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Despite improvements, Costa Rica falls in human development rankings

October 2, 2009

Costa Rica may be climbing on the human development index, but it´s slowly being outpaced by other Latin American countries.

This year, Costa Rica watched Bahamas, Cuba and Mexico slip past it, contributing to nudging the country down from 48th to 54th place in rankings conducted each year by the United Nations Development Program.

The problem wasn´t in the country´s life expectancy (Costa Rica´s remains one of the highest in Latin America), nor in its adult literacy rate. However, Costa Rica stumbled when it came to school enrollment.

“Without a doubt, the main challenge is improving enrollment, which is one of the lowest among the more developed countries,” said Lara Blanco, coordinator of human development at the United Nations.

According to the report, which was released Monday, Costa Rica has a 73 percent matriculation rate, lower than Venezuela´s 85.9 percent, Panama´s 79.7 percent and El Salvador´s 74 percent.

Yet, the data sidesteps new social programs aimed at preventing drop-outs. Because the United Nations used numbers from 2007, improvements under the Avancemos initiative are not reflected in the calculations. Avancemos, which was unrolled in Costa Rica in 2006, offers students scholarships to remain in school, and is believed to have decreased the number of dropouts.

Costa Rica also suffered in comparisons of per-capita gross domestic product (GDP). Costa Rica´s $10,842 lags behind countries like Bahamas ($20,253 per capita), Venezuela ($12,156) and Panama ($11,391).

Even while some countries snuck past them in the ratings, Costa Rica still saw an improvement on the scale from .846 in last year´s numbers to .854 this year.

The index judges countries in four areas, including adult literacy, school enrollment, life expectancy and GDP per capita. Doing away with old terms, such as third-world or developing, the United Nations places countries into four groups: Very high human development, high human development, medium human development and low human development. Costa Rica was one of 44 countries ranking in high human development.

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