THE PHILIPPINES should focus on critical areas of human development such as climate-resilient infrastructure and education to help boost its recovery from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official said.

“The Philippines has been hit by COVID-19 and has pushed back some of the development indicators that the country had invested in, so we did see a drop in the human development indicators. This was not unexpected, the question is how we can recover and move back to this track,” Kanni Wignaraja, United Nations assistant secretary-general and UNDP regional director, told BusinessWorld in an interview on Oct. 28.

She visited the Philippines last week on an official mission, meeting with senior government officials to discuss ways to accelerate recovery.

The Philippines ranked 116th out of 191 countries in the latest UNDP Human Development Index, down three places from 113th.

The index ranks countries based on three dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

With a score of 0.699 out of 1, the Philippines was below the East Asia and the Pacific’s average of 0.749 and the global average of 0.732.

“In the process of recovery, how does one move very quickly to generating jobs and new livelihoods for young people? That was a big focus of the conversation and this has to be done from the barangay level onwards, so you look at community livelihoods and incomes and how to protect and promote these,” Ms. Wignaraja said.

The Philippine economy grew by 7.8% in the first half, still above the government’s 6.5-7.5% full-year target. The unemployment rate eased to 5.3% in August from 8.1% a year ago.

Ms. Wignaraja said the Philippines should look at investing in climate-resilient, green infrastructure at the local level, especially since an average of 20 typhoons hit the country every year. 

“This country is hit over and over again by climate shocks that are not by its own doing. Investing more in these areas will put this country in a better human development track moving forward,” she added.

Climate-related hazards have resulted in P506.1 billion in losses and damage to the Philippines in the past decade, according to the Department of Finance.

The Philippines should also invest more in education, especially as students suffered significant learning losses due to prolonged school closures.

“I would say the biggest area when I look at the Philippines vis à vis its neighbors is that we see underinvestment in education. At the end of the day, people are the wealth of a nation. Reinvesting or investing more in learning and education is really going to propel this country forward,” Ms. Wignaraja said.

In the latest State of Global Learning Poverty report by the World Bank, the Philippines’ learning poverty was at 90.9%, the highest among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“The government should develop an education system that generates the new skills and capabilities of the young generation,” she added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson

BusinessWorld’s One-on-One interview with Kanni Wignaraja, United Nations assistant secretary-general and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regional director, will be shown on the Facebook pages of BusinessWorld  and The Philippine Star at 11 a.m., Nov. 4 (Friday).