Helen Clark: UK launch of 2010 Human Development Report

23 Nov 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
On the occasion of the United Kingdom launch of the
2010 Human Development Report:
“The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development”
Tuesday, 23 November 2010, London

It is a pleasure to be launching the 20th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report, “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development.”, at the House of Commons today. My thanks go to our hosts, the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development, for making this possible.

When the first Human Development Report was produced twenty years ago, it began by stating that “people are the real wealth of a nation”. From those words, it set out the case for a new approach to thinking about development which put people at its very centre.

The Report argued that measuring national progress by economics alone was inappropriate, and that improving people’s lives – not pursuing growth for its own sake – should be the ultimate goal of development.

It then established its own measure of development, the Human Development Index, which included health and education indicators alongside income to give a more rounded picture.

The authors of that first Report emphasized, however, that the human development approach extends well beyond the three empirically measurable dimensions of the HDI.  They defined human development more broadly as a process of enlarging people’s choices and capabilities, including through political freedoms and human rights.

This approach laid the foundation for ideas and concepts which now form part of the development mainstream, such as the Millennium Development Goals. Both the human development paradigm and the MDGs are credited by the independent UN Intellectual History Projects’ authors with being among the major ideas emanating from the UN since its inception which have been beneficial to our world.

The latest Report asserts the continuing relevance of the human development approach in understanding the varying trends and patterns of national progress, and in thinking about future directions.

This year’s report contains a systematic review of the human development record over the past four decades. There is good news to report.

Overall, people today are on average healthier, more educated, and wealthier than ever before. Since 1970, average global 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. 

The Report shows that health and education outcomes between developed and developing countries have narrowed significantly over the last forty years, even though the income divide has, with a few notable exceptions, worsened.

Some of the greatest gains have been seen in the poorest countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, life expectancy has risen by eight years since 1970, while school enrolment has more than doubled from 26 per cent to 54 per cent.

It is also notable that many countries have made impressive gains in health and education even where their growth in income has been modest. Conversely, some countries with strong economic performance over the decades have not made commensurate progress in life expectancy, schooling, and overall living standards.

Over the four decades analyzed, the top ten achievers in the world in terms of advancement in the HDI relative to their starting point include those well known for rapid advances in economic growth, such as China and the Republic of Korea.

But the top movers also include Laos, Nepal and three North African countries – Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia - which have made great advances on the health and education fronts. Ethiopia, Botswana, and Benin are in the ranks of the top twenty movers over the past forty years. 

If we examine just the last decade, then five African countries - Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda - are among the top ten movers in the HDI.

The findings in this HDR suggest that there is much which leaders can do to improve people’s lives even where growth is less impressive. The technologies and treatments available these days make it easier for poorer countries to make substantial human development gains.

Improvements, however, are never automatic – they require political will, smart policies, and the continuing commitment of the international community. On the latter score, the huge international investments in anti-malarial bed nets and antiretrovirals have undoubtedly had a positive impact in lifting life expectancy.

Human development progress, however, has not been constant. Economic crises, conflict, natural disasters, epidemics, and poor governance all take their toll. Three countries - the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe - have lower HDI scores today than they did in 1970. Both the DRC and Zambia, however, have increased their HDI over the last decade.

This latest HDR concludes that a variety of paths can lead to human development success, and that there is no “one size fits all” prescription.

Basic principles, however, can be observed to drive successful strategies. It helps where progress is broadly based, where it enables people to be active participants in change, and where it ensures that the achievements for current generations do not come at the expense of  tomorrow’s.

In reviewing broad trends, the Report finds that the past forty years have seen profound political change in many parts of the world.

There has been a particularly dramatic growth in democracy in Europe, Central Asia, and the Latin American and Caribbean region since 1970. Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific have also registered notable advances in this area.

Over the same period the Report also finds that rising income inequality has been the norm within most countries, and that there has been deterioration on most counts of environmental sustainability. 

Clearly one of the most urgent 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. 

This reminds us of the importance of protecting our planet and ecosystems, and of pursuing lower carbon routes to development. Sustainability will be the focus of the 2011 Human Development report.

This year’s HDR introduces a refined Human Development Index and three new indices. They include an Inequality Adjusted HDI and a Gender Inequality Adjusted HDI.

