Only reforms can raise Ukraine’s human development index

13 Apr 2017

  With a Human Development Index of 0.743, Ukraine is now at the 84th place out of 188 countries and territories – down from the 81th place in 2015. This reflects reality in a country which has an armed conflict on its territory and is struggling to modernize its economic, political and social institutions.

Originally published in Ekonomichna pravda on 13 April 2017

Last week, UNDP Ukraine presented the Human Development Report 2016. The good news is that Ukraine remains among the “high development countries,” with some improvements like increase of longevity or time spent in education. The bad news is that Ukraine’s human development ranking downgraded, and is now one of the lowest in the region, and overall in Europe. With a Human Development Index of 0.743, Ukraine is now at the 84th place out of 188 countries and territories – down from the 81th place in 2015. This reflects reality in a country which has an armed conflict on its territory and is struggling to modernize its economic, political and social institutions. But what is even more important, the report reconfirms that there is no way back in reforms. Any further delay to address the problems of the country will only deteriorate living conditions for Ukrainians.

The Human Development Report is like a photo of a person, or using a better metaphor, a body’s X-ray.  It gives a picture that can help establish a diagnosis and identify a cure – with an emphasis on the “human” aspects. The story of this report began in 1990 with a simple, yet powerful idea: that people are the real wealth of nations. Human development is about putting people at the center of development.

Each global report is accompanied by a Human Development Index, which combines indicators for income, education, and health status to give a more balanced picture of progress than measuring GDP per capita alone can. The HDI is a summary measure for assessing progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living. A long and healthy life is measured by life expectancy at birth. Knowledge level is measured by mean years of education among the adult population, which is the average number of years of education received in a life-time by people aged 25 years and older; and access to learning and knowledge by expected years of schooling for children of school-entry age, which is the total number of years of schooling a child of school-entry age can expect to receive if prevailing patterns of age-specific enrolment rates stay the same throughout the child's life. The standard of living is measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita expressed in constant 2011 international dollars, converted using purchasing power parity (PPP) conversion rates.

Both quantitative and qualitative data were used for the analysis. The result shows where different countries stand in their development, achievements and shortcomings and, most important, which problems demand urgent actions.

The key conclusion of this year report is that in almost every country, certain groups are more disadvantaged than others. These include women and girls, rural populations, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, older people, and LGBTI communities. The disadvantage they face is multidimensional. Those born into disadvantaged families are more likely to suffer disadvantage themselves throughout the life cycle. In some countries, a husband’s permission is still required for a wife to work. In around 100 countries, including Ukraine, women are denied access to certain jobs simply because they are women.

But obviously for Ukrainians the most disappointing results from the report lies in the part related to standards of living. While Ukraine’s HDI total value increased by 5.2 percent (from 0.706 to 0.743), between 1990 and 2015, GNI is now lower than when HDR was launched. Between 1990 and 2015, Ukraine’s life expectancy at birth increased by 1.3 years, expected years of schooling increased by 2.9 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.2 years, but Ukraine’s GNI per capita decreased by about 31.9 percent. The figure below shows that in no single direction Ukraine has deteriorated so dramatically as in GNI.

This element remains the most striking when we compare Ukraine with other countries in the region (and Turkey).  While in other areas Ukraine is ranking approximately the same (or better) than other countries of similar size and development level, it is its GNI which differs the most.


Thus, while countries with similar conditions and difficulties as Ukraine have somehow gone ahead and step by step increased their HDI, Ukraine’s human development potential is still untapped, and the gap with other countries both east and west, remains.

While recognizing the importance of all the other elements of the human development index, it is economic development and fair distribution of wealth in society which hold the biggest potential for the increase of Ukraine human development rating. And what to do in this respect is well known: Ukraine needs a sound investment climate, an honest judiciary, a real fight against corruption and other reforms as spelled out by many international partners and included in the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Bold, human-centered reforms represent the only recipe for Ukraine to make progress in its human development. The UN system in Ukraine is making its utmost to help Ukraine in this area, for example fostering local development in communities through UNDP’s EU-funded community based approach programme, and supporting small business through grant programs in the East of Ukraine and for IDPs.

Our report includes a set of calls for action for national policy makers. It is important to ensure that policies and programs which promote human development are designed for and reach everyone, including those who have been left behind. If human development for everyone is to be realized, all groups must be represented at the table when national priorities are being set. It is only through hearing all voices that development can progress and touch on everybody’s life.

To conclude, I want to emphasize the optimism of this report. Human development for everyone is not a dream, it is attainable. The 2030 Agenda, which Ukraine has signed for together with the rest of the world leaders, provides commitment at the global level to leave no one behind. Progress in all the areas indicated by the Sustainable Development Goals, through deep and systemic reforms, will inevitably lead to increase of Ukraine human development level.

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