The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently released the 2024 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report titled ‘Making our Future: New Directions for Human Development in Asia and the Pacific‘ which paints a mixed picture of India’s development journey. The report acknowledges the substantial reduction in multidimensional poverty between 2015-16 and 2019-21 but highlights the urgent need for new directions to address growing human insecurity and disparities.
The Triumphs of Economic Growth
- Between 2000 and 2022, India’s per capita income skyrocketed from a mere USD 442 to a substantially higher USD 2,389, illustrating a remarkable economic transformation.
- This growth has lifted many people out of poverty and contributed to improved living standards for a substantial portion of the population.
The Steep Decline in Poverty Rates
- Another significant accomplishment is the steep decline in poverty rates based on the international measure of USD 2.15 per day.
- From 2004 to 2019, India managed to reduce the poverty rate from 40 to 10 percent, further emphasizing the impact of economic growth on poverty reduction.
Challenges Remain: Income and Wealth Inequality
- The report underscores a troubling trend of rising wealth inequality, particularly in the post-2000 period, highlighting a skewed income distribution.
- This unequal distribution of wealth can have profound implications for societal harmony and long-term development.
Progress in Multidimensional Poverty Reduction
- One of the report’s positive findings is that between 2015-16 and 2019-21, the share of India’s population living in multidimensional poverty fell from 25 to 15 percent.
- This indicates that not only income but various other aspects of human development have improved for a substantial section of the population.
Regional Disparities Persist
- However, the report also points out that poverty remains concentrated in certain states that are home to 45 percent of India’s population but contain 62 percent of its poor.
- The situation becomes even more complex when considering the vulnerability of those just above the poverty line, such as women, informal workers, and inter-state migrants.
Alarming Gender Disparities
- The report highlights gender disparities in the labor force, with women constituting only 23 percent of it.
- This, coupled with rapid growth and persistent disparity, has further skewed income distribution. Bridging the gender gap in economic opportunities is crucial for achieving a more equitable society.
Worsening Income and Wealth Disparities in the Asia-Pacific Region
- The UNDP report reveals a disheartening trend of worsening income and wealth disparities in the broader Asia-Pacific region.
- It particularly emphasizes South Asia, where the wealthiest 10 percent control over half of total income. This disparity remains a significant hurdle to achieving human development goals in the region.
A Growing Threat of Extreme Poverty
- Despite overall progress, the report emphasizes that more than 185 million people in India continue to live in extreme poverty, earning less than USD 2.15 per day.
- Economic shocks from events like the COVID-19 pandemic may push this number even higher, underscoring the fragility of economic progress.
The Imperative for Change
The 2024 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report aptly argues that unmet aspirations, rising human insecurity, and an uncertain future demand urgent changes in India’s development approach. It calls for three new directions in human development:
- Putting people at the heart of development, ensuring that development policies prioritize the well-being and empowerment of individuals and communities.
- Recalibrating growth strategies to generate more jobs and respect the environment, thereby ensuring that economic growth is sustainable and inclusive.
- Focusing relentlessly on the politics of reform and the science of delivery, turning ideas into practice and addressing the root causes of disparities.