Human Development Index- happiness and poverty!

What should constitute a more representative Human Development Index?

Who is better and whom do we, or should we, rate having better quality of life: a poor woman in Kerala who can decide what to do with her life or a richer woman who is told what she can or cannot do by her husband or father?

Some of the world’s most respected economists, including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, World Bank chief economist Francois Bourguignon, WHO expert on violence indicators Alex Butchart and UN and International Labour Organisation head of statistics Francesca Perrucci and Sylvester Young, are helping in the world’s first concrete bid to measure individual happiness and well-being across countries and continents and to introduce a new measure of assessing poverty – in terms of happiness.

It is the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), a new economic research centre within the department of international development at Oxford University. Accordingly, Sabina Alkire, director, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), with the help of Amartya Sen, has designed a shortlist of questions on five topics radically to change the Human Development Index (HDI), the standard set of measures used by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to compare levels of development and the impact of economic policies for every country in the world. The five topics are: decent work; physical safety; empowerment; measure of shame; subjective humiliation. The questions could figure in the 2010 census worldwide if the benchmark International Household Survey network based in the World Bank agrees to the proposal.

According to Sabina Alkire, the move to introduce a Gross Well-being Index was to supplement the traditional international data on health, education, nutrition and income that would will help create a new measure of poverty. Thus, if dirt-poor people in the developing world display a general sense of well-being, international surveys would henceforth record their ‘wealth’ of happiness alongside their material poverty.

Alkire’s research in Kerala lasted from November 2005 to April 2006, and included destitute, non-destitute and “recentlypoor” women (those who were lifted out of dire straits by micro-credit). According to her, the Indian data was important in the creation of the new happiness and well-being index. “The Kerala study shows that there is a great range of empowerment. It was the first time we were looking at psychological indicators of empowerment. I found that the women felt very empowered as housewives and the sense of well-being was high.”

Bolivia may soon become the first country in the world to include questions on well-being in its census along the lines of OPHI’s proposed internationally comparable indicators. Will India follow? Perhaps, it can provide a measure that PM was referring to while addressing the CEOs of India Inc. in CII meet.

However, the main concern is very genuine, as the trickle down effect of even a higher GDP growth is not getting down to the people at the bottom of the pyramid that is essential for social harmony and continuity of the growth.

President Kalam wrote in ‘Outlook Business’, May 5, 2007 issue. He writes:

GDP is growing nearly 9% per annum and more. However, economic growth is not fully reflected in the quality of life of a large number of people, particularly in rural areas and even in urban areas. Kalam talked of a “National Prosperity Index (NPI)” that is a summation of (a) annual growth rate of GDP, plus (b) improvement in quality of life of the people, particularly of those living below the poverty line plus(c) the adoption of a value system derived from our civilisational heritage in every walk of life which is unique to India. That is NPI=a+b+c. Particularly, ‘b’ is a function of availability of housing, good water, nutrition, proper sanitation, quality education, quality health care and employment potential. ‘c’ is a function of promoting the joint family system, creation of a spirit of working together, leading a righteous way of life, removing social inequities, and above all promoting a conflict free, harmonious society.

Ultimately, the idea is to create a society where one can see a smile on the face of everyone, using whatever index we use.

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