Malaysia has been ranked among the top 60 out of 168 countries in an index compiled by a US-based non-profit group to measure social performance including the relationship between sustainability and social progress.
The Social Progress Index 2021, compiled by the Social Progress Imperative, measures social performance based on 53 social and environmental indicators.
Among Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia ranked second after Singapore (30) and ahead of other neighbouring countries Thailand (71), Indonesia (94), Vietnam (78), the Philippines (97), Cambodia (128), Myanmar (117), and Laos (145).
It scored 90 points for nutrition and basic medical care (91.33), water and sanitation (90.29), and shelter (91.84).
It showed the most improvement in health and wellness (67.64 from 66.69 in 2020), with a better score in nutrition and basic medical care as well (91.33, an increase of 0.22).
Malaysia’s overall performance was relative to 15 countries of similar gross domestic product per capita including Turkey, Greece, Hungary and Uruguay.
However, Malaysia also slipped in some areas such as personal rights (66.22) and access to advanced education (61.26), which declined from last year’s 69.46 and 65.97 points respectively.
According to the index, personal rights and inclusiveness are among the areas that saw an overall decline across the world. Some 69% or 116 out of 168 countries saw individual rights rolled back since 2011, with a significant decrease in personal rights (-5.90).
The relationship between sustainability and social progress was included in the index for the first time this year, revealing that Costa Rica, Ghana, Jamaica and Sweden have relatively low levels of emission compared to other countries while outperforming them on many aspects of social progress.
Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative, said countries do not need to choose between tackling climate change and advancing social progress.
“Too many countries are choosing a model of development that is not sustainable, but they don’t have to. Other models exist that would allow us to balance the needs of people and the planet. The solutions are already out there,” he said.
The index also showed that the Covid-19 pandemic has rolled back the fight against inequalities.
“From the growing education gap to health disparities, we have seen how the world’s most vulnerable populations are bearing the brunt of many of the world’s crises, including the climate crisis.
“Although different countries are at different places in their sustainability journeys, we all must work together – both governments and business – so that we can face this global issue head-on while also focusing on social, health, and economic outcomes over time,” said Sharon Thorne, global board chair of Deloitte which supported the index.
Countries with higher social progress were also found to be more resilient to the non-health-related stresses caused by the pandemic. However, in 44 countries, access to quality healthcare became more unequal during the last year.