Cuba Bumped from Human Development Index over Missing Data

Thalif Deen

Inside a Cuban "guagua" (bus) Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 20 (IPS) — When the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) formulates its annual Human Development Index (HDI), it uses several socioeconomic indicators – including life expectancy, gross national income and literacy – to rank member states and also measure quality of life in these countries.

But a nation widely singled out for its positive achievements in education, health care and life expectancy has been left out of the index, complains Ambassador Pedro Nunez Mosquera, Cuba’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

“My country has disappeared, as if it did not exist any longer,” he told a closed-door meeting of the 130-member Group of 77 (G-77) developing countries early this week.

The ambassador has lodged a protest over the omission of his country from the HDI 2010 released late last year and plans to raise the issue at the next meeting of the UNDP’s executive board later this month.

Addressing delegates at an ambassadorial meeting of the G- 77, the largest single economic grouping at the United Nations, the Cuban envoy said the infant mortality rate in Cuba is 5.2 per thousand and illiteracy has been eradicated.

But still, Cuba does not exist in the eyes of those who compile the HDI, he told delegates Tuesday.

When Cuba inquired about this omission, he said, he was told his country was left out for “technical reasons”.

Cuba was told there are “problems” in measuring Cuba’s gross national income in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) which is usually compiled by the World Bank.

“But because of the (49-year-old U.S.) blockade, the World Bank has excluded Cuba. I think this is something we have to deplore,” he said.

Asked for a response, William Orme of the UNDP’s Human Development Report Office told IPS that, “No one wants Cuba in the HDI more than we do.”

“The index is our flagship product, and the goal is always for maximum inclusion,” he said.

Problems with income data

Explaining the lapse, Orme said Cuba was omitted from the 2010 HDI due to the absence of current internationally reported data for one of the three required indicators: health, education and income (which are used to calculate the composite HDI value, which in turn determines a country’s HDI ranking.)

Looking to the sky. Photo: Caridad

The missing indicator for Cuba was for income, he said, pointing out that there is no internationally reported figure for Cuba’s Gross National Income adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (GNI-PPP): the figure used for all countries for the income component of the HDI, and which is normally provided by the World Bank and/or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Unofficial estimates of GNI-PPP, Orme said, were considered unreliable by the statisticians and economists at the Human Development Report Office, and the U.N. Statistical Commission has advised against the use of such imputed – as opposed to officially reported – figures as human development indicators for HDI calculation purposes.

Ambassador Mosquera said “hopefully the human development office which works under the aegis of UNDP but is independent should abide by (the relevant) resolution of the General Assembly which states they should consult with member states.”

Cuba says it wasn’t consulted

“Cuba was not consulted. Cuba was placed on the index and then disappeared due to a technical error,” he added.

In all, 169 countries and territories were included in the 2010 HDI. But 25 U.N. member states and U.N.-recognised territories, including Bhutan, Samoa, Tuvalu, and Palau, were not included, due to various data gaps. Of those, 13, including Cuba, had been included in the 2009 HDI.

Cuba’s life expectancy is 79 years, with an average of 17.7 for “expected years of schooling”, according to some of the figures published in the 2010 HD report.

In comparison, the life expectancy in the United States (ranked fourth in the HDI) is 79.6 and expected years of schooling 15.7.

Cuba is now and has long been one of the highest achievers in health and education, the two non-income categories of human development, as discussed in a newly published article by HDR research director Francisco Rodriguez on the HDR website feature ‘Let’s Talk HD.’

The HDI is an integral part of the annual Human Development Report commissioned by UNDP and which, according to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, “relies heavily on knowledge and insights from sister U.N. agencies, national governments and hundreds of scholars from around the world.”

In the 2010 report, which also commemorates the 20th anniversary of the HDR, Clark says “UNDP can take appropriate pride in its backing of this intellectually independent and innovative report for the past two decades.”

But she admits the HDRs “have never been a UNDP product alone”, pointing out that “we can and should continue to be guided by the HDRs values and findings for the next 20 years – and beyond.”

The countries with “very high human development” in 2010 include Norway, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Ireland.

In explaining it further, Orme told IPS the HDR strives every year to include as many countries as possible in its annual Index and “greatly regrets Cuba’s absence from the list this year, as UNDP has expressed to Cuba’s U.N. representatives”.

UNDP is not itself a source or generator of national or international income data or other human development statistics, however.

The hope and expectation is that Cuba can once again be included in the HDI once new statistical reporting on income from the Cuban government is obtained by the relevant international institutions in the field, Orme said.