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Faster progress in education and health in Philippines

28 May 2013

In the Philippines, the high 6.6-percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012, achieved despite the global downturn, has given the country new confidence. The strong figure helped motivate the country’s first investment-grade credit rating from international rating agencies and fueled a surging stock market. The country also has great strengths in the social arena—for example, a 95-percent literacy rate. And the participation of women in wage employment, in both chambers of Congress, and in senior management stands well above levels in Indonesia or Sri Lanka.

Economic growth is front-page news everywhere. But experience tells us that the link between income and human development is far from assured. Worldwide, countries with similar per capita incomes have had quite different achievements in basic education or basic health. In the 1990s, the Philippines and Sri Lanka had similar per capita incomes, yet the poverty rate in the Philippines was much higher then and has remained so.

So growth is necessary but not sufficient for advancing human development. Despite delivering strong growth, many countries in Asia and the Pacific have been unable to reach many of the targets for human development set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were announced by the United Nations in 2001.

This raises a crucial question as the 2015 expiry of the MDGs approaches: How can human development match or exceed the expectations generated by rising per capita income? A good place to start is with greater attention to education and health.

As the fastest-growing region in the world, Asia and the Pacific more than tripled per capita incomes during the past two decades. This helped income poverty rates fall from 55 percent in the early 1990s to less than 25 percent by the late 2000s. Yet, the region has not achieved the MDGs of universal primary education. Progress on child and maternal health has been weak. And targets for carbon emissions and forest cover have suffered serious setbacks.

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Vinod Thomas is Director General of Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank.


 
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