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Latin America Makes Progress, Gap with Rich Countries Remains

May 13, 2010


Gabriela Aguilar +1(202) 4736768, gaguilar2@worldbank.org

Julia Barrera + 39 06 777 10 205, jbarrerab@worldbank.org


Madrid, May 13th, 2010 — In the last 15 years, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) opened the doors of development to an increasing number of citizens, by providing greater access to basic services (water, sanitation, electricity, education, health, etc.) needed to succeed in life. Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Argentina lead the 2010 Human Opportunity Index (HOI), according to a new World Bank study.


However, these countries are still far from the human opportunity levels reached in countries like Spain, France and the United States, the report adds.


Regarding to educational quality, all Latin American countries rank below levels attained by European and North American nations. With respect to the opportunity to access housing that is not overcrowded, only three regional countries —Costa Rica, Chile and Brazil— are placed above the European average, while the rest rank five points or more below.


The document What Opportunity Do our children Have? 2010 Report on Human Opportunity in Latin America and the Caribbean was presented today at Casa de America in Madrid by Marcelo Giugale, World Bank Director for Poverty Reduction Programs, in an event attended by the former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and the Director of the International Finance Department of Spain’s Finance Ministry, María Jesús Fernández.


The report indicates that opportunities for LAC children have increased by one percentage point every year since 1995. While this is encouraging, governments can still step up efforts to accelerate universal access to basic services, a process that at the current pace would take around 24 years, meaning a whole generation.


“Personal circumstances are still very important to children in the region. Their parents’ educational level will probably determine their own. Their birthplace still remains the main determinant to their access to basic infrastructure. Despite efforts undertaken in the last decade, Latin American governments have not yet managed to improve equity significantly,” Giugale said.


The HOI is a tool that allows users to measure how much personal circumstances such as place of birth, family wealth, race or gender impact a child’s  access to services that are necessary to advance in life like primary education, drinking water or an electricity network, to be successful in life. The report includes representative data from more than 200 million children in 19 countries during the last 15 years, and compares human opportunities in the region with those in certain developed countries.

Standardized comparisons in Latin America and the Caribbean, like the one presented today, are very limited both in coverage and data quality. The work developed by the World Bank is a tool that should be taken into account as a benchmark when designing poverty reduction policies in our countries. This report is particularly relevant, not only for its valuable statistic information, but above all, for the principles it promotes”, said Chile’s former president, Michelle Bachelet, who managed to significantly improve her country’s social indicators during her administration.

According to this new edition of the HOI, all LAC countries have made progress in the last fifteen years, but there is significant disparity between them: the fastest improvement occurred in Mexico.  Chile shows the best performance (a HOI of 95, with 100 being the highest), while Honduras’ HOI is 51.


Some countries have significantly expanded access to certain services but not others. Jamaica, for example, shows the highest HOI in education, but it has an average score with respect to housing. The report indicates that Brazil and Mexico could provide universal access to drinking water, electricity and sanitation services during the next decade.


The countries with the highest HOI —Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Argentina, all of them with an index above 85, meaning that more than 85 percent of the services required for universal coverage are available and assigned equitably— have very different development models.


Only one tenth of the average HOI progress in LAC can be attributed to a fairer assignment of services as a result of improvements in public social spending targeting systems. The great majority of new opportunities are mainly a result of changes in personal circumstances, for example, migration has reduced the ratio of service-lacking rural population.


The report takes into account the results of the OECD’s standardized test, the Program for International Student Assessment, and demographic information relevant to the construction of an educational HOI for 15-year old children around the world. In this way it measures the importance of personal circumstances in these children’s reading skills, math and science, and even though they get higher scores, Chile and Uruguay still rank below countries with the lowest scores for Europe and North America.


This gap, the study shows, is due not only to the fact that developed countries provide more educational services, but to the relatively unfair manner in which these are distributed in LAC. In the Latin American context, the wealthier a family is, the better its children’s test results become.


The second edition of this report builds on the HOI results from 2008 and also evaluates human opportunities in 15 countries, analyzing regions, states and cities, including 165 sub-national governments in regions, states and cities. The document puts the spotlight on the significant gap that exists between capital cities and the rest of the country, which is wider in basic education infrastructure. Nevertheless, that gap has narrowed in the last 13 years, as seven of the biggest ten improvements were registered in areas outside the capital.


In order to obtain more information on the Human Opportunity Index, please consult: www.worldbank.org/lac