Human Development Report 2015 – A Mixed Bag for Barbados and the Caribbean

Alicia Nicholls

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released its Human Development Report 2015 yesterday. Entitled “Work for Human Development”, this year’s report focuses on the link between work and human development.  The central thrust of the Report is that work (not limited to a job or employment but in the broadest sense) can enhance human development. However, the link between income and human development is not automatic. While sustainable work can contribute to human development, some types of work (such as work which violates human rights) are detrimental to human development.

The Human Development Index 2015, the Report’s flagship index, ranks 188 countries based on a range of human development indicators. Norway again topped the HDI rankings with an HDI value of 0.944, followed by Australia, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands which retained their top 5 positions in the same order as in 2013. Niger was the lowest ranked country with an HDI of 0.348.

Caribbean Performance 

Caribbean countries continue to have a high level of human development. However, their performance in the 2014 HDI rankings was mixed. Barbados, Jamaica, Cuba, Dominica, Haiti and Suriname declined slightly from their 2013 rankings. The Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia and Guyana maintained their positions. Only four countries: Dominican Republic, St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada and St. Vincent & the Grenadines improved their ranking. The biggest improver was Grenada which jumped from 82nd position in 2013 to 79th position in 2014, with improvements in life expectancy at birth and mean and expected years of schooling.

Countries on the HDI are classified by development level into one of the following categories: very high human development, high human development, medium human development or low human development. The majority of Caribbean countries are ranked as having high human development.

The Bahamas has the highest level of human development in the Caribbean, maintaining its 55th place overall and increasing in HDI value from 0.786 in 2013 to 0.790 in 2014. Barbados has the second highest human development level in the Caribbean, dropping one place from 56 in 2014 to 57 in 2015 but maintaining an HDI of 0.785.

The other Caribbean islands included in the High Human Development rank were: Antigua & Barbuda (58), Trinidad & Tobago (64), Cuba (67), Saint Kitts & Nevis (77), Grenada (79), Saint Lucia (89), Dominica (94), Saint Vincent & the Grenadines (97), Jamaica (99), Belize (101), Dominican Republic (101) and Suriname (103).

Guyana which ranked at 124 is the only Caribbean country ranked in the Medium Human Development category. Haiti was the lowest ranked Caribbean country with a rank of 163 and an HDI value of 0.483. It is the only Caribbean country in the Low Human Development category.

When compared to the HDI values of SIDS on average (0.660) and the average world HDI of 0.711, the performances of the Bahamas, Barbados and Antigua & Barbuda are especially commendable.

Room for Improvement

However, Caribbean countries should not take their rankings at face value as a reason for complacency. Drilling down into the HDI indicators and in the other indices comprising the report, there are several areas of concern and where improvement is needed. HIV prevalence among adults remains high in the region compared to other SIDS and the world. The Report also reaffirms the high vulnerability of Caribbean populations to natural disasters.

Another worrying statistic is the high prison population per 100,000. Saint Kitts & Nevis had the highest per capita prison population in the region with 714 prisoners per 100,000. Crime is also an area for concern. For the period 2008-2012 Belize had the highest homicide rate among CARICOM countries, with 44.7 homicides per 100,000. Violence against women also raises concern. For Barbados and Jamaica, two of the handful of Caribbean states for which this  data was available, 30 per cent and 35 per cent of women (15 years and over) respectively have experienced intimate or intimate partner violence.

Many Caribbean countries are seeing declining private capital inflows as a percentage of GDP and have also seen a decrease in their GNI per capita. Barbados’ GNI per capita decreased by about 0.8 per cent between 1980 and 2014. Jamaica’s decreased by about 32.5 percent during the same period. On the contrary, Grenada’s GNI per capita increased by about 124.6 per cent.

Another area for improvement is in gender equality. Despite females in Barbados having a higher level of human development than males due to their higher life expectancy at birth, longer expected years of schooling and mean years of schooling for females, GNI per capita is much higher for males (10,407 for females and 14,739 for males).  Moreover, while a higher percentage of Barbadian women than men have at least a secondary level education, women have a lower participation in the workforce and make up only 19.6% of seats in Parliament. Therefore, despite a ranking of 57 on the HDI, Barbados ranks 69 out of 155 countries on the Report’s Gender Inequality Index. In comparison, the Bahamas is ranked at 55 on the HDR and  58 on the GII.

Maternal mortality ratios in the Region remain a cause for concern. Haiti’s rate is 380 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Though much lower than Haiti’s, Trinidad & Tobago’s maternal mortality ratio of 86 per 100,000 and Cuba and Jamaica’s of 80 per 100,000  are above the average rate for SIDS of 61.5 per 100,000 live births and above the average for high human develoment countries (41 per 100,000). Barbados’ ratio of 52 maternal deaths per 100,000 births is also worrying.

Youth unemployment is a growing problem globally and in the region exacerbated by the global recession of 2008 and the continuing uncertainty in the global economy. According to the HDR report, the global youth-to-adult unemployment ratio is at a historical peak and in 2015, 74 million young people (ages 15- 24) were unemployed. Youth unemployment data was not available for all Caribbean countries. However, the available data in the report is troubling. For example, according to the report, Trinidad & Tobago’s rate of youth (not employed or not in school) was 52.5%.

For too many indicators, there is lack of data available for Caribbean countries.  It is for this reason that we have no idea of how Caribbean countries would rank on the inequality-adjusted human development index which gives a truer measure of human development as it takes into account inequality. Lack of data makes it difficult to track progress.

Despite a mixed performance in 2014, the Caribbean Region continues to enjoy overall high levels of human development. However, there are several areas of concern which policymakers will have to target if our countries are to reach the ranks of “very high human development”.

The full Human Development Report 2015 may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. Please note that the views expressed in this article are solely hers. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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