Friday, May 14, 2010

The Count

24... the average number of years it'll take Latin American and Caribbean countries to achieve universal access to the most basic human services. Or at least according to the World Bank's 2010 Human Opportunity Index Report.

That's right, the new Human Opportunity Index report is out and it's pretty safe to say that it's a development-minded nerd's wet dream. The HOI is essentially a measure of access to basic services, including education, housing, water and electricity, taking into account how equitably or fairly these are distributed. Or, in the words of the World Bank's poverty reduction director, Marcelo Giugale:
"What we are measuring here is: are the doors of development open to all before the game starts?"
Countries get positive scores for higher coverage rates but get penalized for the inequality of coverage. If a country has a decent level of access to education but the bulk of those excluded belong to a particular marginalized social group, the country would earn a lower HOI score than a country with a similar level of access but more equitable distribution.

As can be seen below, the countries in the region with the top HOI are, in order, Chile (95), Uruguay (92), Mexico (90), Costa Rica (89) and Venezuela (89). Honduras is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, scoring a depressing score of 51.

[2010 Human Opportunity Index]
What's more, most countries have seen their HOI score grow significantly. Chile, for instance, went from 83 in 1996 t0 a score of 95 this year. The country with the fastest growing HOI, quite surprisingly, was Mexico, going from a low 65 in 1996 to its impressive 90 this year, an annual rate of 1.74.

Now this takes us to this week's count, 24, at the top. The average annual HOI growth rate for all of Latin America and the Caribbean is .99. At this rate it would take the region 24 years to achieve universal coverage of all the basic necessities, or an HOI score of 100. Put this way, the region still has a long way to go, despite all it's great progress lately (of course, this is based on the rather simple assumption that coverage increases linearly--at a steady rate).

But there's more sobering news in the report. The gap between rural and urban areas remains very large. What's interesting though is that this gap is smaller in countries with higher national HOI scores, suggesting the existence of what one might call an "opportunity spillover." Another thing to keep in mind is that Latin America and the Caribbean are still far from HOI levels observed in developed countries (with the exception of access to uncrowded living conditions in a few cases).

Also, the report decomposes the changes in the national HOI score into "compositional" and "scale" effects--that is, into how much of the change is due to an overall increase in coverage or to a fairer distribution of coverage. To quote the report:
"For all their efforts, LAC governments have, in general, not made much progress improving equity. Only a tenth of the average improvement in HOI is attributable to a fairer allocation of services, that is, to better social targeting of public expenditures."
In other words, most of the improvement in the HOI score is due to increases in the number of people covered, not the fairness of coverage. Moreover, this type of change can be in large part attributed to migration from rural to urban centers.


  1. Nice, long, article in the FT about Cuba's doctors:

    Parts of it read like a wikipedia entry, especially if you're up on your Lat Am news/history.

    The value comes from the various interviews. They've got vets who've served in the tough areas, defectors & critics, & even American students studying in the system.

    It's nice to hear from labour & middle management, instead of the suits up high.

  2. Thanks for the great link. I'm reading it now and you're definitely right the value-added of the interviews...good stuff indeed.