New report shows steady progress on Human Development for Pacific Island states

SUVA, 27 SEPTEMBER 2018 (UNDP) – Fiji, Palau, Samoa, and Tonga remain in the High Human Development category of the latest Human Development Index (HDI) and are joined by the Republic of Marshall Islands which is included in the index for the first time.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are rated as Low Human Development on the HDI’s measurement of national achievements in health, education and income, released this month by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The ‘Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update’ covers 189 countries, including 10 Pacific Island Countries, the largest number of countries in the Pacific region featured to date. The Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Vanuatu are classified as Medium Human Development. Five of the 10 Pacific countries achieved above average for small island developing states (SIDS), while two are above average for the East Asia-Pacific region.

Movements in HDI are driven by changes in health, education and income. Despite continued steady progress for most Pacific countries, there was little movement in the rankings for Pacific countries; Fiji gaining a place while Palau, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu effectively have lost one. Such changes in ranking do not always represent significant shifts in individual countries’ HDI performance and can be influenced by relative performance of other countries featured on in the report.

Per capita national income, adjusted for local cost of living, ranges from US$1,872 in the Solomon Islands to US$12,831 in Palau, with an average of US$5,289. This compares to an average of US$7,721 for SIDS worldwide.

Mirroring progress made globally, the Pacific has made good progress in closing gender gaps in education. In four of the six Pacific Island Countries for which data is available, expected years of schooling for females is greater than males. However, the Pacific Island Countries continue to have very few female Parliamentarians. Fiji, having the highest share at 16 percent among the Pacific Island Countries featured in the report, falls well below the average for SIDS or for East Asia and the Pacific.

“The report highlights that a key source of inequality within countries is the gap in opportunities, achievements and empowerment between women and men. Worldwide, the average HDI for women is six percent lower than for men, due to women’s lower income and educational attainment in many countries,” said Bakhodir Burkhanov, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Country Director and Head of Pacific Regional Policy and Programme.

“Although there has been a commendable progress in the number of girls attending school, there remain big differences between other key aspects of men and women’s lives. Women’s empowerment remains a challenge,” he added.

Life expectancy at birth ranges from 65.7 years of age in Papua New Guinea (a substantial increase from the 62.8 years reported in the 2016 HDI report), to 75.2 years in Samoa (up from 73.7 in 2016). However, malnutrition continues to be a major challenge amongst the lower Human Development Pacific countries.

Recent literacy rates are only available for some Pacific countries with high Human Development, but those reported compare favorably with the average for East Asia and the Pacific – for adults, young women, and young men – as they did in the 2016 HDI Report.

Securing enough decent work continues to be a challenge for countries across the region, with a particularly low labor force participation rate in Samoa. However, official unemployment rates remain low where available, especially for Low Human Development countries in the region, averaging 4.3 percent compared to 6.3 percent for all SIDS.

“According to the report, most people today live longer, are more educated and have more access to goods and services than ever before. But living longer does not automatically mean more years spent enjoying life. For example, healthy life expectancy for countries of very high human development is approximately 70 years, whereas for countries of low human development it is approximately 53 years,” said Burkhanov.

“In education, being in school longer does not automatically translate into equivalent capabilities and skills. So, shifting focus towards the quality of human development will be important in monitoring future progress.”

The ‘Human Development Indices and Indicators: 2018 Statistical Update’ is the product of the Human Development Report Office (HDRO) at UNDP. The composite indices, indicators and data of the Update are those of the HDRO alone and cannot be attributed to UNDP or to its Executive Board. The UN General Assembly has officially recognized the Human Development Report as “an independent intellectual exercise” that has become “an important tool for raising awareness about human development around the world.”

Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland and Germany lead the ranking of 189 countries and territories, while Niger, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Chad and Burundi have the lowest scores in the HDI’s measurement of national achievements.

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