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Jul 29, 2002

UNDP report: Democracy crucial to development

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It has been viewed as a quick scorecard that some nations use to claim bragging rights and others prefer to ignore. But the latest UNDP publication–as Ann-Marie discovered–is more than just a measure of who’s ahead.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting

The United Nations Development Programme has released its 2002 Human Development report premised on “Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World.” The reports pays particular attention to the Human Development Index of one hundred and seventy-three world countries, measuring life expectancy, education and living standards.

According to Dylan Vernon, UNDP’s Assistant Resident Representative, in order to have sustained poverty reduction, poor people must have more political power.

Dylan Vernon, Assistant Resident Rep., UNDP

“It uses for the education part, both literacy and enrolment in schools. And for the standard of living part, per capita income. And also for the health, life expectancy. And it does then a combination of all these to come up with an index. Belize this year in 2002 is ranked at fifty-eight among one hundred and seventy-three countries, which places us in the medium category.”

Ann-Marie Williams

“Falling down a couple notches since last year.”

Dylan Vernon

“Yes, the rank last year, 2001, was fifty-four, so yes, Belize has in rank fallen. But if you take a look at the index, the index has actually improved, which means that other countries have improved at a greater level then Belize.”

Compared with the rest of Central America, Belize ranks higher than all but two of its neighbours; Costa Rica at forty-three and Panama at fifty-seven. Barbados has been able to maintain its high index of thirty-one, a position Vernon says is no accident.

Dylan Vernon

“They have one of the highest social sector spending budgets in the region among developing countries. So taking a page from Barbados would certainly be useful.”

What would certainly be useful is for Belize to improve its Gender Empowerment Measure from where it currently stands, forty-five out of one hundred and seventy-three. GEM measures gender inequality in three basic dimensions of empowerment: economic participation and decision making, along with political participation and power over economic resources.

Dylan Vernon

“However, the area that we’re weak in compared to the rest of the world is the participation of women in the decision making index. Particularly participation in the House and the Senate. Belize is about thirteen percent, and the average for the world is fourteen percent, so we’re a bit below in that area. Barbados, which again is ranking high in these areas, is near to twenty percent. So certainly that is showing a very weak area that Belize, the nation needs to improve on. Increasing the participation of women in decision making.”

Although the report explicitly states that a free press and judiciary are essential to democratic governance, a growing number of Belizeans still feel they’re living in an unjust society.

Dylan Vernon

“Part of the problem could be because people do not feel that they participate sufficiently. And when they participate they do not feel that it is meaningful. So that could explain so apathetic feeling that people have.”

And when people decide to convert their apathy to action, democracy may indeed be deepened in Belize and elsewhere. Ann-Marie Williams for News 5.

Copies of UNDP’s Human Development Report 2002 will be on sale at UNDP’s Belmopan office in a couple of weeks.

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