2011 Human Development Report: Palau tops Human Development Index in the Pacific; but environmental threats and inequities threaten progress

Nov 3, 2011

(Koror, Palau) The remarkable progress in human development over recent decades cannot continue without bold global steps to reduce environmental risks and inequality argues the 2011 Human Development Report (HDR), released here today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Palau.

The 2011 Report—Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All—argues that environmental sustainability can be most effectively achieved by simultaneously addressing health, education, income and gender disparities within and among countries.

"There will be no sustainable development if the way we live and grow destroys the ecosystems in which we all live on this planet. There is no Plan B for Planet Earth, and for the people of the Pacific, that message is loud and clear as their very existence is threatened," says Ajay Chhibber, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

This year, the Human Development Index (HDI) contained in the report covers a record 187 countries and territories, the most comprehensive coverage since UNDP began publishing the Human Development Report in 1990. Palau, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Kiribati have been included in the HDI for the first time. This Index is a yardstick that focuses on the human elements of development, combining indicators of health and education with the more traditional economic indicators. This gives important insights that may be used to identify key development needs and recognize strategies that are cost effective for human development.

“This Report is important for the world right now, and is certainly important the Pacific. It demonstrates the integral links between environmental sustainability and equity that are critical to expanding human freedoms for people today and in generations to come,” said UNDP Resident Representative Knut Ostby.

Pacific Island countries are progressing at different paces in human development. The report has some indicators for which the Pacific region can be proud. Palau scores highest in the Pacific, followed by Tonga as the only other Pacific island country in the High HDI category. Between 1980 and 2011, Palau’s life expectancy at birth increased by an impressive 12.6 years and expected years of schooling increased by 0.2 years.

“The people of Palau should all be proud. But we should not dwell on our achievements, but focus on the challenges facing us. As the report points out, all our accomplishments in human development can be drastically reversed or even wiped out if we do not focus and concentrate our efforts on the challenges – namely environmental degradation, global threats of climate change and social inequities,” said President of the Republic of Palau Johnson Toribiong.

The Report highlights that environmental degradation and climate change will have disequalizing effects across groups. Adverse environmental factors are expected to boost world food prices 30-50 percent in the coming decades and to increase price volatility, with harsh repercussions for poor households. The Pacific Island countries, like Palau, who are net importers of food, would face a significant impact. Climate change is expected to lead to major declines in fish stocks, an important source of livelihood and export income in Palau and many Pacific Islands.

The report emphasizes that local initiatives to support poor communities can be both highly cost-effective and environmentally beneficial. Investments in improving access to renewable energy, water and sanitation, and reproductive healthcare services to protect the disadvantaged from getting poorer in Pacific island countries are recommended. The report calls for swift implementation of the UN’s Universal Energy Access Initiative to develop clean energy at the country level and support for national low emission, climate-resilient development strategies.

The Report advances a new vision of promoting human development through the joint lens of sustainability and equity. It is an important contribution to Palau’s preparations to the UN Summit on Sustainable Development which will be held in Rio in June 2012. For Palau and other Pacific Island countries, this means advocating that the gaps between the official development assistance spending and the investments needed to address climate change, low carbon energy and water and sanitation be met.

Contact Information

Fermin Meriang, Press Secretary, Office of the President, Republic of Palau: tel: 767-2403

Sharon Sakuma, Country Development Manager, UN Joint Presence, Republic of Palau, email: sharon.sakuma@undp.org; tel: 680-488-7270; fax: 680-488-7271