Human Development Today: 5 Headlines and 6 Key Lessons

The latest Human Development Report, published in September, is a key fixture for educators and activists published by the UN Development Programme annually, is packed with graphics, ideas and statistics. Colm Regan dips into the key human development indices and statistics from the report which provides an overview of the state of development across the world.

Graphic: Human Development Index and global population, by human development group, p.2, Human Development Report 2018 by UNDP.
  1. Ireland enjoyed the highest increase in the Human Development Index (HDI which measures national achievements in health, education and income) rank between 2012 and 2017 moving up 13 places and now ranks 4th in the world.
  2. The three steepest declines in human development ranking were countries in conflict: the Syrian Arab Republic had the largest decrease in HDI rank, falling 27 places, followed by Libya (26 places), and Yemen (20 places).
  3. The overall trend globally is toward continued human development improvements, with many countries moving up through the human development categories: out of the 189 countries for which the HDI is calculated, 59 countries are today in the very high human development group and only 38 countries fall in the low HDI group. Just eight years ago in 2010, the figures were 46 and 49 countries respectively. But there remain massive differences across the world in people’s well-being.
  4. ‘On average, a child born today in a country with low human development can expect to live just over 60 years, while a child born in a country with very high human development can expect to live to almost 80. Similarly, children in low human development countries can expect to be in school seven years less than children in very high human development countries’ – Achim Steiner UNDP Administrator.
  1. In Sub-Saharan Africa there are on average 39 primary school pupils per teacher while in OECD countries, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia there is an average of one teacher for every 16-18 pupils. In OECD countries, East Asia and the Pacific there are on average 29 and 28 physicians for every 10,000 people whereas in South Asia there are only eight, and in Sub-Saharan Africa not even two.

According to the latest Human Development Index (September 14th, 2018) people living in the very high human development countries can expect to live 19 years longer, and spend seven more years in school, than those living in the group of low human development countries.

Six Key Findings from the 2018 Index

1. The World has made impressive progress in human development

Looking back over almost three decades, all regions and human development groups have made substantial progress. The global HDI value in 2017 was up about 21.7 percent from 1990. Across the world, people are living longer, are more educated and have greater opportunities.

2. Quality, not just quantity of human development, is important, and it reveals large deficits

Most people today live longer, are more educated and have more access to goods and services than ever before. But living longer does not automatically mean more years spent enjoying life. For example, healthy life expectancy for countries of very high human development is approximately 70 years, whereas for countries of low human development it is approximately 53 years

3. Progress is not linear or guaranteed, and crises and challenges can reverse gains. Countries experiencing conflict show HDI losses, which can be felt for generations

Between 2012 and 2017 Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen had falling HDI values and ranks – the direct effect of violent conflict. Although Lebanon is not directly involved in violent conflict, it has suffered spillovers from the conflict in Syria, hosting more than a million Syrian refugees.

4. Disparities between and within countries continue to stifle progress

Average HDI levels have risen significantly since 1990 – 22 percent globally and 51 percent in least developed countries. But there remain massive differences across the world in people’s well-being.

5. Gender gaps in early years are closing, but inequalities persist in adulthood

One key source of inequality within countries is the gap in opportunities, achievements and empowerment between women and men. Worldwide the average HDI for women is six percent lower than for men, due to women’s lower income and educational attainment in many countries.

6. Environmental degradation puts human development gains at risk

The degradation of the environment and atmosphere, coupled with significant declines in biodiversity, is linked to other development concerns ranging from declining food and water supplies to losses of livelihood and life from extreme weather events. This profoundly serious crisis threatens the human development of current and future generations.

And, on inequality

While significant inequality occurs in many countries, including in some of the wealthiest ones, on average it takes a bigger toll on countries with lower human development levels. Low and medium human development countries lose respectively 31 and 25 percent of their human development level from inequality, while for very high human development countries, the average loss is 11 percent.

While these statistics present a stark picture in themselves, they also speak to the tragedy of millions of individuals whose lives are affected by inequity and lost opportunities, neither of which are inevitable.

