Helen Clark on the occasion of the launch of the 2010 Human Development Report

Nov 4, 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
On the occasion of the launch of the 2010 Human Development Report: “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development”
Thursday, 4 November 2010, New York


I am delighted to be here today for the launch of the twentieth anniversary edition of the Human Development Report “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development”.

I thank the Secretary-General for being with us on this momentous occasion, along with distinguished economist Professor Amartya Sen, who has contributed so much to thinking about human development and to global Human Development Reports from the outset.

I also wish to acknowledge the contribution of Professor Sen’s great friend and colleague, the late Mahbub ul Haq, who was the driving force behind the launching of the Human Development Report.
We are also indebted to hundreds of other people for their important contributions to the annual global Human Development Reports over the years, across the UN system and Bretton Woods Institutions, and from governments and the academic and research communities.

One can be forgiven today for taking for granted what was once considered radical : that a country’s success or an individual’s well-being cannot be reduced to evaluating their income alone.

Twenty years ago, however, how much money a person had was the primary measure of development progress.
That was before a group of leading development thinkers brought together by UNDP challenged that consensus and helped shift the development discourse.

Through the first Human Development Report, a different approach to economics and development was called for, which would put people at its centre.

That Report declared upfront that “people are the real wealth of nations”, and defined human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices and capabilities, including their political freedoms and human rights.

This thesis was given expression through the now well-established Human Development Index. It incorporated basic education and life expectancy as well as income per capita, thereby directly challenging Gross National Product as a sole measure of national progress.

The authors of the first Report openly acknowledged that the HDI had its shortcomings. It relied, for example, on national averages, which masked unequal distribution and did not include what the authors called a “quantitative measure of human freedom”. The authors were well aware that the breadth of the human development approach cannot be reduced to the more narrow confines of the HDI.

It is the breadth of this approach which has allowed the Human Development Report to frame debates for the past twenty years on a wide range of the most pressing challenges our planet faces – examining issues as diverse as water, human rights, democracy, climate change, and migration.

The human development approach has laid the foundation for ideas and concepts which now form part of the development mainstream, such as the Millennium Development Goals. It has influenced a generation of policymakers, thinkers, and development practitioners, including in the UN. It certainly provides the conceptual foundation for UNDP’s work around the world.

More than 140 developing countries have now produced their own human development reports, in an effort to get a better understanding of their development challenges.  There have been more than 600 national and sub-national reports to date – researched and published with UNDP support, but produced under the full control of their own editorial teams. A number of reports covering different regions of the world have also been published.

The Report being launched today reaffirms the relevance of the human development approach in understanding trends in the world around us, and in thinking about the future.

A major contribution of this year’s Report is a systematic review of the human development record in 135 countries over the four decades since 1970.

It found that, overall, people today are healthier, more educated, and wealthier than ever before. Since 1970, average life expectancy has risen from 59 to 70 years. School enrolment grew from 55 to 70 per cent. Per capita incomes doubled to more than $10,000 in real terms. 

Among the poorest countries we have seen some of the greatest human development gains.  This Report shows that the gap in health and education outcomes between developed and developing countries has narrowed significantly over the past 40 years, even though the income divide, with a few notable exceptions, worsened.

The trends of the past forty years have not been uniformly positive across nations. A few are registering lower HDI scores today than they did in 1970. That decline illustrates variously the devastating impact which war, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and poor leadership, governance and economic management can have on people’s lives. Most of these countries suffered from one or more of these factors.

Another major theme of this twentieth anniversary Human Development Report is that there is a diversity of paths to development success.

Thus, rather than seeking a single blueprint for development, the Report argues that basic principles, and not specific policy prescriptions, should inform national development strategies.

Putting people at the centre of development means that progress needs to be equitable and broad-based. It means that people need to be active participants in change. It means that today’s achievements should not be attained at the expense of future generations.

In reviewing the broad trends of the past four decades, the Report finds that rising income inequality is the norm within most countries; that there has been major progress in most aspects of empowerment; but that there is a deterioration on most counts of environmental sustainability.  Clearly one of the greatest challenges to human development is the world’s current unsustainable production and consumption patterns, as seen, for example, in climate change, but also in poor air and water quality and diminishing biodiversity.  These are issues which future Reports could focus on.

Pushing the frontiers of measurement has been a cornerstone of the human development approach from the outset.  This year’s Report maintains this tradition, introducing a refined Human Development Index and three new indices.
They include :

  • a new Inequality-Adjusted HDI;
  • a Gender Inequality Index, which captures the loss in HDI because of gender inequality. Shortfalls in reproductive health contribute the most to gender inequality in all regions of the world – reinforcing the importance of making progress on Millennium Development Goal Five.
  • the new Multidimensional Poverty Index. It aims to give a more comprehensive picture of poverty than the $1.25-a-day formula does, by identifying overlapping deprivation at the household level across health, education, and living standards.  This allows policymakers to understand the extent of the challenges their countries face, and then to design policies and target resources more effectively.

Human development has undoubtedly advanced considerably since 1990. But, there is still a long way to go to ensure that all people around the world can realize their full potential. As the human development approach celebrates twenty years of these global Reports, it remains relevant in focusing our attention on what remains to be achieved.

The Human Development Reports have been and remain independent in their thinking. The messages they convey are not always embraced in all quarters. Concerns raised about the Reports’ findings are always taken seriously by the editorial team. 

Yet, if the Reports never tackled controversial subjects and never stirred heated and informed debate about issues which matter to us all, then they would not be pushing the envelope of development thinking. That is their mission and their heritage.

For twenty years the commitment to fighting poverty, the intellectual insights, and the ideas about development advanced from the first Human Development Report have been a significant contribution to advancing human development around the world.

It is to be hoped that the Human Development Reports will continue to challenge prevailing orthodoxies and break new conceptual ground with vigour and intellectual clarity in the years to come.

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