For the past 20 years the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has annually produced its Human Development Report and the European launch of the 2010 report took place this week in London. The reports, which usually have a topical development focus, also include country rankings of the Human Development Index (HDI). This is an indicator that accesses the development of all countries according to an amalgamation of various factors that are deemed to be important in human development. This includes indices for wealth, equity, freedom of speech, health, access to electricity and many others. While the HDI can be criticised for trying to condense all development issues down into one indicator, the tracking of the HDI over time is useful for determining if country conditions have improved.
This year’s report looks back over the last 40 years and shows that HDI scores have increased (and quite sustainably in some cases) in all but three countries (the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Zambia). It celebrates this overall picture, stating that the standard of living for many of the world’s poor has improved. However it points out that there is still much to do.
As Helen Clark, the head of UNDP, states in the report:
“Many countries have made great gains in health and education despite only modest growth in income, while some countries with strong economic performance over the decades have failed to make similarly impressive progress in life expectancy, schooling and overall living standards. Improvements are never automatic—they require political will, courageous leadership and the continuing commitment of the international community.”
Clark also highlighted how current practices that unsustainably exploit natural resources (such as overfishing) and rising inequity are major factors that are likely to limit human development in some countries. In particular the report states that average HDI scores were reduced by 22% because of existing inequities within countries. That means that if these inequities were addressed, the human development scores would be 22% higher! ONE is partially concerned about these inequities and our recent report, Africa’s Future is Female highlights how by addressing gender inequities in Africa huge development gains could be made.
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