By Dr. Mahbub ul-Haq for Architects of Peace
Simply put, our challenge is this-can we make the twenty-first century a century of human development, when all people enjoy access to education and health, when each individual is enabled to utilize her or his full human potential, when all people have developed their basic capabilities and enjoy equal access to the opportunities of life? Now let us be clear. This is a vision of human competition, not state welfare. It is a vision of access to opportunities, not access to charity. It is a vision of the enrichment of human lives, not just the enrichment of national income or wealth, and the investment required to realize this vision is fairly modest.
We wish to move over the next fifteen years toward a society where there is universal basic education, primary health care for all, safe drinking water for all, adequate nutrition for all malnourished children, and family planning services for all willing couples. In other words, we wish to move toward a world society where basic social services are available to everyone, both men and women, and women before men; where the worst human deprivations curbing the potential of more than 1.3 billion people today have been finally overcome; where all essential ingredients for the full flowering of human potential are available in the form of adequate education, health, and nutrition. We wish to achieve all this.
What is the financial cost of achieving such a society? According to the best available estimates, the cost will be around an additional $34 billion a year-34 billion dollars. This cost is less than 1 percent of the total income if the poor nations bear all the burden themselves and this cost will be reduced to less than one-seventh of 1 percent of global income if the international community decides to share the cost along with the poor nations. That is the cost.
The question we face today is this: Can we persuade the leaders of the world to accept such a global compact for human development for the twenty-first century?
Let us again be very clear. Such a global compact is not yet another treaty requiring the formal approval of the governments of the world. It is, in fact, a shared vision of what the world can and must achieve. It requires global understanding, not a global treaty, because in the last analysis most action must begin at the national level, and often at the grassroots level, and such action must begin in the developing world itself.
These countries do not lack financial resources. What they lack is political courage. We need to ask the leaders of the Third World, and ask them bluntly, why they insist on spending $130 billion each year on the military when even a quarter of this expenditure can finance their entire essential social agenda. And we must ask them why they insist on having six soldiers for every one doctor when their people are dying of ordinary diseases, from internal disintegration, not from external aggression, from many threats to human security, not any threats to territorial security.
And we must also ask them why they are not convinced that everything they buy costs the immunization of four million children and every jet fighter they purchase costs the schooling of three million children and every submarine they store away in the waters denies safe drinking water to sixty million people. Why do we let them argue poverty of resources for human development when they have well-fed armies but unfed people and when many of these nations spend more on their armies every year than their total education and health budgets?
And at the same time, we must ask the leaders of the rich nations, why do you keep subsidizing your arms exports to poor lands when you argue against even food subsidies in these poor nations? Why is it that you refuse to close down your military bases, phase out your military assistance, and restrict the export of the sophisticated military weapons even now when the Cold War is over? What is your excuse? And why do you make such handsome profits on your exports of arms to poor, starved, disintegrating countries while giving them lectures all the time on respect for basic human rights? And we need to ask these leaders, why do they not invest in human development and instead make profits out of the future prosperity of poor lands and not out of the current state of human deprivation?
I believe, my friends, what we need to change is the mindset of our leaders in developing countries as well as in rich nations, because changes in policies will then follow and adequate resources for priority human development agendas will then be mobilized.
Let us spread the message to all world leaders that such a compact is not only desirable-it is eminently doable, it is feasible. And many years from now, we can look our grandchildren right in the eye and tell them quite proudly: “Yes, we tried.”
-Described as “the most articulate and persuasive spokesman” for the developing world, and as one of the most brilliant economists the world has ever known, Pakistan born Dr. Mahbub ul-Haq pioneered many economic policies to help the poor. He served as chief economist of Pakistan’s National Planning Commission during the 1960s, director of the World Bank’s Policy Planning Department in the 1970s, and in various Pakistani cabinet posts during the 1980s. As special advisor to the United Nations Development Program, he created the Human Development Index, which measures development by people’s well-being, rather than by their income alone. Haq was the author of six books on poverty and development. He died in 1998 in New York.