Trinis or Trinbagonians, that essential multi-cultural mix of ethnicities and cultures, often consider themselves the happiest people on Earth. They can make jokes in the direst of circumstances.
So, I wonder how they are reacting to being 144 out of 152 on the Happy Planet Index (HPI), — in other words among the bottom 10 countries measured.
Life expectancy in Trinidad & Tobago (TT) has increased from 71 years in 2006 to 73.4 in 2020. This positive trend is encouraging despite increasing rates of obesity—particularly childhood obesity–diabetes, and cancers. Chronic kidney disease and diabetes cause 76% of all deaths in the country. The Ministry of Health has adopted a dedicated strategic plan to combat these non-communicable diseases and to motivate individuals and communities to adopt healthy lifestyles. Ambitious national targets have been set to reduce heart attacks by 30% and diabetes related amputations by 20%.
TT can also celebrate that its ecological footprint is diminishing from a high of 10.84 in 2009 to 8.24 in 2019. Consider this: TT is 512,838 hectares, its population is 1.4M.
Multiply population by our ecological footprint score of 8.24 and it is evident that we are using up more than twice our allocation of resources.
As a major producer of natural gas, petroleum products, acylic acids and ammonia, it is natural for this Caribbean nation to have high per capita emissions as well as a high GDP per capita, but it is certainly not natural to be the highest per capita producer of waste which it does not absorb.
The efforts to switch to greater renewable energy and efficient waste disposal are nascent. Habits die hard and diversification of the economy has been stalled for several decades.
When it comes to wellbeing, TT’s score went from 5.83 (2006) to 6.19 (2019) but the graphs show jagged and precipitous movements. This suggests that the subjective measure of how satisfied TT’s citizens feel about the quality of life on a ladder scale of 1-10, fluctuates significantly.
Two observations: dreadful crimes consistently hover in the national media and over 70% population does not trust the government. Because of its small size and relatively good urban infrastructure, inequalities are starkly evident. High rise luxury gated communities practically abut urban shantytowns and rural communities, which suffer from a lack of infrastructure and utilities. Frequent outages of internet, electricity and water restrain productivity and anger citizens. Young people with college degrees cannot find stable employment.
All these factors create a general anaphasia—the feeling that the society is falling apart.
TT has free public healthcare and education. Those who pay for these services in an alternative system tend to get better results. Generational psychopathologies and government-created dependencies have deepened structural inequalities. Ease of access to public services and public information needs to be addressed urgently as large segments of the population are stigmatised by bureaucratic practice.
To conclude, Costa Rica, which is number one on the Happy Planet Index, has a wellbeing score of 7 which is not so far from TT’s 6.19. But Costa Rica’s life expectancy of 80.5 is 7 years higher than in TT and its ecological footprint is 2.65 compared to TT’s massively larger footprint of 8.24. This is why TT’s overall HPI score is 31.6 – and Costa Rica’s 62.1.
Formulaic comparisons are not always helpful, because they can be too simplistic and exclude important contextual, cultural, and geographic factors. That said, these comparisons show that TT needs to work a lot harder on reducing its ecological footprint to free up greater resources for its national wellbeing.
Wellbeing interconnects trust, community, beauty, prosperity, and agency. Wellbeing emerges from a respectful listening conversation about our collective destiny. Let us start listening and talking about happiness and wellbeing.
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