Tack­ling hu­man vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in the face of un­cer­tainty

The in­creas­ingly volatile na­ture of the world we live in to­day has led to dis­par­ity as those who need the most help get left be­hind. Glob­al­i­sa­tion may be in­evitable, but more is needed to en­sure se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity for ev­ery­one.

Outlook - - WORLD IN FOCUS - By Khalid Ma­lik* * Khalid Ma­lik is lead au­thor of the Hu­man Devel­op­ment Re­port and UNDP Direc­tor of the Hu­man Devel­op­ment Re­port Of­fice.

As suc­ces­sive Hu­man Devel­op­ment Re­ports have shown, most peo­ple in most coun­tries are do­ing bet­ter in hu­man devel­op­ment. Glob­al­i­sa­tion, ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy and higher in­comes all hold prom­ise for longer, health­ier, more se­cure lives.

But there is also a wide­spread sense of pre­car­i­ous­ness in the world to­day. Im­prove­ments in liv­ing stan­dards can quickly be un­der­mined by a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter or economic slump. Po­lit­i­cal threats, com­mu­nity ten­sions, crime and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age all con­trib­ute to in­di­vid­ual and com­mu­nity vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

The 2014 Re­port, on vul­ner­a­bil­ity and re­silience, shows that hu­man devel­op­ment progress is slow­ing down and is in­creas­ingly pre­car­i­ous. Glob­al­i­sa­tion, for in­stance, which has brought ben­e­fits to many, has also cre­ated new risks. It ap­pears that in­creased volatil­ity has be­come the new nor­mal.

As fi­nan­cial and food crises rip­ple around the world, there is a grow­ing worry that peo­ple and na­tions are not in con­trol over their own des­tinies and thus are vul­ner­a­ble to de­ci­sions or events else­where.

The re­port ar­gues that hu­man progress is not only a mat­ter of ex­pand­ing peo­ple's choices to be ed­u­cated, to live long, healthy lives, and to en­joy a de­cent stan­dard of liv­ing. It is also about en­sur­ing that th­ese choices are se­cure and sus­tain­able. And that re­quires us to un­der­stand - and deal with - vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

Tra­di­tion­ally, most anal­y­sis of vul­ner­a­bil­ity is in re­la­tion to spe­cific risks, like dis­as­ters or con­flicts. This re­port takes a wider ap­proach, ex­plor­ing the un­der­ly­ing driv­ers of vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, and how in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­eties can be­come more re­silient and re­cover quicker and bet­ter from set­backs.

Vul­ner­a­bil­ity is a crit­i­cal con- cern for many peo­ple. De­spite re­cent progress, 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple still live in mul­ti­di­men­sional poverty. Half as many again, an­other 800 mil­lion, live just above the poverty thresh­old. A shock can eas­ily push them back into poverty.

Nearly 80 per cent of the world lacks so­cial pro­tec­tion. About 12 per cent, or 842 mil­lion, ex­pe­ri­ences chronic hunger, and nearly half of all work­ers - more than 1.5 bil­lion - are in in­for­mal or pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment. More than 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple live in coun­tries af­fected by con­flict. Syria, South Su­dan, Cen­tral African Repub­lic are just some of the coun­tries where hu­man devel­op­ment is be­ing re­versed be­cause of the im­pact of se­ri­ous vi­o­lent con­flict. We live in a vul­ner­a­ble world.

The re­port demon­strates and builds on a ba­sic premise: that fail-

ing to pro­tect peo­ple against vul­ner­a­bil­ity is of­ten the con­se­quence of in­ad­e­quate poli­cies and poor so­cial in­sti­tu­tions.

And what are th­ese poli­cies? The re­port looks, for in­stance, at how ca­pa­bil­i­ties are formed, and at the threats that peo­ple face at dif­fer­ent stages of their lives, from in­fancy through youth, adult­hood, and old age.

Gaps in the vo­cab­u­lar­ies of chil­dren from richer and poorer families open up as early as age three, and only widen from there. Yet most coun­tries do not in­vest much in those crit­i­cal early years. (Swe­den is a no­table, good ex­am­ple.) So­cial spend­ing needs to be aimed where and when it is needed most.

The re­port makes a strong call as well for the re­turn of full em­ploy­ment as a cen­tral pol­icy goal, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Jobs

“Tack­ling long-stand­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against 'struc­turally vul­ner­a­ble' groups such as women and the poor re­quires a re­newed ef­fort to pro­mote pos­i­tive norms...”

bring so­cial ben­e­fits that far ex­ceed the wages paid. They fos­ter so­cial sta­bil­ity and so­cial co­he­sion, and de­cent jobs with the req­ui­site pro­tec­tions strengthen peo­ple's abil­ity to man­age shocks and un­cer­tainty.

At the same time, th­ese broader poli­cies may not be enough. The re­port calls for more re­spon­sive in­sti­tu­tions and laws to make so­ci­eties fairer and more in­clu­sive. Tack­ling long-stand­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against 'struc­turally vul­ner­a­ble' groups such as women and the poor re­quires a re­newed ef­fort to pro­mote pos­i­tive norms, the adop­tion of spe­cial mea­sures and sup­port­ive laws, and en­sur­ing more eq­ui­table ac­cess to so­cial ser­vices.

Coun­tries act­ing alone can do much to make th­ese changes hap­pen - but na­tional ac­tion can go only so far. In an in­ter­con­nected world, in­ter­na­tional ac­tion is required to make th­ese changes stick.

The pro­vi­sion­ing of public goods - from dis­ease con­trol to global mar­ket reg­u­la­tions - are es­sen­tial so that food price volatil­ity, global re­ces­sions and cli­mate change can be jointly man­aged to min­imise the global ef­fects of lo­calised shocks.

Progress takes work and lead­er­ship. Many of the Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals are likely to be met by 2015, but suc­cess is by no means au­to­matic, and gains can­not be as­sumed to be per­ma­nent. Help­ing vul­ner­a­ble groups and re­duc­ing in­equal­ity are es­sen­tial to sus­tain­ing devel­op­ment both now and across gen­er­a­tions.

Hun­dreds of scav­engers who make a liv­ing out of col­lect­ing garbage in the mu­nic­i­pal in­cin­er­a­tor's grounds line up to get food from a Chris­tian char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion on the out­skirts of Tegu­ci­galpa, Hon­duras.

Syr­ian res­i­dents and res­cue work­ers search through rub­ble for sur­vivors fol­low­ing an air strike by gov­ern­ment forces on July 17, 2014 in the north­ern city of Aleppo.

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