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Human Development Index: Pakistan falls

The UNDP Global Human Development Report for 2021-22 was released on the 8th of September. In the Human Development Index (HDI) ranking of 189 countries, Pakistan has slipped badly. It has fallen from the 154th position in 2020 to the 161st position in 2021. In 2020 it was grouped in countries with a medium level of human development. Now it has been placed in countries with a low level of human development. This is bound to adversely affect perceptions of Pakistan, including these of international investors.

The rankings in the HDI of South Asian Countries are given in Table 1.


Table 1


HDI Ranking of South Asian Countries,

2020 and 2021


Countries 2020 2021

Ranking HDI Value Level* Ranking HDI Value Level


Sri Lanka 72 0.780 H 73 0.783 H

India 131 0.642 M 132 0.633 M

Bangladesh 133 0.655 M 129 0.661 M

Nepal 142 0.604 M 143 0.602 M

Pakistan 154 0.543 M 161 0.544 L


Source: UNDP, Global HDR, 2021-22 H=High, M=Medium, L=Low


Table 1 is very revealing in nature. Pakistan has the lowest HDI ranking among South Asian countries, even below Bangladesh and Nepal, two countries in the category of least developed countries.

The difference in the HDI values from 2020 to 2021 reflects especially the impact of COVID-19. It is at least reassuring to note that Pakistan has not seen decline in HDI. India has seen the biggest decline in its HDI of almost 2 percent followed by Nepal. Bangladesh has managed the biggest improvement in the HDI of 1 percent. Sri Lanka and Pakistan have experienced marginal increases in the HDI.

A long-term comparison can be made of the evolution of the HDI at the country level from 1990 to 2021. This is done in Table 2.


Table 2


HDI in 1990 and 2021


1990 2021 Cumulative Growth



Sri Lanka 0.629 0.782 24.3

India 0.429 0.633 47.6

Pakistan 0.402 0.544 35.3

Bangladesh 0.394 0.661 67.8

Nepal 0.387 0.602 50.0


Source: UNDP, Global HDR, 2021-22


According to Table 2, Pakistan had a higher HDI than Bangladesh and Nepal in 1990. However, these countries are now ahead of Pakistan because of the faster cumulative growth in their HDI from 1990 to 2021.

The spectacular success of Bangladesh in improving the level of human development of its people must be recognized. Among the five South Asian countries it has achieved the fastest cumulative growth in HDI of 68 percent between 1990 and 2021 and now has a HDI even higher than India’s.

What explains the lower level of HDI of Pakistan? The HDI has three equal components, namely, per capita income, health and education. Health is measured by the life expectancy and education by mean years of schooling of the adult population.

The magnitude of these three variables in 2021 in each South Asian country is given in Table 3.


Table 3


Magnitude of Human Development Indicators – 2021


Per Capita Income Life Expectancy Mean Years of

2017 (PPP $) (Years) Schooling (Years)


Sri Lanka 12,578 78.5 10.8

India 6,590 67.2 6.7

Bangladesh 5,472 72.4 7.4

Nepal 3,877 68.4 5.1

Pakistan 4,624 66.1 4.5


Source: UNDP, Global HDR, 2021-22


Table 3 indicates that among the five South Asian countries, Pakistan has the lowest magnitude in life expectancy and mean years of education. The gap is very large in the latter case. With regard to per capita income, Pakistan has a higher magnitude than one other country, Nepal.

The fact that Pakistan has fallen behind even Nepal and Bangladesh is a source of great sadness. We were ahead of these countries three decades ago. We have faltered since then because of the underinvestment in our people. Expenditures on health and education have been relatively low. In fact, Pakistan is the only country in the region where the expenditure on defence is higher than the combined expenditure on health and education.

The tragedy is that Pakistan is in the grips of a financial crisis. Sri Lanka has already defaulted on its external payment obligations. In years to come, India, Bangladesh and Nepal are likely to continue showing a better performance in raising the HDI.

Dr Hafiz A Pasha, "Human Development Index: Pakistan falls," Business recorder. 2022-09-20.
Keywords: Political sciences , Cumulative growth , Capita income , Human development , Pakistan , India , Sri Lanka , Bangladesh , Nepal , UNDP , HDI , HDR , PPP

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