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COVID-19 Will Further Widen New Generation of Inequality

inequality-covid-19-maketexpress-inThe third decade of the 21st century is witnessing the biggest scatting, deadly, and the most cowardly attack on humanity. Covid-19 has hugely affected the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across the world at a time when the advancement and the supremacy of science and technology are the most pressing subject matters for nations to distinguish and illustrate their dominance and power among low and high human development nations. This technological advancement has become the reason for a new form of inequalities among low and highly developed countries in this 21st century. The enormous and more intensified impact of Covid-19 on humanity further goes to deepen this New Generation of Inequality (NGI).

As per UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), NGI viewed as, seeing the magnitude and intensity of inequality beyond the prism of income and wealth and deals with inequality in health, education, and other human-centric aspect of people’s life. So basically, it is Amartya Sen’s capability centric approach which makes a plethora of choices in people’s life. Thus, viewing inequality within the enhanced capabilities of people is called the New Generation of Inequality.

People have many dimensions of life which cannot be defined only by the resources and its price. An individual would be better off even having fewer resources, but having higher abilities for achievement in life’s valuable domains. In support of this argument here is what Sen said while delivering a lecture at the central hall of Cambridge University in 1985 “we could be well off without being well, we could be good without being able to lead the life we wanted, we could have got the life we wanted without being happy”.
Capabilities are at the heart of human development. There are two sets of capabilities -basic capabilities and enhanced capabilities. Achieving both these capabilities are equally important for increasing and achieving high human development, good state of being, and overall human well being.

As per UNDP classification, the examples of basic capabilities achievement are; early childhood survival, primary education, entry-level technology, resilience to recurrent shocks, and many more. Furthermore, the standard of enhanced capabilities, achievements is; access to quality health at all levels, high-quality education at all levels, effective access to present-day technologies, resilience to unknown new shocks.

The 21st century has witnessed unprecedented improvement in the standards of living almost everywhere in the world. The economic well being, measured by GDP per capita, doubled in the poor countries. Child mortality has halved relative to 1990s, and the proportion of children attending school has increased from 56 per cent to 80 per cent globally. People having low human development fell from 3 billion to 926 million or  60 per cent of world population to 12 per cent. People having high and very high human development rise from 1.3 billion to 3.8 billion or 24 per cent of the global population to 51 per cent of the population.

Despite having such chest thumbing achievement, still, there are considerable differences among the key elements of human development between low and high development countries.

Basic and Enhanced Capabilities In Low and High Development Countries.

The differences in life expectancy at birth between the low (59.4 years) and very high (78.4) developed countries is 19 years. Such differences in expected longevity persist at every age.

At the age of 70, the life expectancy of low human development countries is 9.8 years as compared to 14.6 years in very high human development countries. Same as the case with primary and tertiary education.

In low development countries, only 42.3 percent of adults have primary education as compared to 93.5 per cent in very high development countries. In the case of tertiary education, only 3.2 percent of adults have tertiary education compared to 28.6 per cent in high development countries.

The statistics are highly skewed in case of access to technology measured through mobile-cellular subscription and fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. There are only 67 mobile phone subscribers in low human developing counties compared to 131.6 in very high human development countries. And  in the case of fixed-broadband subscriptions, less than one subscription (0.80) in low development countries compared to 28.3 in very highly developed countries.

The most sensitive data of world poverty are still massive, which is like this; 600 million people still living in extreme income poverty and it increases to 1.3 billion when measured through Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). Around 262 million children are out of primary or secondary school, and 5.4 million children do not survive their first five years of life.  

Convergence in Basic Capabilities 

The inequalities in basic capabilities are shrinking across the counties among all levels of development. But at the same time, inequalities in enhanced capabilities are rising, i.e. A new generation of inequalities is widening.

From the year 2005 to 2015, the low human development countries registered the growth in life expectancy at birth (5.9 years) which is almost three times more than the high development nation (2.4 years).

A percentage of population with primary education, in lower developed countries, the change from 2007 to 2017 registered to 5.3 per cent compared to 3 per cent in very high human development countries. During the same period, the growth in mobile- cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in low human development countries is 49.3% as compared to 26.1% in very high development countries.

A new set of Inequality in Enhanced Capabilities 

Despite convergence in basic capabilities, inequalities in enhanced capabilities have widened across all human development groups. From the year 2005 to 2015, in the case of life expectancy at age 70, only 0.50 years changes have registered in low developed nations compared to 1.2 years in very high development countries.

In the case of the share of the population with tertiary education, 1.1 percent point has increased in low development nations compared to 7.1 per cent in a very high development nation from the year 2007 to 2017. It means a very high development nation is growing more than six times faster than low development countries.

Same as the case with the fixed broadband subscription. From the year 2007 to 2017, 0.80 out of per 100 inhabitants have registered in the low developed nation. While it is 12.3 per 100 in a very high development nation, it means in the very highly developed countries, it is growing 15 times faster than in low development countries.

There is the convergence in the basic capabilities after the second decades of the 21st century – the target agenda through which HDI stated way back in 1990. But now there is the divergence in the new set of indicators which is termed as enhanced capabilities, and these differences are quite dramatic and enormous.

The countries lagging in these indicators might lose the new opportunities of the 21st century. That too, at a time when the world is witnessing the blink of the technological revolution.

Whatever we see today in the form of technological revolution, it is just a blink; this is what Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella wrote in his book Hit Refresh. The enormous impact of technological revolution and the digital divide among nations is yet to be seen and analysed with the prism of the new generation of inequalities. 

Power of Human Development

In its very first report, UNDP defined human development as “it is the process of enlarging people’s choices. The most critical of these wide ranges- ranging choices are to live a long and healthy life, to be educated, and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living. Additional choices include political freedom, guaranteed human rights, and personal self-respect”.

Precisely after the 30 years of its first report, UNDP illustrates the power of human development trough very fascinating factual data which is like this: in the year 2000 a child born in high human development nation and one in low development countries, exactly after 20 years the following changes have been estimated by UNDP in both the types of countries.

In the lowest human development counties, the 17 per cent of children will die before the age of 20 years as compared to just only 1 per cent in case of high development countries. 80% per cent children are not in higher education as compared to 44 per cent in high development countries that means only 3 percent (100-80+17=3) children enrolled in higher education as compared to 55 per cent (100-44+1=55) in high human development countries.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 is vast and beyond calculation. Non-availability of any scientifically approved medicine and the nature of exponential growth of spreading of COVID-19, has forced the governments and concerned authorities across the world to weaponise the physical distancing among people via lock down the whole country to combat over it. This causes a new set of socioeconomic disorder. Be it teaching-learning process via online mode, or accumulating the essential commodities, or reverse migration from industrial centric cities towards villages and many more, all dented the old setups and draw a line between the haves and have nots. After this invincible COVID-19 new set of world orders and so-called new normal further going to dent the new generation of inequalities across the world.

Note: Data Used in the Article has been taken from UNDP.