The boom and the busted

“The hard numbers have proved that prosperity does not trickle down,” said Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, at the launch of the Basic Capabilities Index computed by this non-governmental watchdog organization. “It used to be common sense that a growing economy benefits the poor, that a rising tide will lift all boats, big or small, or that the pie has to grow first before we can share it,” he added, but the figures published by Social Watch on the eve of the international days on hunger and poverty seem to show the opposite.

Progress on education, health and nutrition was slower after the year 2000, when global economies were booming than in the previous decade. “And now the most vulnerable people and countries will suffer disproportionately from global economic stagnation,” Bissio explained at the launch of the index in the Netherlands. The Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) is a composite measurement developed by Social Watch to assess poverty according to social performance, without using income as a yardstick.

Download - full size (pdf version)                                                                                                          Graphic: Social Watch

The average world per capita income more than doubled between 1990 and 2011 and the World Bank claims that the percentage of persons living with under one dollar per day (or U$S 1.25 when adjusted for inflation) was cut to half between 1980 and 2005. But the basic indicators of child mortality, attended births and primary education measured by the BCI showed slower progress during the prosperity that followed the year 2000 than in the previous decade.

Since social indicators are gathered and published much later than the economic numbers, the BCI 2011 does not assess yet the whole impact of the economic and financial crisis that started in 2008. Yet, Social Watch member organizations are reporting that austerity measures being put in place as a response to the crisis are affecting disproportionately the most vulnerable sectors.

“Economic inequality explains why the gains are appropriated by a few during the boom,” said Bissio, “and the concentration of power that results from this inequity ensures that the losses are socialized during the crisis, thus widening the gap even more.”

The countries holding the top positions in the list according to BCI values this year are Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland and Iceland. The countries that rank worse in the BCI 2011 are all African: Chad, Sierra Leone, Niger, Somalia and Guinea Bissau. In 2000 the worse positioned was Afghanistan but due to lack of reliable date no ranking is provided for this worn-torn country this year.

By region, the figures for Latin America, East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, show a significant slowing down when comparing the first decade of the 21st century to the previous one. Only marginal change has been registered for Europe and North America, but the index in those regions is already very close to the theoretical maximum of 100 per cent.

On a positive note, Sub-Saharan Africa, departing from very low levels, registered slightly higher increments in BCI levels in the period 2000-2011 compared to the previous decade.

Between 1990 and 2011, the number of countries with a BCI level considered “critical” decreased from 42 to 28. Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo (in Sub-Saharan Africa); Guatemala (Latin America); Djibouti, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen (Middle East and North Africa); Laos and Myanmar (East Asia); and Bhutan and India (South Asia) have moved up from “critical” to “very low”.

The number of countries with medium BCI levels increased from 44 in 1990 to 52 in 2011. Countries that have moved one level higher are, among others: Algeria, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia (Middle East and North Africa); Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Maldives and Vietnam  (Central, South and East Asia); and Belize, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Suriname (Latin America). El Salvador registered the highest increase in BCI in this group: 17 points during this period. In contrast, countries such as Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Thailand have moved down from basic BCI to medium level.

Nineteen countries registered low BCI levels in 2011. Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua (in Latin America), and Cape Verde, Zimbabwe and Swaziland (in Sub-Saharan Africa), among others, improved their standing from very low/critical to low BCI level. Within this group of countries with low BCI levels, Bhutan in South Asia recorded the highest increase of 28 points, climbing up from critical to low BCI level.

BCI is based on key capabilities that are essential for survival and human dignity. It is made up of basic indicators that are used to measure the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: mortality among children under five, proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel, and a combination of enrolment in primary education, the proportion of children reaching fifth grade and the adult literacy rate.

More information:

The Basic Capabilities Index 2011 (in xls format)
The Basic Capabilities Index 2011 (in pdf format)
BCI trends by region, 1990, 2000 & 2011
BCI trends, 1990 to 2011 – Slowing down
See the ICB in a interactive map