03 November 2011

TL unchanged in 2011 UNDP Human Development Index

On 2 November, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released their 2011 Human Development Report, entitled “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All.” In addition to the thematic discussion and data on health, education, gender, economics and other factors, the UNDP calculates a “Human Development Index” (HDI) for each country. The HDI combines life expectancy, education (school enrollment) and gross national income (GNI) to produce a composite measure of human development.

The 2011 HDI for Timor-Leste is 0.495, which attempts to describe the situation here in 2009, and gives Timor-Leste a rank lower than 147 out of 187 countries with data. This is essentially the same as last year, when a score of 0.491 produced the same rank. Comparing HDI scores from different years is challenging, as UNDP often changes the methodology used to calculate them, as shown in the above graph and explained on La'o Hamutuk's website.

Unfortunately, reliable statistical data on this country is hard to get, and the 2010 census results were released too late to use them. Similarly, economists have to depend on projections from 2007 until the living standards survey currently in process is published in 2012. Even more problematic, the HDI for Timor-Leste still uses 2001 information about expected years of schooling; rendering the education component of HDI meaningless for analysis over time.The health component of Timor-Leste's HDI -- life expectancy -- is extrapolated from the 2004 census, and therefore doesn't reflect events during the past seven years. Timor-Leste's HDI essentially represents oil and gas revenues -- increasing as production ramped up in 2005-2008, and declining as inflation erodes purchasing power in recent years.

La'o Hamutuk is concerned about the attention given to numbers generated by flawed methodologies, as well as with politically-motivated boasts and attacks which often defy credibility. We know that Timor-Leste has many people in poverty, that we are still nearly entirely dependent on imports, and that local economic and agricultural production is far below where it should be. Looking around, we see unacceptable levels of education and health care and a budget which prioritizes physical infrastructure over human development.

Our only producing oil and gas fields will run dry in 12 years, and we don't need numbers to understand what that means. Petroleum income pays for 90% of the state budget, which is growing faster than every country except Zimbabwe.

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