The latest Human Development Report 2021-22 aptly titled, " Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping Our Future in a Transforming World" launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on September 8 last makes a disconcerting read. For the first time in its 32 years history, the Human Development Index (HDI) has declined globally for two consecutive years. The message is grave indeed as nations' health, education and living standard that the HDI takes a measure of indicates a retrogressive journey. Not all countries have fallen back but nine out of 10 have, putting in jeopardy the attainment of sustainable development goals (SDGs).
In the UNDP's reckoning, 90 per cent of the UN members suffered HDI reversal either in 2020 or 2021 and 40 per cent had met with such setbacks in both years. The human development progress globally has gone back to the 2016 level, negating much of the gains achieved earlier in terms of SDGs. At a time when countries were on course of recovering from the Covid-19 shock, first the energy price hike and then the Ukraine-Russia war came as a double whammy to upset the pace of recovery. What is particularly worrying is the selfish mentality of using exportable fossil fuels, natural resources and technologies as weapons of profit by nations boasting such assets and advantages.
Solidarity of nations has become a casualty on the altar of self-seeking gains. Inequalities and disparities are blatantly widening to the woes of nations in the back row and to almost sadistic pleasure of the gainers. The planet is getting polarised on multiple lines of division and discrimination such as political, societal, gender, capability of response to emergencies arising out of climate change-induced calamities or disastrous human acts. Even the space for liberal economic, trade, investment and commercial policies is shrinking fast on account of rivalries among big players.
All this is making matters worse for recovery of nations on low trajectory of economic progress. Most nations may have to struggle even more if the Russia-Ukraine war prolongs and the issue of shift to renewable energy ignored and dependence on fossil fuels goes up in order to avoid increased expenditure on research and shift to green technology. Also, the self-centred mindset is becoming so pervasive at all levels ---individual, community and international ---that the concept of caring, let alone welfare, society is taking a back seat. In post-Covid recovery time, the element of human compassion and support system could be the lifeline for those millions who have lost all means of survival.
True, Bangladesh has been a consistent performer in HDI score for over a couple of decades, particularly in the last few years. With the current HDI value of 0.661, it ranks at 129 among 191 countries and finds itself placed in the group of the medium human development. The country's value is better than the regional value of 0.632. Yet it must be acknowledged that the country lags behind two-thirds of the nations and has a long way to go before it can elevate its position to the list of top 100 countries on this score.
However, wealth creation and improvement in HDI index may have contrasting pictures in the absence of disproportionate equation between the two. With less wealth creation, some nations can ensure social and economic justice at a reasonable level and with much higher accumulation of national wealth, some other nations may fail to improve people's right to health, education and living standard. This happens because wealth gets concentrated in few hands at the deprivation of the majority. In case of the HDI value, this is the case for Bangladesh as its HDI value plummets to 0.503, a loss of 23.9 per cent from its original value, if considered in the perspective of existing inequality and level of sustainability.
So, the message is loud and clear: there is an overriding need for readjustment in the development strategy favouring more investment in human capital. So far as national development programmes are concerned, individual humans not numbers, should be at the centre of policies and strategies. The challenge is to turn the self-promoting production and commercial ventures into instrument of sharing benefits rationally and equitably. Unfortunately, the present trend defies all sets of ethical, moral and commercial values in order to maximise profits. In the name of costlier import of raw materials and means of production, price manipulation has become a way of trade and commerce.
No one is ready to admit that lower margin of profits can keep businesses going all the same, although it does not allow expansion of the ventures. It was logical to limit profits to the minimum in this turbulent time in consideration of the reversals suffered by low-income people. This calls for public-private cooperation at its closest. Since the big businesses have become the greatest beneficiaries of the government largesse in the form of stimulus package, they could share benefits with the workers. At the same time, the government could find an effective way to support the needy with allowances in cash and kind. This would have enhanced the purchasing capacity of the majority ---a sure way of businesses running full throttle.