The Caribbean refers to the chain of islands and mainland territories washed by the Caribbean Sea that share a similar historical, social and cultural background. Before one can argue whether or not the Caribbean is underdeveloped, the term development must be inspected. The United Nations defines development the ability to lead healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, access to resources for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community. The dimensions of social development are: social welfare, health, education, housing, urban and rural development and land reform.
The HDI of the UNDP combines measurement of per capita income, health and education. Quite logically if a nation fails to meet the factors of development, it will have to depend on foreigners for assistance leading to dependency. Due to the inability to completely sustain and meet the cost of living, respective Caribbean governments have sought loans and general assistance both within and outside the region. These assistance comes at a cost, indigenous ideas skills and minds tend to be overlooked for that of foreigners.
Transnational companies set up businesses in the various islands driving local industries out of business. To date, the only country in the region that has not sought a loan from the International Monetary Fund IMF, is Barbados, one of the Caribbean’s most developed country. This dependency syndrome rears its head in times of distress such as after natural disasters and also to do relatively unimportant projects. Financially the country suffers as profits that should be invested to create development have to be used to repay mounting debts. This is counterproductive to any nation seeking sustainable development.
The region is relatively well off by comparison with the rest of the developing world. However, there is a wide range of achievement in human development from country to country. This is evident in the HDI rankings by the UN. All the Caribbean countries except Haiti have an index ranking from high to medium human development. The main signal of development is education. Education helps people to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves and others, now and in the future, and to act upon these decisions.
An educated nation is less likely to suffer from over population as according to the demographic transition theory as a nation develops and reach can advanced stage children are seen as liabilities and thus avoided. Education also provides the country with indigenous ideas for improving economic and social developments in the country. An example can be drawn at random from any Caribbean country to prove this. Trinidad and Tobago is arguably the most developed country in the Caribbean and not coincidentally boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the region at 98. percent. Haiti, the most underdeveloped country in the region and has a literacy rate of 62. 1 percent. No coincidence for a country to develop and less dependent education. The health sector is another sore point in the Caribbean and a major hindrance to the Caribbean’s drive for sustainable development. Jamaica in particular has had serious problems with the health care system. A combination of a shortage of medical personnel, health facilities, medicine and surgical equipments has left much wanting among the public.
Despite making health care free to the public, there is a major problem of overcrowded understaffed hospitals and poorly ran pharmacies. Furthermore the country is dependent on foreign countries for medications as it is not produced locally for a number of reasons, mainly the lack of funds. Developed countries such as the US and the UK can not only afford to give fee health care but also to secure enough medical doctors, technicians and other personnels to have a smooth flowing health system.
So while Jamaica may not be underdeveloped, it is nowhere near comparative with that of first world nations and as such must be described as developing. Social welfare is yet another glaring indicator of social development, that is, how well a country is able to provide and take care of its unemployable and unemployed citizens. Social welfare is important if the cycle of illiteracy and poverty is continued. Social welfare programmes are geared towards ensuring persons of marginal receive fair and equal opportunities, children have the opportunity of education despite their parents economic standing for example.
In developed countries with the raising of retirement age to 65 years come mass protest, in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, this is seen as a rescue from the nightmares of low unsustainable pensions. Children of poor and unemployed parents may have the benefits of welfare packages that can never be compared to first world nations such as Canada or United States of America, it can however feed them and that are a good start to development. In concluding, one must admit that he Caribbean for the most part, though not the most developed of territories is on the right path. Besides Haiti, all Caribbean territories according to United Nations Development Program, has an Human Development Index ranging from medium to high. Dependency may be the biggest challenge for the region but with an educated population, who are passionate about health care and social welfare, development in general this too will be overcome hopefully soon.