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Vanuatu celebrates top ranking in Happy Planet Index

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Vanuatu is proud to announce its achievement of ranking #1 out of over 150 countries worldwide on the Happy Planet Index (HPI), for the second time since the index was first published in 2006.

Two Government ministers, government officials, representatives from the diplomatic corps, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and the general public celebrated Vanuatu’s achievement of claiming the top spot in the HPI at the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VKS) in Port Vila yesterday afternoon.

The new HPI rankings were revealed yesterday to compare how well nations are creating human wellbeing using their limited environmental resources.

Vanuatu claimed the top spot, as revealed in the data analysis conducted and produced by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), an independent think tank based in the United Kingdom (UK).

This index rates countries based on their overall well-being and environmental sustainability, marking a significant departure from traditional economic metrics. Surprisingly, while Vanuatu shines at the forefront, European nations find themselves trailing far behind in the rankings.

The HPI turns the old world order on its head by highlighting how rich Western nations are often inefficient at creating wellbeing for their people. Vanuatu has again been ranked in first place for the second time due to its respect-driven cultural values and practices and its commitment to environmental protection and climate action.

In contrast, the United States of America was placed as the lowest scoring G7 nation at 122nd place, ranking low on both wellbeing and ecological footprint.

The HPI measures ‘efficiency’ using three indicators – wellbeing, life expectancy and ecological footprint. It was created by statistician Nic Marks, who said: “Promoting human happiness doesn’t have to be at odds with creating a sustainable future. The HPI’s mantra is that good lives don’t have to cost the earth, and after 18 years of rankings, this feels more relevant and timely than ever.”

Countries that rank highly on the HPI show that it is possible to live long, happy lives with a much smaller ecological footprint than found in the highest-consuming nations.

The top 10 countries by HPI score are as follows:

  1. Vanuatu
  2. Sweden
  3. El Salvador
  4. Costa Rica
  5. Nicaragua
  6. Denmark
  7. Spain
  8. Panama
  9. France
  10. Chile

Speaking on behalf of the Minister of Finance, John Salong, yesterday, the Minister of Health, John Still Tari Qetu, stated that an index is a statistical tool that aggregates various indicators to understand something. There are many indices in the world today, such as the poverty index, corruption index, development index, and price index of items purchased from stores or markets.

“These indexes help a country understand its performance when compared to other countries in the world or region,” he said.

“We can see how we perform on these indices and how our position or score changes when indices are published regularly. For a country to be included in such an index, data must be available.

“The United Nations publishes the Human Development Index or HDI, which looks at three standard indicators of health, education, and income. Many countries view the HDI as a good tool to show progress, but almost everything reported for HDI largely depends on access to money, and HDI does not consider environmental quality at all.”

He mentioned that in 2021, Vanuatu was ranked number 140 out of over 150 countries in the world on the HDI. It is one of the worst countries in terms of human development in this index because of low income. In the same year, 2021, Vanuatu was ranked number 2 in the world out of over 150 countries on the Happy Planet Index, or HPI. The HPI ranks countries on their ability to provide happy and long lives for their people in a way that does not destroy the environment.

“The Happy Planet Index is a tool for measuring the sustainability of development in the world,” he said.

“Many countries follow a development model that tries to grow the economy endlessly, believing that if money or the economy grows, the well-being of the people will increase. But many developments that harm the environment can make the economy grow.

“Western indices like the Human Development Index, which compare the development of countries around the world, look at income, assets or things that need money to buy (like air conditioners, trucks, and mobile phones), and access to services that require money to use (like the main power grid and public water treatment).

“The Happy Planet Index is independent of money and measures countries on their ability to transform their natural resources into the well-being of their people. HPI looks at: Life expectancy, which is a standard indicator of health. The development of a country should not compromise the health of its population. The experience of well-being, which is a standard indicator of happiness. The development of a country should not compromise the happiness of its population.”

The Minister further stated that the consumption, which is a standard indicator of the quality of the natural environment, the development of a country should not spoil the natural environment that the population depends on for a long and happy life.

