Achilles Heel to Progress

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 22 2020

Stunting and deficiencies in higher learning are twin evils that Sri Lanka needs to tackle if it’s to progress in developing its human capital, data on the 2nd Edition of the World Bank (WB)’s Human Capital Index (HCI) 2020 report released on Wednesday 16 September showed.

In this connection, WB’s Country Manager for Sri Lanka Ms Chiyo Kanda on Thursday 17 September warned that though the WB and Sri Lanka have worked together for decades to invest in human capital, today these hard-won gains are at risk.

 WB’s Sri Lanka Country Director Faris H. Hadad-Zervos said that stunting due to chronic under-nutrition and the need for higher quality learning are two HCI areas which Sri Lanka needs to accelerate progress. 

He further said that to help address these gaps, a strategic focus on improving nutrition and enhancing learning in less developed regions of the country is needed, along with consistent measurement of stunting and internationally comparable learning outcomes. 

This is an indictment of a country which boasts of providing free education and free health to its people from the womb to the tomb, almost since Independence, 72 years ago in 1948.

‘Investments in human capital – knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives – are key to unlocking a child’s potential and to improving economic growth in every country,’ the WB added.

HCI 2020 showed that a child born in Sri Lanka today will be only 60 per cent productive when it grows up and if it enjoyed complete education and full health. Though, this is higher than the average for South Asia and lower middle-income countries, it was however lower when compared to some South-East and Asian economies.

For instance, Singapore’s HCI score was 88 per cent, Hong Kong (81 per cent), Japan and Korea (80 per cent each), Vietnam (69 per cent), China (65 per cent), Brunei (63 per cent) and Thailand and Malaysia (61 per cent) each.

 Mauritius, a Sub-Saharan African country (62 per cent), Seychelles, an island off Africa (63 per cent), two former Soviet North Asian republics Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan with scores of 63 per cent and 62 per cent respectively and the former  Marxist republic Albania, which, previously was almost similar to North Korea (63 per cent), were ahead of Sri Lanka in HCI 2020.

 HCI 2020 covered 174 countries, an extension of its first report HCI 2018 which covered 157 countries. HCI 2020 ranked Sri Lanka 71st with a 60 per cent score, up three notches from its HCI 2018 ranking of 74th (58 per cent). 

Complementing these developments, the European Commission (EC) on their website on 15 September (Tuesday) graphically showed that Sri Lanka was off target in its stunting reduction goal by 100,000 or by 50 per cent this year (2020).

EC said that whereas the Government of Sri Lanka targeted to reduce stunting of children under five years of age to 100,000 by this year, equivalent to nine per cent of children under five years of age being stunted, however, estimates showed that this number was double that figure at 200,000 as at 2018, equivalent to 14 per cent of children under five years of age being stunted, with this number (200,000) to remain unchanged this year as well. EC also graphically showed that the number of stunted children under five years of age was estimated at 300,000 in 2014.

EC further estimated that the number of stunted children under five years of age would continue to remain stagnant at 200,000 in another five years time to 2025 as well, consonant with the World Health Organisation’s governing body,  World Health Assembly’s  estimates.

‘Sri Lanka’s stunting reduction goal for children under five years of age has decelerated over a six-year period between 2012 and 2018,’ the EC said. It also said that whereas the baseline trend in stunting reduction of children under five years of age in the 22-year period covering the years 1990 to 2012 was estimated at an annual rate of three per cent, the current annual trend in reduction covering a 28-year period from 1990 to 2018 saw it being off target over the baseline trend by 0.6 percentage points to 2.4 per cent.

 EC also graphically showed that child (under five years of age) stunting estimated at just over 25 per cent or 500,000 in 1990, was sharply reduced over a three-year period by 20 per cent (100,000) to 400,000 in 1993, before steeply reducing at an accelerated rate of 25 per cent (another 100,000 in absolute terms) to 300,000 over a five-year period to 1998, with a 20 per cent stunting score by then.

But since, the rate of reduction in stunting has decelerated over a 22-year period to 14 per cent currently and is to remain stagnant at those levels even after another five years time to 2025, the EC warned.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 22 2020

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