Oct 1 - 7, 20

This year marks the launch of the 15th annual report on Human Development in South Asia and is particularly significant because it deals with a theme that not only concerns millions of people in the region, but also has grave consequences for them, if left unaddressed. And therefore, in this Report, we have sought to address governance from the point of view of people's empowerment.

In 1999, the SAHDR made a bold attempt at identifying the depth of the 'Crisis of Governance' that was prevalent in South Asia. In this year's report we have tried to assess the region's progress, or lack thereof, on several dimensions of governance, from policies to institutions, and the extent to which they have empowered, or failed to empower people.

India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka have been analyzed to inform our audience about the functioning of respective Parliaments, electoral processes, performance of the judiciary, role of the media and civil society and the impact of all these institutions on empowering people. Moreover, progress in economic management and how far the utilization and distribution of resources have translated into public goods and services that empower people have also been covered. In every scenario, the presence, nature and quality of policies and institutions have largely determined how far a country's governance system has paved the way for people's empowerment.

The success of economic growth in the region confirms that parts of the state machinery in South Asia have performed their tasks efficiently. There is, indeed, a greater participation of women in economic and political activities. Civil society engagements in dealing with education, health and access to credit have been successful in bringing change. South Asia has also witnessed an increase in information and advocacy campaigns, which have raised the voices of the poor.

However, the Report highlights the following:

Firstly, the long-standing issue between economic growth and human development in South Asia remains unresolved, despite recent growth rates recorded in several countries of the region. Growth rates have not been accompanied either by adequate employment generation or substantial poverty reduction. The majority of South Asians continue to live under poor economic management with over 5 per cent of fiscal deficit, a public debt of around 50 to 60 per cent of GDP, 12 to 14 per cent of inflation, and high unemployment and underemployment in the informal sector. Although poverty is being reduced particularly in India and Bangladesh, the absolute number of poor people is still very high in South Asia with about half a billion poor people.

Secondly, while economic governance in most of South Asia has served to make these economies bigger, it has failed to make them better. The weak performance of economic institutions and economic policies in the region in essential areas such as maintenance of macroeconomic stability, control of inflation, prioritization of social services for the poor are the main reasons behind the failure of economic governance to expand opportunities for the vast majority of the people of South Asia. The lack of progress is even more evident when analyzed through a gender lens-gender inequalities in the region interact and reinforce other socio-economic inequalities to place women from poor and marginalized groups at a greater disadvantage than the rest of the population.

Thirdly, in countries with a long tradition of good political governance the voices of people belonging to different tribes and castes including those suffering from pronounced deprivations in well being, especially the poor and the marginalized have been excluded. In other countries, political governance has not matured enough to empower all people, because structures are not flexible enough to adapt to people's needs and concerns during periods of transition or transformation.

Fourthly, the region faces an acute empowerment deficit in terms of poor delivery of public services in education, health, and justice and in all other areas of empowerment. South Asia is home to nearly 400 million illiterate adults out of which 250 million are women; one billion people are without access to improved sanitation services; and over 160 million are without access to drinking water. Despite the existence of strong judiciaries, inadequate and ineffective lower courts do not provide timely justice to the poor.

The premises of this Report have largely been defined by the concept of humane governance, primarily developed by Dr. Mahbub ul Haq and first outlined in SAHDR 1999. This Report has revisited and reintroduced the concept of humane governance and its complementary index, the humane governance index (HGI), which has been calculated for countries that fall under UNDP's categories for low and medium human development, including four South Asian countries, for which data were available.

The underlying reason for bringing humane governance into the discussion on governance is because it goes beyond mere good political governance or good economic management and places human development at the centre of South Asia's governance agenda. The humane approach to governance is conceptually linked to human rights, in which good rule of law and good institutions run in parallel and interconnected pathways to secure human development and promote people's empowerment.

People's empowerment can happen through multiple routes: political institutions such as the Parliament, bureaucracy and judiciary can function in ways to either hamper or propagate human development; economic management, particularly through the adoption of poverty reduction strategies and social protection mechanisms, can play a significant role in protecting the marginalized and the poor; similarly, social empowerment, determined by the access to and quality of health, education and sanitation can significantly impact the standard of living of ordinary citizens. The private sector and civil society are also critical partners in helping respective governments in addressing people's concerns.

Enhancing economic opportunities for the poor could start with, but not be limited to: shifting public spending away from wasteful expenditures of the state machinery to key priority areas like education, health, environment and infrastructure; sound fiscal and monetary policies, especially geared towards increasing direct taxes and reducing indirect taxes, and curbing inflation; and employment creation at the rural, agricultural and peri-urban areas. Improving political governance would entail focusing on strengthening key institutions like the electoral system, Parliament and oversight bodies, the Executive and bureaucracy, and the efficacy of the decentralized tiers of governance that serve people at the grassroots level. India has done well in all these areas. Other countries need to follow suit. There is also a need for further enhancement of the role of civil society institutions, the private sector and the media in holding governments accountable for their performance in meeting the genuine aspirations of people: the critical test upon which every governing institution should be judged. This is because governance is for people - to serve people, to empower them and to be accountable to them.

Launch of South Asia Human Development Report 2012 in Lahore