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UNDP ranks Cuba 55th in latest human development index
CubaNews / September 2002

By Larry Luxner

As difficult as life may be in Cuba, things are worse for people in at least 118 other countries.

That’s the conclusion of the United Nations Development Program, which has just issued its annual Human Development Index — an often-quoted, sometimes controversial report that details the quality of life in 173 nations.

The 2002 study, based on information supplied mainly by the countries themselves, puts Cuba 55th in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income.

That’s not bad, considering Cuba scored better than Saudi Arabia, Panama, Russia, Venezuela, Thailand, Jamaica, Brazil, Turkey and 110 other nations.

*On a scale of 0 to 1, Cuba came in at 0.795 — just ahead of Belarus and only one notch down from Mexico, which was 54th. All told, at least a dozen Latin American and Carib-bean countries ranked lower on the UNDP’s quality-of-life index than did Cuba.

*The 278-page study, titled “Human Deve-lopment Report 2002: Deepening Democracy in a Fragmented World,” contains a wealth of information. Among the “factoids” gleaned from this exhaustive work are the following:

*the average Cuban born today can expect to live 76 years, up from 75.3 years in 1992. n95% of Cuba’s 11.2 million people have access to “improved water sources.”

*Cuba got $44 million in development assistance in 2000, or about $3.90 a person.

*Cuba ranks near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to political rights, civil liberties, press freedom and other subjective measures of democracy.

Interestingly, Cuba is the only country in the entire UN report for which no per-capita GDP appears. According to a footnote, “pending the outcome of ongoing efforts to calculate per-capita GDP for Cuba, the UNDP estimate of the subregional weighted average for the Caribbean of $4,519 is used” for various rankings, though most observers put Cuba’s real GDP at between $1,000 and $2,000.

The study, issued in late July, was prepared by a team of experts and advisors. It touches on all key aspects of life in both the developed and developing world: demographics, health care, education, technology, income distribution and so-called “gender empowerment.”

As is the case in most countries, Cuba’s population has grown more urbanized. In 1975, 64.2% of its people lived in cities; by 2000, that number had risen to 75.3%. By 2015, 78.5% of all Cubans will live in urban areas.

Yet between 1975 and 2000, the island’s total population grew by only 0.7% a year, and will slow even more, to only 0.3% a year between 2000 and 2015. Given the island’s fertility rate of only 1.6 per woman, Cuba’s population will reach only 11.6 million by 2015.

At the same time, the percentage of Cubans under age 15 will drop from 21.2% in 2000 to 16.4% in 2015, while the percentage of senior citizens (those aged 65 and up) will jump from 9.6% in 2000 to 14.1% in 2015.

Virtually 100% of all births in Cuba are attended by trained health personnel. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is 7 per 1,000 live births — lower than that of the United States and down from 34 per 1,000 in 1970 — while the under-five mortality rate is 9.0 per 1,000 live births, down from 43 per 1,000 in 1970.

The report says 33 of every 100,000 Cuban mothers died giving birth between 1985 and 1999 — putting the island’s maternal mortality rate above Costa Rica, Chile and St. Lucia.

Yet a Cuban girl born in 2002 has an 84.1% chance of surviving to age 65, while a Cuban boy born today has a 78.1% probability of celebrating his 65th birthday.

One-third of all Cuban mothers breast-feed their babies for six months, 99% of 1-year-olds are immunized against tuberculosis, and 96% are innoculated against measles. Cuba boasts 530 physicians per 100,000 inhabitants — the 2nd-highest ratio in the world after Italy — and fewer than 0.1% of Cubans in the 18-49 age bracket are living with HIV or AIDS.

Finally, while 17% of all Cubans are said to be undernourished, only 4% of the island’s children below the age of 5 are underweight.

Turning to education, the UNDP report says that in 1995-97, Cuba spent 6.7% of its gross national product on education, up slightly from 5% in 1960. Expressed as a percentage of government expenditures, education accounts for 12.6% of the budget, down from 18.4% in 1985-87.

The island’s adult literacy rate is 96.7%, up from 94% in 1985. Literacy among youths aged 15-24 stands at 99.8%, up from 98.8% in 1985, and 21% of Cuba’s university students are majoring in science, math or engineering. At last count, Cuba had 1,611 scientists and engineers in R&D per million inhabitants.

Cuba’s public education budget for the 1995-97 period — the most recent available —is allocated as follows: pre-primary and primary, 31.9% (up from 26.3% in 1985-86); secondary, 33.0% (down from 42.0%) and tertiary, 14.9% (down from 12.9%).

The UNDP report says that in 1999, Cuba consumed 973 kilowatt-hours of electricity per-capita, up from 823 kwh per person in 1980. Carbon-dioxide emissions came to 2.3 metric tons per-capita (down from 3.2 tons in 1980), or 0.1% of the world total.

On the subject of access to technology, the picture is mixed. Its “teledensity” of only 44 lines per 1,000 inhabitants is considerably better than the 31 per 1,000 recorded in 1990, but still ranks as the lowest in Latin America.

There are virtually no native cellular subscribers in Cuba (this service exists only for tourists and foreign executives), and just 0.1 Internet hosts per 1,000 people.

Where Cuba really falls behind, though, is in the report’s “subjective indicators of governance.” One is the so-called “polity score,” which reflects the presence of institutional factors necessary for democracy, and which ranges from -10 (authoritarian) to 10 (democratic). Cuba’s score is an unimpressive -7.

On a scale of 1 to 7, with one being the best and 7 being the worst, Cuba scores a 7 on both civil liberties and political rights. Other criteria — measured on a scale of -2.50 to 2.50 — include graft and corruption (Cuba’s score on that one is a not-too-bad -0.12); voice and accountability (-1.49); political stability and lack of violence (0.07); rule of law (-0.32) and government effectiveness (-0.22).

Cuba’s real embarrassment is in press freedom. Measured on a scale of 0-100, with zero representing a completely free press and 100 a completely controlled press, Cuba clocks in at a dismal 94. In the entire world, only Burma was worse, with a score of 100.

Incidentally, the nation with the best overall 2002 Human Development Index is Norway — which scored 0.942 — followed by Sweden (0.941); Canada (0.940); and Belgium, Aus-tralia and the United States (all with 0.939). Scraping the bottom are the African countries of Niger (0.277) and Sierra Leone (0.275).

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