Jamaica was ranked the third happiest nation on earth according to Happy Planet Index which was recently published by Britain’s New Economics Foundation. The index attempts to measure how well countries use their resources to deliver longer lives, greater physical well-being and satisfaction for their populations.
Excerpt from the Happy Planet Index Report
Jamaica’s appearance in the top three of the HPI table comes somewhat as a surprise. It is fair to say that the country has been in some economic trouble for over 30 years, resulting in high levels of inequality and unemployment, and some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Moderate levels of life satisfaction perhaps reflect this reality.
And yet, despite these problems, the island is able to maintain some of the best levels of health in the developing world, as indicated by its high average life expectancy. Together with its very small ecological footprint, it is this which puts Jamaica towards the top of the HPI table.
In his book Poverty and life expectancy: the Jamaica paradox, American historian Professor James Riley traces the roots of the island’s good health.119 He finds that gains in life expectancy began to be made in the 1920s, as the British imperial apparatus began to pull out of the island, and continued for 50 years. What is notable is that these gains were made regardless of economic growth. For example, between 1920 and 1950, life expectancy increased from 36 years to 55 years, despite stagnant GDP growth. He attributes the progress to well-targeted low-cost government solutions such as good sanitation and public awareness campaigns. As a result, most Jamaicans have access to improved water – unusual in a county with a GDP per capita one-tenth that of the USA. Also of note are the conditions around childbirth in the country: 97 per cent of babies are born with the assistance of skilled health professionals, and only four per cent of children are underweight – a figure comparable to richer nations such as Argentina. Lastly, it is worth noting that, despite high inequality, Jamaica is able to ensure that few people fall in the most extreme poverty bracket. The proportion of people living on under $1-a-day is less than in richer countries such as Costa Rica, Argentina or Turkey.
With regards to its ecological footprint, Jamaica is starting to move towards renewable energy sources. The Wigton Wind Farm, constructed in 2004, provides 63GWh per year of electricity.121 Currently, approximately five per cent of its energy requirements are met from renewable sources – a low figure but roughly the same as that of the UK.
Top 10 of Happy Planet Index Report
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador