The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) celebrated the 20th anniversary of its publication theHuman Development Report on 4th November 2010. The 2010 Report, entitled The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who helped devise the Human Development Index (HDI) for the first Human Development Report in 1990 with the late economist Mahbub ul Haq, the series founder.
The Human Development Reports and the HDI challenged purely economic measures of national achievement and helped lay the conceptual foundation for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), calling for consistent global tracking of progress in health, education and overall living standards. “TheHuman Development Reports have changed the way we see the world,” Ban Ki-moon said. “We have learned that while economic growth is very important, what ultimately matters is using national income to give all people a chance at a longer, healthier and more productive life.”
A detailed analysis of long-term HDI trends in this year’s Report revealed that most developing countries made dramatic yet often underestimated progress in health, education and basic living standards in recent decades, with many of the poorest countries posting the greatest gains. Yet patterns of achievement vary greatly, with some countries losing ground since 1970. Introducing three new human development indices, the 20th anniversary edition of the Report documents wide inequalities within and among countries, deep disparities between women and men on a wide range of development indicators and the prevalence of extreme multi-dimensional poverty in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The first Human Development Report introduced its pioneering HDI and analysed previous decades of development indicators, concluding that “there is no automatic link between economic growth and human progress.” The 2010 Report’s rigorous review of longer-term trends shows there is no consistent correlation between national economic performance and achievement in the non-income HDI areas of health and education. For example, in 1970, public spending on education averaged 3.9 per cent of GDP – in 2006, it had reached 5.1 percent. This increase continues a longer trend, with education spending a century ago at less than 1 per cent of GDP. Overall, as shown in the Report’s analysis of all countries for which complete HDI data are available for the past 40 years, life expectancy climbed from 59 years in 1970 to 70 in 2010, school enrolment rose from just 55 percent of all primary and secondary school-age children to 70 percent, and per capita GDP doubled to more than US$10,000. People in all regions shared in this progress, though to varying degrees. The 135 countries studied include 92 percent of the world’s population.
The “Top 10 Movers” highlighted in the 2010 Report, i.e. those countries among the 135 that improved most in HDI terms over the past 40 years, were led by Oman, which invested energy earnings over the decades in education and public health. The other nine “Top Movers” are China, Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco. The next 10 leaders in HDI improvement over the past 40 years include several low-income but high HDI-achieving countries “not typically described as success stories,” the Report notes, among them Ethiopia, Cambodia and Benin, all of which made big gains in education and public health.
The region with the fastest HDI progress since 1970 was East Asia, led by China and Indonesia. Many countries from sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union lagged behind, however, due to the impact of AIDS, conflict, economic upheaval and other factors. Life expectancy actually declined over the past 40 years in three countries of the former Soviet Union, Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation, and six in sub-Saharan Africa: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“We see great advances, but changes over the past few decades have by no means been wholly positive,” the authors write. “Some countries have suffered serious setbacks, particularly in health, sometimes erasing in a few years the gains accumulated over several decades. Economic growth has been extremely unequal, both in countries experiencing fast growth and in groups benefiting from national progress. And the gaps in human development across the world, while narrowing, remain huge.”
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To visit the UNDP’s web site for the Human Development Reports, available in English, French and Spanish, click here
This web site contains interesting and detailed information on the Reports and the HDI, including national and regional Human Development Reports.