Pondering How Much a Dollar Costs (ft. Kendrick Lamar)

What’s the buying power of a dollar-a-day really worth? Overall winner of the 2018 Trinity College Dublin and Development Issues series, Michael Morigi, explores the question of a dollar’s worth through Kendrick Lamar’s music, overseas aid statistics and from his life in the US.

Track eleven on American rapper Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly is a song titled “How Much a Dollar Cost”. In the song, Kendrick explores many different topics, such as: charity, fame, wealth and religion. Essentially, the song talks about a transformative interaction Kendrick had with a beggar in South Africa.

Whenever I hear this song, I too self-reflect. A few days ago, it came up on shuffle and made me think again.

This time, for some reason, my mind wandered to development – specifically, how my life in the US and my education shaped my perceptions of development, poverty and the impact of foreign aid.

This is going to sound weird, but I am going to start with TV.Growing up, I remember seeing ads for charities or non-profit groups on TV. At the end – after the sad music and pictures of frowning children – they would suggest that with a donation of 50 cents a day, they can buy mosquito nets, provide food, build schools, etc. Despite the relative insignificance of a contribution when put in those terms, I have never picked up the phone. I’ve volunteered and given money at church before, but the question remains: why not this donation as well?

Maybe it is because I (somewhat rightly) feel my single contribution is insignificant. In
2016, the US gave $33.5 billion in overseas development assistance, $8 billion more than
any other country. USAID (United States Agency for International Development) represents an additional $15.4 billion in 2017. The question then arises: does this money do anything? The data suggests these massive investments by the developed world have paid off.

In a UN blog post reflecting on the progress of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015, only 1 per cent of the world’s population now lives in extreme poverty compared with 5 per cent in 1990. Child mortality rates have fallen by more than 50 per cent since 1990, and 2.6 billion people have gained improved access to drinking water. It is debatable how much of this progress was solely thanks to aid, but nonetheless there has been significant improvement.

However, every new civil war, epidemic or famine that dominates the headlines dampens
my own perceptions of the progress being made.

On a day to day basis, I unconsciously just think that development has stagnated – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa; I do not think these generalizations are unique to me. Maybe this is a cultural thing: Americans do tend to overestimate the percentage of the US budget going towards aid, as Steven Kull’s research and opinion poll analysis for the Brookings Institution in 2017 shows.

Yet a general lack of knowledge on the progress (Kull coins this as ‘an array of doubts’) being made and how aid is utilised may also reflect an understandable concern primarily with one’s self or one’s close relations instead of an unknown person/nation. In a way, this is where the cold, rational aspect of economics shine (for the record, I am an economics major).

Working class families, such as mine, have a vested interest in our own survival and thriving. Distant peoples or organisations might not be enough of an incentive to give more resources than we already do on a usual basis or to learn more about an issue. Sometimes, people just simply have more pressing, immediate and consequential issues to worry about. If technology is threatening your job, or if you can’t make ends meet, you probably aren’t thinking about how have African countries fared over the last twenty years.

So how does this relate to the song? The song made me think – how much does a dollar really cost? For some, it could be life-changing. For me, it’s a can of Coke…a few years ago. Yet regardless of what it costs to me now, part of the reason why I am taking this course in TCD is to learn how to help get those that impoverished that dollar and maximize its usefulness for them.

I looked at him and said, “Every nickel is mines to keep”

– Kendrick Lamar (2015)

  • Photo: Dev-elopment/astation by Hipnos (CC-BY-SA) via Flickr, June 24 2008.

How The West Convinced Everyone It Was the Only Developed Part of the World

How did the West manage to convince most of the world that it is the only ‘developed’ part of the world? A final-five finalist in the 2018 Trinity College Dublin and Development Issues series, Roberta Rodrigues channels the West’s inner voice, and suggest three easy steps for others to follow.

Hi! It’s me, the West! I’m here today to explain to everyone how I managed to convince nearly the whole world that I am the only developed part of the world.

