wife, Khadija Haq, will leave Unicef to be the executive director of the new Human Development Center.
Haq’s Human Development Report for the UNDP are widely quoted by scholars and journalists alike, and they are often controversial. The report, which first came out in 1990, ranks countries not only by economic and financial strength but by how much each country spendson its citizen’s well being, and the factors of social development like education, health, and nutrition as opposed to military spending.
“My own feeling is that what is lacking in the world is not wisdom but courage, “Haq said in an interview with The Earth Times, “and what we were able to do with the report was give a very candid and courageous account of issues that centered around people.”
The toughest challenge, he said, was when some countries objected in the 1994 report but “the independence of this report was accepted and endorsed when the United Nations General Assembly endorsed it with a resolution last year.”
Haq’s greatest concern is that countries like South Asia, especially India and Pakistan, are spending more on their military than on people.
“I think the greatest threat in the future is a confrontation between India and Pakistan, both of which are nuclear powers and for both a war would be economically prohibitive,” he said. He said that the two countries between them spend $20 billion annually on arms. They have 20 times more soldiers than doctors but there is 33 times more chances of their people dying of disease than in war. Yet the arms race in this region is escalating. Haq said that Pakistan recently spent $1.2 billion to buy two submarines. “This amount alone would be enough to give 55 million people in Pakistan access to safe drinking water and 40 million people an education,” he said.
“How can you justify air conditioned jeeps for generals and windowless school rooms for children?” he said.
Haq,who is 61 years old, says he is undaunted by the challenges he is going to face in his next assignment.
He says that the development report he plans for South Asia will be published just before the 1996 summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. “I think the first report will focus a lot on the profile of poverty and human deprivation in SouthAsia,” Haq said. “South Asia is falling behind Africa and if the present trends continue by the year
2000, South Asia will not only be the poorest region but will have the lowest literacy rates and health care for its people. The second part of the report will definitely be the trade-off between military spending and social spending.”
Haq intends to give concrete examples of arm sales and purchases made by countries and even investigate the pay offs behind the sales. “There is a global conspiracy in arms sales. Profits are made out of poverty,” he said . At the same time, Haq will present a positive agenda for SAARC leaders –how they can remove human deprivation and what it will cost. “It will require dialogue and political will, and I think the report should shock them into facing realities and doing something concrete about it,” Haq said.