Tackling Inequality is Critical for Human Development – UNDP

Tackling Inequality is Critical for Human Development – UNDP
A view of heavy morning traffic at a road in Yangon. Photo: EPA

The latest report (2019) by the UNDP on Human Development, positions Myanmar at 145 out of 189 countries for which HDI is calculated for the year 2018. This is a marginal improvement in ranking when compared to 2014. At that time, Myanmar was at 148th position. However, going beyond comparison of rank – which often depends on methodologies and coverage - the significance of this result is that the Index of human development has improved over the years, from 0.536 in 2014 to 0.584 in 2018.  UNDP points out that, seen from a long-term trend, between 1990 and 2018, Myanmar’s HDI value has increased from 0.349 to 0.584, an increase of 67.2 per cent. Indeed, a significant achievement. Myanmar is now in the group of countries categorized as having ‘medium human development’.

What do these numbers indicate? How do’ we see the policy agenda for further improvement when we compare with countries like Norway, Finland, other Nordic countries and island nations like Singapore which stand at the top of the human development index.

Annual global comparisons of this nature, are meant to review the progress as well as to inspire countries and communities to move towards better human development policies and programs that benefit all population. The 2019 HDR released by UNDP addresses issues of inequalities in human development and identifies it as a major bottleneck for achieving 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Communities, especially the poor and marginalized are not able to reach their full potential due to inequalities within countries among different sections of people. It is not just about income or wealth inequalities, as HDR identifies, inequalities in human development especially information of capabilities of people that matters the most. per cent would mean that countries have to adopt ‘inclusive social policies’ that meets the needs and aspirations of the marginalized groups of society. Coupled with this are the environmental and climate change-induced inequalities that hurt the marginalized communities the most.

Human Development indicator

Value 2015

Value 2018

Life expectancy at birth (years)



Expected years of schooling (years)



Mean years of schooling (years)



Gross National Income (GNI per capita) 2011 PPP $



Human Development Index (value)



Myanmar has improved human development index (HDI) that consists of life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling and per capita gross national income. However, when adjusted to inequality, the value of the human development index for 2018 falls from 0.584 to 0.448.  What does this mean? It shows that inequalities among different sections of the population (income groups) in terms of progress of human development indicators affect the country’s overall score to the extent of over 23 per cent. Thus, policies that reduce income inequalities are good for everyone in terms of human development.  Is there a difference in HDI for male and female population of the country? HDR calculates it and finds that in 2018, HDI for females is 0.556 in contrast with 0.594 for males. This shows that a lot more is needed to do for addressing gender dimensions of human development, which most often arise from gender blind policies, in terms of access to public services. A linked dimension is gender inequality, in terms of opportunities for women in various indicators of human development including participation in the public sphere, education, reproductive health, empowerment, and economic opportunities including labour market participation and self-employment.  Gender inequality index (GII) results show significant gaps in human development among men and women.  According to the HDR, “In Myanmar, 10.2 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women, and 28.7 per cent of adult women have reached at least a secondary level of education compared to 22.3 per cent of their male counterparts. For every 100,000 live births, 178.0 women die from pregnancy-related causes; and the adolescent birth rate is 28.5 births per 1,000 women of ages 15-19. Female participation in the labour market is 47.7 per cent compared to 77.3 for men”.

HDR 2019 also provides in-depth analysis of various dimensions of human development by presenting results which can help policymakers to take stock of the situation and identify policy options. It urges countries to accommodate concerns of inequalities while formulating policies. ‘The Human development lens is central to approaching inequality and asking why it matters, how it manifests itself and how best to tackle it’.

It is important that this central message is carried across different policymaking apparatus of the country so that harmonized and ‘inequality’ sensitive economic policies are formulated. The role of development partners and advisors is critical in supporting such policies and programs.