I’m going to take you through three simple steps I followed to achieve this. Before we start and I share my tactics with you, please bear in mind most of the East is underdeveloped but not as much as I like to  make you believe!

Step 1. I define development.

The United Nations, an institution which promotes my values, defines countries as ‘developed’ when they achieve high economic development, lower inequalities and give individuals autonomy over their lives. This is widely accepted as the definition of development.

See what I did?

I wrote a definition that makes me look vibrant whist I left the East looking grey and unattractive. My definition of development promotes common Western values but not so much Eastern ones, leaving little space for other cultures to be defined as ‘developed’.

Furthermore, this definition of development clearly favours a capitalist model of development which is an economic system where private entities, such as people or corporations, own the factors of production (entrepreneurship, capital goods, natural resources, and labour), and prices and incomes are determined by markets. Result: countries that follow more redistributive policy approaches to development are less likely to be defined as ‘developed’ and more likely to be labelled socialist or a welfare-state that heavily supports things like free healthcare and education.

Similarly, world renown development economist Amartya Sen claims that individual’s “functionings”, their possibility to “do” and “be” what they choose, constitutes development. Examples include “being able to move about as desired” and access to healthcare and education.

However, I defined such ‘doings’ and ‘beings’. If the ‘doings’ and ‘beings’ were defined as respecting other cultures, spreading a message of peace and love and failing to exploit other countries, most of my countries  would not be classed as developed.

Ironic and comedic signage at a tourist viewpoint overlooking the African Rift Valley, which suffers from fluoride contamination due to geogenic causes. Photo by Katya Cherukumilli, USAID (September 17, 2013) via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-2.0).

Step 2. I came up with the measures of development.

Here, flawed measures of development are going to be essential! Most measures of development also offer a strong bias to capitalist models of development, because I think capitalism is great.

Amartya Sen argued in his 1988 paper ‘The Concept of Development’, the link between the Gross National Product (a measure of development I pioneered) and living conditions isn’t always evident: this is how I trick people!

Sen explains that Kerala in India is often ranked as one of the poorest states in India despite having high education rates, low illiteracy rates and long life expectancies. There is clearly no direct correlation between GNP and quality of living. It is clearly biased towards countries following capitalist approaches to development, which promote economic development as an essential characteristic of development.

Furthermore, to calculate the GNP, countries must refer to their Gross Domestic Product (another measure of development I pioneered). GDP takes into account consumption, investment, government spending and imports/exports.

This also cunningly offers a strong bias to countries following a capitalist model of development. Similarly, the Human Development Index is biased towards capitalist countries since it offers more points to countries with higher incomes, which doesn’t always mean higher levels of development (or even sustainable development).

Step 3. I use the media to distort realities.

My last tactic to convince everyone I am the only developed part of the world is media distortion of the East. The East is rarely shown in a positive light in my news media, which often misrepresents reality.

Economically, Africa’s growth is significant, but don’t let anyone know!

Between 2000 and 2012, the continent’s annual growth rate was of 10.7%, as reported Quartz Africa. In 2014, Africa was the continent with the largest growth rate at 2.5% whilst Europe was the lowest at 0%. Although this is due to the game of catch up Africa is now forced to play, my media still chooses to overlook  its growth.

My news media’s choice and ability to ignore Eastern development is backed up by our tactical use of images. I often portray the East as a few black men in cloth dresses walking round with sticks over dry terrain with a painfully thin cow, whilst women walk around with buckets of water on their head.

Although this probably does happen, there are also developed parts of Africa that I rarely show.

I closely guard this secret but Africa has cities. Even a few global cities! Lagos is classed as a Beta Plus city, whilst Nairobi and Tunis are classed as Beta Minus cities, as are Lyon, France and Birmingham, England. Such cities are hubs for economic and cultural activities, transport and even employment. This is a reality I rarely show.

So, there you have it: how I convinced you and pretty much everyone else that development was exclusive to the West! Please note, you will not be able to accomplish this yourself following these steps, because I will crush you.