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Review of Human Development Report July 1995


JULY 19, 1995


Human Development Report

By Ashali Varma

For readers of the annual Human Development Report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Reflections on Human Development”  authored by Mahbub ul Haq will be especially interesting. It is an enormously provocative book on the rationale behind the focus on human development and how the United Nations and the Bretton Wood institutions should get their act together to meet the development challenges of the 21st Century.

The book, published by Oxford University Press, is scheduled to be formally unveiled at a news conference on July 19 at the Dag Hammarskjold lounge of the Church Center, 777 UN Plaza, near the United Nations on First Avenue.

In an interview with The Earth Times, Haq spoke candidly about the institutional constraints despite the candor of the Human Development Report (HDR).

One of the chapters in the book deals with the political freedom index. Though it was meant to be part of an earlier HDR it was removed as member states of the UN objected  on  various grounds.

Haq writes, “The purpose of human development is to enlarge the range of people’s choices—and the most basic choice is the freedom to make a choice, rather than have someone else make it.”

As Haq put it, “The real purpose of development is to enlarge people’s choices in all fields–economic, political and cultural.” Haq added: “People are both the means and the end of economic development. Nearly all violations of political freedom come from governments.”

Haq said the themes of his book have emerged over a lifetime of work dedicated to development  economics.

In 1969 when he was a member of the planning commission in Pakistan, the economic growth rate was sevenpercent and while Pakistan celebrated the decade of development people were agitating on the streets.  “I started questioning whether average growth rates mean anything.” he said “when compared to people’s basic needs.”

At this time he also noticed a tremendous disparity in basic human welfare and income between the people in East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh) and Pakistan. He realized that economic growth is not enough to direct one’s effort to eradicating poverty. His radical views on human centered development were finally recognized by Robert S. McNamara, who as the head of the World Bank gave the then 31-year-old Haq a position as the director of the new Policy Planning Commission at the World Bank.

“I worked closer to him than anyone else for the next 12 years,” said Haq.

Haq said,”I am convinced that developing countries have the resources for human development, it is a lack of political will that is responsible for human neglect.” In his book he highlights the need for halting capital flight from poor countries; combating corruption; reforming public enterprise; and restructuring debt payment.

On human security Haq writes, “We need today a new concept of human security reflected in the lives of the people, not in the weapons of their countries. Human security is not a concern with weapons. It is a concern with human dignity. In the last analysis, it is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed.”

Haq said, “It is far better to organize a permanent international peace corps in the UN than a police force. It is far better to move upstream and prevent a crises, as we could have done in Somalia, than to stand by passively and pick up the debris downstream, at a much greater cost, financially and in human lives.”

On free markets, Haq differs dramatically from the established point of view. He writes, “One important point: markets are not very friendly to the poor, to the weak or to the vulnerable, either nationally or internationally. Nor are markets free. They are often the handmaidens of powerful interest groups, and they are greatly affected by the prevailing distribution of income.”

On the Bretton Woods institutions he writes, “Since their dramatic marginalization, the Bretton-Woods institutions have had almost no role in the industrial nations or in the global economy. They only police the developing world. That is a sad decline, for they constituted a remarkable initiative on behalf of mankind. They need to be reformed rather than allowed to die.” Haq has a blue print for reform of the institutions in the book.

Haq concludes on an optimistic note, “Many nations are beginning to recognize that their real security lies in investing in their people rather than in arms. The traditional North-South divide is giving way to a more mature partnership. In this milieu, we can sing of the dawning of a new human age, guided by a new vision of  human progress—the central theme of this book. At least, such a human vision should be our guiding star and our sincere endeavor. For human destiny is a choice not a chance.”

Mahbub ul Haq will soon be leaving his post at UNDP to return to his native Pakistan to establish a Human Development Center in Islamabad. Pakistan’s gain will be the UN’s loss. There just aren’t enough intellectual giants like him at Turtle Bay. Surely the UN can find a way to keep consulting with him.

This book represents the distilled wisdom of a remarkable life devoted to the alleviation of poverty. It is highly recommended for both professionals and general audiences.