A Government minister is warning that the bitter medicine needed to heal Barbados’ ailing economy could erode its leading position in the Caribbean in terms of the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index.
The Human Development Report 2016, which was released at UN House yesterday, placed Barbados first in the region at 54 out of 188 countries – the same position as in the 2015 report.
Overall, Norway ranked first for the highest human development, while the Central African Republic was placed at the bottom of the global scale, with the Bahamas ranked at 58, Antigua and Barbuda 62, Cuba 68, Grenada 79, St Lucia at 92 and Jamaica at 94.
However, while agreeing that further progress was needed, Minister of Labour and Social Security Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, who is also a medical doctor, cautioned that the needed corrective economic remedy could negatively affect the island’s social standing.
“Our development is not just about the economy but to also ensure that the society develops as well and it is also why we have articulated four pillars of our development, ensuring those four pillars – that Barbados is socially balanced, economically viable, environmentally sound and characterized by good governance. So all of that speaks to the multi-dimensional nature of the progress that we want to see,” she said.
“It is not just enough to talk about taking the bitter medicine – the harsh cuts in Government spending that many are prescribing for us – because that medicine may not only be bitter, but indeed it can be poisonous. If it improves our deficit but decimates the quality of lives, jobs, health, education, sanitation and other services at the same time, so it is one thing to talk about taking the harsh cuts, let’s see the budget balance, but we also have to ensure that our people’s lives that are being affected that we take that into consideration,” she said.
Byer-Suckoo said the island’s current ranking proved that tough decisions in favour of human development were made over the years, even if it delayed the needed fiscal improvements.
The Government spokeswoman assured that the Freundel Stuart administration remained keen on providing employment opportunities, access to clean water and sanitation, education development, transportation and other services. However, she agreed that progress was uneven, human deprivation still widespread and that much human potential remained untapped.
Also taking part in yesterday’s launch, Neisha Cave, an economist at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology, highlighted a shortage of data and critical research needed to assist in human development.
Representative of the Barbados National Organization of the Disabled Sean Cooke also zeroed in on the challenges facing the disabled community, while agreeing with other officials to the need for greater communication among all stakeholders.
Presenting this year’s Human Development Report, Stephen O’Malley said while there was “steady” improvement over the years, there was the need for Barbados to brush up in a number of areas, including its measurement and analysis of data so that it could better determine who was being left behind and why.
“Moreover we need to look beyond quantity to the quality of development. Just because a child attends school does not mean they are getting a decent education,” O’Malley cautioned.
He also called for more opportunities for disadvantaged members of society and for greater focus by policymakers on measures to ensure resilience against natural disasters, which he said stood to wipe out years of economic and social gains.
“If you look at the data you would see a flattening out of that progress over the last decade and that is for reasons that everybody understands. While life expectancy has gone up, the amount of time in school has also gone up, the income tended to be flat. Those are the three things we use to build the index,” he said.