UNDP's Human Development Report - a vital voice in the global development dialogue

Jun 16, 2011

Statement by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

On the Occasion of the Human Development Report Segment of the Annual Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS
12:00pm, Thursday, 16 June 2011
New York


Madam President, 
Members of the Executive Board, 

Earlier this year the Executive Board discussed in depth issues which are relevant to the continued success and global impact of the Human Development Report. 

At the Executive Board’s January meeting, it resolved, citing General Assembly Resolution 57/264, that the Human Development Report “is an important tool for raising awareness about human development around the world.” It is important, therefore, that the Report is continually strengthened, including, as the Executive Board recommended, through “inclusive and transparent” consultations.

The Executive Board requested that UNDP report back to it at this annual meeting on the measures being taken to implement its recommendations, and on application of the guidelines for the Report which were previously articulated by the General Assembly.  
I will comment now on the organizational arrangements around the Human Development Report Office – with respect to its location in UNDP and the nature of its editorial independence – as well as on the Report’s importance to UNDP and on how it contributes to the global dialogue on development.

As requested by the Executive Board, the Human Development Report Office has greatly expanded its consultations for the 2011 Report, with full public reporting about them on the Human Development Report website. 

The Human Development Report Office has now held, or planned, 38 meetings on the Report around the world – more than ever before.  Some of them have focused on statistical issues, including in the regional discussions in Havana with ECLAC and the Latin American and Caribbean UN Member States. The discussions earlier this year at the annual meeting of the UN Statistical Commission were also useful. The Report team had helpful consultations in Bamako, Beijing, Bonn, Copenhagen, Doha, Nairobi, New Delhi, Quito and San Jose, among other capitals. We appreciate the participation of and support from governments in a number of these events. 

In preparing the Report, the Human Development Report Office seeks the advice of UNDP’s senior management at various stages – from the selection of the topic to the substantive review of drafts.

Detailed feedback is given, which can also include the views of regional centres and country offices, as well as the advice of an academic and expert advisory panel comprised of respected development thinkers from around the world.

Following the recommendations of the UN Statistics Commission’s Expert Group last year, a Statistics Advisory Panel was recently re-established for the report and its indices, including for the annual Human Development Index. 

The Advisory Panel is comprised of six senior members from national statistical agencies, three senior members from international statistical institutions, a director of a leading think tank, and four academics who are recognized experts in quantitative research. Its mandate is to review the various indicators, sources, and methodologies used in the composite indices. HDRO is also working with ECLAC’s expert group on the HDI, which has made many valuable suggestions for the 2011 report.

Many of you have participated in the informal discussions about the Report in recent months, and I express my appreciation to you for your contribution.

Thanks to all the valuable input received, and the hard work of the dedicated Human Development Report Office team, this year’s Report on equity and  sustainability should be  an important contribution to the discussions leading up to  the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in June 2012. 

Some of the indicators required for calculating the HDI were not available last year for a number of countries. That led to discussion and debate, including within this Board, and in various expert fora. Since then, the Human Development Report Office has engaged in further technical work and collaboration with relevant national and international institutions to fill many of those data gaps, and to improve the quality of data and confidence in the process moving forward.

Consultations with the official statistics community have provided support for the new and existing methodologies to be used in the 2011 report.  

Consistent with the recommendations of the UN Statistics Commission’s Expert Group, the Human Development Report Office worked in consultation with its Statistics Advisory Panel and interested governments to develop a robust method to estimate income, in purchasing power parity terms, for Cuba, Palau, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory for 2010 and 2011. We are grateful for such constructive engagement which has meant that the Human Development Report Office has been able to publish an update with 2010 HDI estimates and the corresponding HDI ranking for these three.

The Human Development Report team has a goal of maximizing country coverage in the HDI, which is the most widely known feature of the Report. It expects to have as many as 180 countries in the 2011 HDI - up from 169 last year.  The Human Development Report Office is striving to be as transparent as possible about which countries can be included in the HDI and which cannot, depending on the availability of the needed statistics.

In line with the new policy adopted in response to the concerns expressed in January by the Executive Board, the Human Development Report Office has already been in touch with those countries for which the HDI cannot be calculated for the 2011 report.  Those of their indicators which are available will be published in the Report and on the website. The Human Development Report Office will continue to work with national governments and the international statistical agencies to obtain the required data for future years.

As you know, the Human Development Report is an independent publication commissioned by UNDP. Its analysis and conclusions reflect the views of the authors themselves and are not the official position of UNDP or of the UN at large. The General Assembly, in reaffirming this tradition of editorial autonomy, correctly characterized the Report as an ‘independent intellectual exercise.’ This independence remains an important strength, allowing the Report to raise critical questions and propose new ways of measuring and thinking about development. 

The production of the Human Development Report is supported by UNDP, and considered to be a flagship publication.  It is launched annually by our Country Offices around the world. The Human Development Report Office itself is located at UNDP headquarters. It reports directly to the Administrator of the day, and it benefits from the insights of UNDP’s regional bureaus and the many human development specialists working throughout UNDP.

The director of the Human Development Report Office is appointed by and reports directly to the Administrator. This has been the case ever since Bill Draper named Mahbub ul Haq to lead the first Report team two decades ago. Recently Khalid Malik, a highly experienced development professional, has been appointed to head the Report Office. He succeeds Jeni Klugman, who will see the 2011 Report through to its final draft at the end of the summer, thereby completing the third of three global reports under her watch.  

To maintain and strengthen the important role of the Human Development Report in global development discourse, let me emphasize three key points.

First, the Human Development Report has a tradition of analytical innovation and pushing the frontiers of development thinking.  By continually challenging orthodoxy and conventional wisdom, and by its use of the Human Development Index and other measurements and indicators to evaluate national and global progress, the Report has often provoked controversy and critiques, including from governments.  That was true with the very first Report in 1990, and it has remained the case over the past two decades. If the Reports did not prompt debate, they would not be doing their job. This tradition is only possible because of the Report’s editorial autonomy, and the Executive Board’s strong endorsement of that independence is extremely important and highly appreciated.

Second, that tradition of innovative and independent thinking is also responsible for the many regional and national Human Development Reports which UNDP has supported - some seven hundred to date. These reports have a local relevance and sense of ownership which it is not possible to achieve in a global report.

Many of those reports have prompted important policy debates and decisions in their respective countries and regions.  The Arab Human Development Reports are particularly salient in light of recent events in that region. The credit for them is ultimately due to the authors themselves who were writing and speaking from the Arab States region, and not to the region from afar. 

Third, the human development approach is central to the way in which UNDP evaluates and supports development. While economic growth is extremely important, it is not a synonym for development. Development must also be about the opportunity for people to live longer and healthier lives, to be educated and aware of the world around them, and to have greater control over their own destiny. The Human Development Report has been a highly effective champion of this philosophy, with a consistently greater global readership and impact than any comparable report from a multilateral institution.

Going forward, the Report should remain a vital voice in the global development dialogue. UNDP should continue to provide a supportive home for its independent and trail-blazing research and analysis, as it has for the past two decades. 


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