THE South Pacific Ocean nation of Vanuatu is the most “happy” and “sustainable” in the Asia-Pacific region, according to The Happy Planet Index (HPI), released recently by the New Economics Foundation (NEF).
Vanuatu has the highest HPI score outside of the Americas at 40.6, with its people reporting higher levels of well-being (6.5) compared to those living in Japan (6.0), one of the region’s most developed countries.
“Vanuatu’s ecological footprint is also just a quarter of the size of Japan’s,” said the foundation.
Meanwhile, Vietnam, with a score of 40.3, was found to have a “strikingly low ecological footprint and economic output per head almost 24 times smaller than nearby Hong Kong”.
The country is also one of only three countries in the top 10 of the index with an ecological footprint “small enough to be considered environmentally sustainable”, at 1.7.
Two other Asian countries, Bangladesh and Thailand, also made the global top 10 in the index, at #8 and #9 respectively.
Bangladesh’s low ecological footprint (0.7) helped it secure a strong score, even though it was rated poorly for well-being (4.7).
The people of Thailand, on the other hand, are among the most happy, with a well-being score of 6.3.
Overall, out of 140 nations, Costa Rica topped the list – for the third time.
Here are the top 20 Asia-Pacific countries in the 2016 Index:
Many developed and developing nations’ scores were negatively affected by their poor ecological footprint scores, such as Malaysia (#46; 3.7 for ecological footprint), Japan (#58; 5.0), South Korea (#80; 5.7), Australia (#105; 9.3), and Hong Kong (#123; 8.8).
According to the index, countries with an ecological footprint score exceeding 3.46 were considered “poor”.
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Cambodia, Myanmar and Mongolia had the lowest scores for well-being in the region, all scoring less than 5.
Singapore did not appear on the index at all, probably due to incomplete data.
The NEF, which aims to promote social, economic, and environmental justice, argues against the widely-held belief that economic growth and high GDP lead to happiness and well-being.
“GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy.
“It does not reflect inequalities in material conditions between people in a country. It does not properly value the things that really matter to people like social relations, health, or how they spend their free time,” it said.
Instead, the index looks at each country’s ecological footprint, well-being, life expectancy, and inequality in order to measure its score.
Data was pulled from the United Nations, Gallup World Poll, and the Global Footprint Network to calculate the scores.
This story first appeared on Asian Correspondent.