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UNDP ranks Cuba 52nd in annual index measuring quality of life in 175 nations
CubaNews / October 2003

By Larry Luxner

As difficult as life may be in Cuba, things are worse for inhabitants of at least 123 other countries.

That’s the conclusion of the United Nations Development Program, which has just issued its 2003 Human Development Index — an often-quoted, sometimes controversial report that details the relative quality of life in 175 nations.

This year’s report puts Cuba 52nd in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income. Not bad, considering that Cuba scored higher than Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and the Dominican Republic, to name a few.

On a scale of 0 to 1, Cuba came in at 0.806 — No. 52 and a little better than last year, when its score of 0.795 ranked 55th worldwide. This year Cuba’s index was the 6th-highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The UNDP’s 367-page study contains a wealth of information. Among the “factoids” we gleaned from this exhaustive work are the following:

* the average Cuban born today can expect to live 76.4 years, up from 75.3 years in 1992.

* 91% of Cuba’s 11.2 million people have “sustainable access to an improved water source,” down from 95% the year before.

* Cuba got $50.7 million in development assistance in 2001, or about $4.50 a person.

* As of 2001, Cuba was home to 19,000 refugees; that same year, its armed forces totaled 46,000 troops — only 28% of the 1985 total.

Interestingly, Cuba is the only country in the entire UN report for which no per-capita GDP appears. A footnote says: “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,” 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 po-pulation has grown more urbanized. In 1975, 64.2% of its people lived in cities; by 2001, that number had risen to 75.5%. 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 0.2% a year between 2000 and 2015. Given the island’s fertility rate of only 1.6 per woman (down from 3.5 in 1970-75), Cuba’s population will reach only 11.5 million by 2015.

At the same time, the percentage of Cubans under age 15 will drop from 20.8% in 2001 to 16.3% in 2015, while the percentage of senior citizens (those aged 65 and up) will jump from 9.9% in 2001 to 14.4% 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 2001 — putting the island’s maternal mortality rate above Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Uruguay and Chile.

Yet a Cuban girl born in 2003 has an 85.1% chance of surviving to age 65, while a Cuban boy born today has a 79.1% probability of celebrating his 65th birthday.

One-third of all Cuban mothers breast-feed their babies for six months, and 99% of 1-year-olds are immunized against tuberculosis and measles. Cuba boasts 590 physicians per 100,000 inhabitants — the highest ratio in the world — and fewer than 0.1% of Cubans in the 18-49 age bracket live 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.

Some 98% of Cubans have “access to improved sanitation, and 95-100% have “sustainable access to affordable essential drugs.” No statistics were available on the percentage of Cubans using oral rehydration therapy, contraceptives or cigarettes.

Public health expenditures came to 6.1% of Cuba’s GDP, while private health expenditures amount to 1% of GDP — translating into total health costs of $193 per-capita in 2000.

Turning to education, the UNDP report says that in 1998-2000, Cuba spent 8.5% of its total GDP on education, up from 6.7% in the 1995-97 period and 5% in 1960. Expressed as a percentage of government expenditures, education accounts for 15.1% of the budget in 1998-2000, up from 12.6% in 1995-97 but down from 18.4% in 1985-87.

The island’s adult literacy rate is 96.8%, up from 95.1% in 1990 and 94% in 1985. Literacy among youths aged 15-24 stands at 99.8%, up from 99.3% in 1990 and 98.8% in 1985.

In 2000-01, Cuba’s net primary enrollment ratio was 97% (up from 92% in 1990-91, and its net secondary enrollment ration was 82% in 2000-01 (up from 69% in 1990-91).

Finally, 21% of Cuba’s university students are majoring in science, math or engineering. Between 1996 and 2000, Cuba had 480 scientists and engineers in working in research and development per million inhabitants, with R&D expenditures coming to 0.5% of the island’s total GDP.

Cuba’s public education budget for the 1998-2000 period — the most recent available —is allocated as follows: pre-primary and primary, 44.5% (up from 31.9% in 1995-97 and 25.7% in 1990); secondary, 36.7% (up from 33% in 1995-97 but down from 39% in 1990), and tertiary, 18.5% (up from 14.9% in 1995-97 and 14.4% in 1990).

The report does not explain the fact that, in the breakdown of education expenditures for 1990 and 1995-97, the totals add up to only 79% rather than 100%.

The UNDP report says that in 2000, Cuba consumed 1,049 kilowatt-hours of electricity per-capita, up from 973 kwh in 1999 and 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, and traditional fuel consumption amounted to 30.2% of total energy use.

On the subject of access to technology, the picture is mixed. Its “teledensity” of only 51 lines per 1,000 inhabitants in 2001 is considerably better than the 31 per 1,000 recorded in 1990, but still ranks as the lowest penetration rates in Latin America.

Furthermore, Cuba has only one cellular subscriber per 1,000 inhabitants (this service exists mainly for tourists and foreign executives), and only 10.7 Internet users per 1,000 — a lower proportion than that of Vietnam, Honduras or Senegal.

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 2003 Human Development Index is Norway — which scored 0.944 — followed by Iceland (0.942); Sweden (0.941); Australia (0.939); Netherlands (0.938) and Belgium and the United States (all with 0.937). Scraping the bottom are the African nations of Niger (0.292) and Sierra Leone (0.275).

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