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HDR 2019: To what extent are our countries prepared to be part and parcel of our future?

The UNDP has recently issued the Human Development Report 2019 (HDR) focusing on inequalities today’s “modern and advanced” world produces. Issues of global concern such as climate change make the future unfair to those who will live in the future.

The HDR 2019 provides a comprehensive picture of many inequalities that are shaping the 21st century. Today’s world remains deeply unfair. The life and prospects of a newly born in a poor country or household are radically different from those of wealthier children. In all societies, long standing forms of inequality persist while gaps are opening in new aspects of life. According to the 2019 HDR, “New inequalities are becoming more pronounced, particularly around tertiary education, and the seismic effects of technology and climate crisis.” The 2019 Human Development Report aims to measure countries’ socio economic progress in three dimensions — life expectancy, education and Gross National Income (GNI) per capita — to help the world prepare before it is too late.

UNDP’s Resident Representative, Mr. James Wakiaga, spoke to Eri-TV’s Open Mic about the HDR 2019 and where Eritrea stands based on his views. Q&A brings you a compilation of it.

  • Thank you for your time, Mr. Wakiaga. Before we go to the details of HDR 2019, let us start with an overview of your office and its mission in Eritrea.

Thank you. The work and partnership UNDP-Eritrea has with the Government of Eritrea is excellent. As you know UNDP is premiered development institution and here in Eritrea we are enjoying a good relationship as a partner of choice for the Government and People of Eritrea. We have engaged in several initiatives to foster the Government’s agenda in terms of a sustainable development and also to achieve agenda 2030.

  • What can you tell us about the recently issued Human Development Report 2019? What are its agendas and goals? And why does it revolve around the notion of “inequality”?

Correct. “Inequality” is the topic for the 2019 Human development report. It looks at inequalities present in the 21st century, looking beyond income averages and beyond today. The world we live in today has seen major transformative shifts. Shifts around climate change to technological change, which all have tremendous impact in terms of perpetuating inequality in the world. Therefore, we have to go beyond just looking at the GNI per capita and focus on socioeconomic and other processes that impact inequalities amongst societies of the world. Moreover, we have to look “beyond today”, because the generation of today don’t think about just today. They think about the future as well. For instance, the impact of climate change is, unfortunately, a burden to those who contribute less to it. Particularly, communities of Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries seem to bear the heaviest burden of climate change. We can see it in terms of change in rainfall pattern, the rise of see waters and so on, impacts that definitely influence the poverty level of several communities. And finally, speaking about technological changes, or better yet, artificial intelligence (AI) and how it affects the future of work. AI can contribute to better opportunities in terms of labor demand but it also has negative control of jobs. To what extent are our countries prepared to be part and parcel of such a future? This tends to create inequality. Generally, these are some of the issues that the report looks at deeply trying to see issues that we should start thinking about starting today, before it is late for us to address the challenge of inequalities.

  • How do you think this report will impact future policy making decisions?

The report is forward looking and it looks at the two seismic shifts in climate change and information technology which will have impact on inequalities in human development. There is a widening divide in access to emerging opportunities which wasn’t the case in the last century, and time has come for us to proffer policies that will address these inequalities.

  • What are the factors of analysis on which the report is based?

The human development concept index is based on three dimensions: health, with a focus on life expectancy, income as well as education. These dimensions were used to calculate the development index and then categorize countries as very high, medium and low on human development index. It was not enough to base the report solely on countries’ GNI per capita to judge if societies are doing well.

I am personally happy to say that there has been quite some progress in the Sub-Sharan Africa. Countries have been indeed making progress. If you look at Eritrea, for example, and we speak about life expectancy, it is over 64, which is way beyond the African average of 61. This shows investments that the country has been making to life betterment and health of its people are finally bearing fruit!

  • Let me now bring you to Eritrea. Now that we have the report, which areas do you think Eritrea needs to work on?

Based on the report, in terms of life expectancy, like I said before, Eritrea is exemplary in the continent. In the area of GNI per capita the current report indicates that there has been an increase of almost 90% between 1990 and today. Speaking of education, this is one area in which the indicator of long expected years of schooling and minimum years of schooling have not moved as speedily as the area of life expectancy.

  • Women, girls and gender equality are something the Eritrean community has graced for long. As a result, the contribution women have in the overall development is eminent. What note would you add to this end?

It is to commend Eritrea’s approach to women and girl’s empowerment and the central role women continue to play not only in politics but the whole spectrum of development of the country. We just had the 40th anniversary of the Union of Eritrean Women followed by the 16 days of gender activism, and I think that was very important in showcasing the role that women played not only in the liberation struggle for Eritrea but as women continued to contribute to the country’s development. I think there is a lot that other countries can learn from Eritrea in terms of women’s role centrality. Of course, there are still areas where we can continue to work together on universal issues that we’re all joining hands for. In fact, in the HDR we do have the Social Norm Index which looks at biases related to gender inequality.

  • As we approach the end of today’s Q&A, let me now bring you back to UNDP Eritrea. It has been almost 25 years since the UNDP office started operating in Eritrea. Any thoughts?

UNDP Eritrea is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary of its presence in Eritrea and we are very proud for the work we have done jointly with the people and government of Eritrea since 1993 when Eritrea had its referendum and UNDP was there supporting Eritrea and its people. That was definitely an important milestone in bringing back the dignity of the Eritrean people as nationals of a sovereign nation who enjoy their Independence. UNDP has enjoyed good relations with Eritrea. Like I said before, UNDP is a partner of choice for the People and Government of Eritrea.

  • Finally, Mr. Wakiaga, what is your take on Eritrea, not as a representative of your office but as an expat resident of Asmara?

Since my arrival in April, I have enjoyed the peace and tranquility in the city of Asmara, and it doesn’t have the kind of urban challenges faced by other cities such as traffic congestion and pollution. This is an opportunity for potential investors to take advantage and invest in Eritrea. UNDP could offer support in turning Asmara to a SMART city that is fully compliant to the principles of sustainable cities.

  • Thank you!

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