Thursday, December 08, 2005

Report on human development in El Salvador

The United Nations Development Program issued an important report last week reviewing economic and human development indicators in El Salvador. In a statement, the UN described the report this way:

San Salvador, 30 November 2005: While conventional wisdom says that international migration is the antithesis of a country's human development -- because it hemorrhages its most valuable resource, its people --– El Salvador's 2005 National Human Development Report paints a contradictory picture. Thanks to the ever-increasing links between those living abroad and those living inside the country, international migration is becoming El Salvador's ticket into the club of 'high human development' countries worldwide.

"Una Mirada al Nuevo Nosotros: El Impacto de las Migraciones" (in English, "A Glance at the 'New Us:' The Impact of Migration"), is the fourth National Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of El Salvador. The Report, to be launched on 1 December in San Salvador, contains a statistical compendium which has the most updated human development indicators for El Salvador and, in a first for any National Human Development Report, statistical indicators for Salvadoreans living in the United States.

"The fact that this is the first time a National Human Development Report measures life for a country's citizens both within and outside its national borders is a clear indication that migration does more than shift where people live," says Beat Rohr, UNDP Resident Representative in El Salvador. "Salvadoreans from the Diaspora, primarily those based in the United States, are constructing a new and unknown country here in El Salvador and this Report, then, makes evident that so far many people had diagnosed and planned a country that doesn't exist any more."

Although there are no conclusive estimates of the number of Salvadorean immigrants who over the last 30 years have left in search of better economic and physical security to countries like the United States, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Italy, and Australia, one thing is clear: the remittances they sent to their families back home topped US$2.5 billion in 2004 alone. The figure, equivalent to more than 16% of El Salvador's gross domestic product, revitalized the small Central American country following 10 years of economic stagnation.

The full text of the report is available here (in Spanish). Perhaps the most useful part of the report is the very complete set of economic and other statistics for the country, which provide information on everything from literacy rates, to income, to life expectancy, to housing adequacy, on a department by department basis.

Reviewing those statistics, as El Faro did, you learn that economic growth has slowed to below 2% since 2000; unemployment has remained high and unchanged since 1991, while underemployment has increased; the real value of average wages fell 12% between 1988 and 2004 and the real value of the minimum wage in the country fell 17%. Perhaps the picture is not as rosy as the UN press release would lead you to believe.

All parties agree, however, that the impact of emigration and remittances back to El Salvador has dramatically changed El Salvador both economically and socially. The report strongly points out that the government of El Salvador has been very slow to adjust to this new reality in its planning for the country.

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