By Luis F. Lopez-Calva, Director, National Human Development Report-UNDP Mexico
In 2001, the Government of Mexico requested the production of a National Human Development Report during a historical time - one year after the political party that had been in power for more than seventy years lost a presidential election. This event represented the beginning of a new era in Mexico’s political system and relations with a variety of national and international actors. Mexico was one of the few countries in the region at the time that had yet to produce an HDR. Thus, a small team was put in place in 2002 and the first HDR was launched in June 2003, which was welcomed by the Cabinet for Social and Human Development –composed by the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development. The main theme was Regional and Interpersonal Inequality, in a country where human development statistics based on national averages had failed to indicate regional disparities.
The HDR provided a detailed map of human development in the Mexican states and looked at the evolution of inequalities between 1950 and 2000. The report also proposed a new way to aggregate the Human Development Index (HDI) to ensure the index was sensitive to disparities among people and across regions. The first report has been widely cited in academic circles and also prompted a wave of interest by state governments and federal policy makers. It was a solid first step.
The decision was then to move towards a deeper understanding of the determinants of the aforementioned unequal picture. Therefore, the second report was devoted to The Challenge of Local Development. An intermediate step was required: constructing the HDI at the municipality level with reliable information related to municipal income, a task that implied a non-trivial technical challenge. Also, in order to reinforce the analytical and political strength of the report, an advisory board was created, including important personalities from academia, public opinion and public policy realms. This advisory board was designed to be the first layer of the national human development network, and turned out to be a fundamental source of ideas, credibility and ownership in civil society circles. Undoubtedly, the creation of this board was key to the success of the second report in terms of policy impact. The second HDR in Mexico was launched on July 12th, 2005 and was received by President Vicente Fox and key members of his Cabinet.
Right from the start, the President showed a clear commitment to take the report seriously. His commitment became explicit when, one week later, the President himself and his social cabinet visited the municipalities with the lowest HDI ranking, Metlatonoc in the state of Guerrero and Coicoyán de las Flores in the state of Oaxaca. He decided to hold a formal cabinet meeting during his visit. The media reported on the poverty-related issues concerning the region the President had just visited, in addition to noting that these regions had previously never been visited by any federal authority; not even by governors of the respective states. Follow up initiatives and discussions have been featured in the media for several weeks. The challenge is now obvious: how to translate all the media attention and interest into concrete policies and focus action to alleviate the situation in the regions that are lagging behind. Another related initiative was a seminar held in early August with more than 250 mayors, in order to come up with specific policies that can be derived from the report.
Three years and two national human development reports later, complemented by a long series of seminars and working sessions across the country, interesting results have emerged: inequality has come back to the public policy agenda and signs of commitment by the government may result in concrete actions. Many events are reflected in the impact of the HDR in Mexico: historical changes in the democratic life of the country, a strong, active role of civil society and the media, and the political will of the Government. The HDR in Mexico has played a significant role in the process by offering an independent and rigorous analysis to contribute to public discussion and change. There is still, however, a long way to go.
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