The HPI has been published every 3-4 years since 2006 when Vanuatu was #1 in the world. In 2006, every country in the world was included in the index, and if a country did not have an indicator, they estimated its value with another indicator.

Following the review of the 2006 HPI, many countries complained about the inclusion of other countries that did not collect data on life satisfaction. The HPI released in 2009 and 2012 did not include Vanuatu, and every other Pacific country that was in the 2006 HPI was removed, like Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In 2010, Vanuatu ran a pilot of “Alternative Indicators of Wellbeing for Melanesia” through Malvatumauri with the partnership of the Vanuatu National Statistics Office (now Vanuatu Bureau of Statistics or VBoS), and a report came out in 2012.

Following the report of the 2012 pilot study, there were other collections of statistics that took life satisfaction, and HPI asked Vanuatu to submit new data. Vanuatu returned to the HPI in 2016 and took #4 in the world and #1 in the Asia/Pacific region.

“Following Vanuatu’s #2 ranking in 2021, we continue to collect well-being data and today, the Happy Planet Index has published again with new rankings for countries around the world. We see Vanuatu in the HPI again through the hard work of everyone at the VBoS on the Melanesian Wellbeing Indicator Project,” Acting Finance Minister Qetu said.

“As the Minister responsible for official statistics, I am very pleased to announce that this morning, Friday, May 3, 2024, international media reported that Vanuatu has once again ranked #1 in the world on the Happy Planet Index.

“For over 18 years now, Vanuatu has shown the world that we have something that has value beyond money. The eyes of the world are on Vanuatu again following today’s announcement that Vanuatu is the most efficient country in the world at delivering sustainable wellbeing outcomes for its people.”

The Minister said Vanuatu is the only Pacific Island Country on the HPI because the other island countries in the region do not collect data on the wellbeing of their people.

“I believe that if more countries in the Pacific were to collect and report wellbeing as part of their official statistics program, we would see many of them near the top of the HPI, just as Vanuatu has been since 2006.The exhibition we are attending today is to show the world and to remind us in Vanuatu of everything we have that makes us #1 in the world on the Happy Planet Index,” he said.

Vanuatu’s success on the HPI reflects its deep respect for the environment and its dedication to sustainable practices. With a rich cultural heritage that emphasises the spiritual connection to the land, Vanuatu sets itself apart as a world leader in environmental stewardship. This respect for the environment is evident in the country’s indigenous land and sea rights, traditional resource management techniques, and progressive laws and governance agenda.

“We are thrilled to once again be recognised as the top-ranking country on the Happy Planet Index,” said Richard Shing, Director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. “This achievement is a testament to the enduring legacy of environmental stewardship that is deeply ingrained in our culture and values.”

Topping the HPI a second time over the last 20 years is also a testament to the work done by the Vanuatu Bureau of Statistics (VBoS) to collect and report life satisfaction data since 2010.

Andy Calo, the Chief Statistician at VBoS, said, “Vanuatu is currently the only Pacific Island Country to have the required data needed to calculate an HPI score as a result of our Melanesian Wellbeing Indicator initiative, which has helped to illustrate the valuable contributions our culture and environment make to our collective and individual wellbeing in Vanuatu”.

While celebrating this accomplishment, Vanuatu’s officials acknowledge that there are areas for improvement. The Government is committed to addressing challenges such as enhancing government stability, reducing violence against women, improving education outcomes, and building an economy that better meets the needs of our growing population.

“We recognise that there is still work to be done to further improve the well-being of our citizens,” stated Mr. Shing. “However, this achievement affirms the importance of our kastoms, culture, leaders, and laws in shaping a sustainable and fulfilling life in Vanuatu.”

Vanuatu remains dedicated to its mission of achieving balanced and sustainable development while preserving its unique cultural heritage and pristine environment. The country looks forward to continuing its journey towards a brighter and more prosperous future for all its citizens.

Source: Vanuatu Daily Post

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