On average, inequality is shown to reduce countries' scores on the HDI by 22 per cent. It is countries with lower human development which tend to be the most unequal.

We can deduce from the Gender Inequality Index that enabling girls and women to have equal educational and employment opportunities, access to health services, and to be able to participate in decision making, including at the highest  levels, will boost a nation’s human development, as well as being  the right thing to do in human rights terms.

The highest average losses on the Gender Inequality Adjusted Index were found to be in the Arab States, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Shortfalls in reproductive health contribute the most to these disparities.

The latest HDR also introduces the new Multidimensional Poverty Index, developed at Oxford University with UNDP support. It identifies overlapping deprivations at the household level in health, education and living standards.  This can help policymakers to understand better the challenges their countries face and to target responses and resources more effectively.

The importance of a fairer distribution of income, assets, and opportunities in reducing poverty is one of the main findings of an International Assessment UNDP has prepared on how to accelerate progress towards the MDGs.

If growth is inclusive, if it is job rich, if it advances decent work, if it occurs in the agricultural and rural sectors where so many of the developing world’s peoples live, and if it leads to growing tax revenues which can be recycled into health, education, and infrastructure improvements - then it will help advance human development.

This year’s Report correctly points out that individual states acting alone cannot address many of the problems our world faces  - from tackling climate change and epidemics to promoting more equitable trade, greater food security, and recovery from conflict. That reinforces the case for reinvigorated multilateral action.

In this context, the Report calls for long-term and flexible partnerships to   help countries meet their development goals.

ODA from traditional donors like the United Kingdom has been important in making progress on the MDGs and other development goals.

There is a strong moral case to be made for ODA, but complementing that are the global benefits which accrue from developing countries developing sustainably
The cross party support in this country for maintaining the commitment to move to an ODA level of 0.7 per cent of GNI in a specified timeframe is commendable.

I also wish to acknowledge this country’s longstanding support for UNDP, especially through its multi-year contributions to our core budget. The investments in development which Britain and others make in UNDP have a global and programmatic reach which extends far beyond what bilateral efforts alone can achieve.

UNDP works in all crisis and post-crisis countries around the world, from Haiti, Pakistan, and Somalia to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and many more. We work to create livelihoods, build institutions, disarm, demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate former combatants, and to combat sexual and gender-based violence. 

UNDP is also a leading provider of assistance to countries overall in improving governance, electoral systems, national human rights and justice institutions, and in empowering women and girls.

We help develop the capacity of national institutions to manage the environment, avoid and reduce deforestation, increase access to clean and renewable energy, and adapt to climate change. For example, UNDP supports over seventy countries to make the transition to low emission and climate-resilient development.

We prioritize helping countries to prepare and execute MDG-based national development strategies, and strengthen capacity for local development.

In India, for instance, we have supported the design and implementation of a massive job creation programme which  now reaches 46 million households.

We are using our global presence as a platform to help share  experiences of what works in development across the South.

We recently developed an MDG Acceleration Framework which enables governments and development partners to identify systematically the obstacles preventing MDG progress, as well as the solutions to overcome them. 

We worked with UN agencies and governments in ten countries to pilot the Framework, and initial results were presented at the recent MDG Summit.

Togo, for example, focused on the bottlenecks preventing small farmers from growing more and better food.  The country has now identified a number of concrete actions – including boosting farmers’ ability to purchase fertilizers and seeds; increasing support for skills training to small farmers, especially women; and adapting extension services to the needs of small producers.

Right now, we are taking active measures to remain a world class, knowledge-based organization, which delivers unmatched services and value for money - helping developing countries make transformational change and channelling the strengths of the entire UN development system to that end.

We are committed to ensuring that our actions produce strategic and lasting results. With our robust system of checks and balances, we have a proven track record of doing so efficiently and transparently.

In short, with the assistance of Britain and other partners, we are able to build on development results achieved to date, and provide smart policy advice, technical assistance, and advocacy to advance human development further in the 166 countries where we operate.

Today, let us celebrate the success of the Human Development Reports over twenty years and the human development progress which has been made.

But let us also remember that much work remains to be done for all people to realize their full potential.

I hope we can draw inspiration from this year’s Human Development Report as we work together to accelerate  efforts to achieve the MDGs and advance human development.