The Maldives achieved a marginal increase in the United Nation’s Human Development Index but inequality continues to remain high, according to the 2019 UN Human Development Report released last Sunday.
Ranked 104 out of 189 countries, the Maldives was placed in the high-development bracket along with other upper middle income countries such as China and South Africa.
The HDI measures a country’s development as a ratio between zero and one based on indicators such as health, education and standard of living. Norway topped the table with a 0.954 index and Niger came last with 0.377.
The Maldives HDI value of 0.719 for 2018 was a marginal increase from 0.716 for 2017. But the HDI was 20 percent lower when adjusted for inequality, lowering the Maldives ranking down five places.
The unsurprising findings echo the country’s 2014 National Human Development Report, which showed a person living in Malé was likely to finish two more years of schooling than a person living in the atolls. The average household income in the Maldives capital is also double what it is in the atolls.
This year’s UN report also showed that education measured by years of schooling was the highest contributing factor to inequality in the Maldives.
“Inequality begin before birth. Parent’s income and circumstances affect the children’s health, education and future employment,” UNDP Maldives Resident Representative Akiko Fujii observed at the national launch of the report on Sunday.
“These inequalities accumulate and multiply over the course of people’s lives. Because of the social and economic structure within which they live, they then influence the life chances of children of the next generation. So tackling inequality needs to recognise this structural nature and cyclical pattern.”
According to the 2014 national report, the HDI of the capital Malé in 2012 was 0.734 – placing it in the high development bracket – but the atolls’ HDI of 0.627 was in the medium development bracket.
Rapid internal migration to Malé was a key reason for the inequality and regional disparities, which was exacerbated by a tourism industry that “operates as a powerful oligarchy and has given rise to an elite class that owns much of the country’s wealth,”
The poorest 40 percent of Maldivians held just over 17 percent of the total income share between 2010 and 2017, according to the UN report.
In contrast, the richest 10 percent earned nearly 30 percent of the income share. The income share of the richest one percent was not documented.
Only 0.8 percent of the population was living in multidimensional poverty but close to five percent was vulnerable to multidimensional poverty and 8.2 percent lives below the national poverty line.
The Maldives ranked 81st with a gender inequality index of 0.367. Women occupied less than six percent of parliament seats and the adolescent birth rate stood at 68 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.
At the launch ceremony, National Planning Minister Mohamed Aslam spoke about government-sponsored legislation intended to improve women’s participation, notably changes passed to the decentralisation law to reserve one third of council seats for female candidates .
Aslam announced plans to launch a domestic maritime transport system with high-speed and affordable ferries next year. He also called on UNDP Maldives to conduct a national human development study to better identify the local situation.
“UNDP Maldives need to focus an assessment like this for the Maldives across the archipelago. Might take some time but we need to do that. We need to know where we are,” he said.
Sri Lanka was the only South Asian country ranked higher than Maldives at 71st with a 0.780 index.
India was 129th with 0.647 followed by Bhutan (134th with 0.617), Bangladesh (135th with 0.614), Nepal (147th with 0.579) and Pakistan (152nd with 0.560). Afghanistan, ranked 170th with 0.496, was placed in the low human development bracket.