Human development (2012)


Viewed regionally, the HDI (Human Development Index: a composite measurement based on health, education and economy) for the states of the Caribbean is above the world average. Only seven countries find themselves below the average of 0.693 in 2012, amongst whom one is very close: Suriname. The most worrying situation is that of Haiti, with an index 34% lower than the world average.



Separate analysis of the constituent measures of the HDI allows a better understanding of the overall regional position. Everywhere the dichotomy "Weak GDP-GNI/Good levels of education and health" are observed. The weakness of the former must be seen in the context of economies often lacking dynamism, an agricultural sector, both over-manned and poorly developed technologically, with little developed industrial activity, and a tertiary sector where most of the employment is in public administration, but very little in private sector services. Certainly, in many countries some degree of nuance needs to be introduced, given the importance of the ‘informal' sector which, by definition, is not revealed in the official statistics. In some states like Jamaica, Cuba, and indeed Mexico, the situation is broadly tolerated. It helps to avoid social unrest and community anger in poor neighbourhoods (‘barriadas', shanty towns) of both large and small towns. It favours ‘clientelism' and vote-catching, on which a section of the elites in power depend. Despite loud protests to the contrary, it underpins the stability of political regimes in power. In a very poor island like Haiti, it represents the ultimate safety valve. The few independent states of the Archipelago with a higher income per capita are those who were able to convert into tourism, or private services, particularly financial.

The relatively high HDI scores attained by states in the Caribbean are explained by the persistent effort to promote better levels of schooling as well as to ensure proper standards of sanitation for the population. Policies of prevention by vaccination have eradicated the great pandemics of former times. If generally the sanitary conditions of the population are reasonably satisfactory, AIDS over the last decade has increasingly affected a growing destitute population. In the long run, this disease can compromise a present life expectancy that is comparable to that of developed countries (71.8 years for men, 76.7 years for women). Linked to drug trafficking and prostitution, it is today affecting more and more people.

Will the educational policies, so resolutely and consistently developed since Independence or departmental integration (in the French territories) and the subsequent rising levels of awareness, help better to combat this plague? Widespread schooling up to the age of 14 years for both girls and boys has proved a remarkable achievement. Whilst these newly adopted directions are not considered particularly surprising in Cuba, given the state's ideological position, their wholesale adoption in Haiti, where the state is failing in many other ways, has seen the establishment of a dense network of private schools extending across its territory, particularly around Port-au-Prince. The political will to improve schooling and the policies adopted towards better health care date largely from the 1960s, but the roots of the desire go right back into the heart of the era of slavery, from which it draws the dominant part of its dynamism today.

Author: Monique Bégot