Helen Clark: HDR 20th Anniversary Commemoration of Dr Mahbub ul Haq

22 Feb 2011

Remarks by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme,

on the occasion of the, “20th Anniversary of Human Development Report and a
Commemoration of the contribution of the late Dr. Mahbub ul Haq to the Human DevelopmentConcept”


22 February 2011, Islamabad, Pakistan

The story is told of how in April 1968 Mahbub ul Haq, then chief economist of the national Planning Commission in Pakistan, spoke in Karachi on his country’s economic development.

The economy had been growing at more than six per cent a year for a decade. Many of those gathered expected to hear a comprehensive exposition of the success of government policies by one of Pakistan’s sharpest minds who was closely associated with the country’s planned development.

But the young economist is said to have shocked his audience, by delivering a stinging indictment ofPakistan’s development strategy. Income differences and inequalities had more than doubled over the previous decade, and industrial wages had slumped by a third.  Economic growth had not translated into tangible change in the lives of many people.

For Dr. Haq, as for many of us, GNP growth was not an end in itself, but merely a means of development.  This was the theme of his work for the next thirty years, as a Minister of Finance here in Pakistan, a senior World Bank official, and an advisor to UNDP.

Dr. Haq made an outstanding professional contribution to development in leading the conception and then the launching in 1990 of the first annual global Human Development Report.  In this endeavour, he was joined by other leading development thinkers of the time. Professor Amartya Sen, another son of the Asia-Pacific region, is one of those who has contributed a great deal to thinking about human development and to the global Human Development Reports produced by UNDP from their beginning.

With eloquence, philosophical clarity, and no small amount of intellectual courage, that first Report in 1990 peeled away layers of orthodox development thinking to reveal the importance of putting people first.

That Report defined human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices and capabilities, including their political freedoms and human rights.

The now well-established Human Development Index incorporated indicators for basic education and life expectancy alongside income per capita, thereby directly challenging the focus by many international organizations and economists on GNP as the major measure of national progress.

The first Report openly acknowledged that the HDI had its shortcomings. It relied, for example, on national averages which masked unequal distribution, and it 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 narrow limits of the HDI.

It  is the very breadth of the approach, however, 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 ranging from gender to  water, human rights, democracy, climate change, and migration.

The human development approach laid the foundation for ideas and concepts which now form part of the development mainstream, such as the Millennium Development Goals.

It is a testament to the enduring relevance of the human development approach that over the last two decades more than 140 developing countries have now produced their own human development reports.  

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.

Two national reports have been produced here in Pakistan. Work is beginning on the third, on human security, in collaboration with the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre.

Here in Pakistan, Dr Khadijah Haq  continues to carry a torch for the work  her late husband began on human development.

As President of the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre, established by her husband in 1995, Khadija has been helping to produce annual Human Development Reports covering South Asia on diverse topics since 1998.

The human development approach continues to make its mark at the global level too. Last November the twentieth anniversary edition of the global Human Development Report was launched in New York.

A major contribution of this latest Report is a systematic review of the human development record over the past four decades. Overall, it shows that there is much to celebrate in development- people today are healthier, more educated, and wealthier than ever before.

Yet, not all trends are positive or uniform. A few countries have lower HDI scores today than they did in 1970.  The devastating impact of conflict, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and poor governance and economic mismanagement were contributing factors.

Nor is human development progress constant. Economic crises, conflict, and sudden natural disasters - like the devastating earthquake which struck Pakistan in 2005 and the terrible floods which swamped vast swathes of the country last year- all take their toll.

The latest Human Development Report notes progress and challenges in Pakistan and South Asia more generally.

Pakistan ranks 125th out of 169 countries in the latest HDI.

A child born in Pakistan today can expect to live thirteen years longer than was the case forty years ago. In that time the adult literacy rate has tripled, to almost 58 per cent; the gross primary school enrolment rate almost doubled, and GDP per capita rose from a little over $ 1,000 to over $2,600 per annum.

Over the four decades analyzed, Pakistan is placed 25th out of 135 countries for which there is data in terms of advancement in the HDI compared to their starting point.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, China, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, and the Republic of Korea are among those ranked in the top ten global HDI performers, compared to where they were four decades ago.

East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia are the regions which have, respectively, recorded the fastest and second fastest improvements in HDI since 1970. This progress was assisted by dramatic expansions in income per capita, but also by major advances in non-income dimension indicators of health and education.

Progress across the Asia-Pacific has been uneven, both within and between countries. Rising income in East Asia and the Pacific, however, has occurred alongside growing inequality. South Asia faces large inequalities linked to caste and tribal identities.

The latest Human Development Report carries forward the tradition of measurement innovations, introducing a refined Human Development Index and three new indices.

These include an Inequality Adjusted HDI, and a Multidimensional Poverty Index which 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.

It also includes a specific Gender Inequality Index, which seeks to capture the extent of inequalities between women and men in areas like health, empowerment and labour market participation.

East Asia and the Pacific overall have the best score on the Gender Inequality Index of all developing regions. South Asia, however, has the worst score. In many countries, maternal mortality rates tend to be very high, and women lag behind men in all the dimensions measured, including parliamentary representation, education, and participation in the labour force.

The twentieth anniversary Report strongly supports national ownership of development agendas and is clear that there is no one blueprint for development success.  It does suggest, however, that basic principles can inform development strategies to ensure that there is human development progress.

For example, if people are to be put at the centre of development, then they need  to be active participants in change. Today’s achievements should not be attained at the expense of future generations.   Progress needs to be equitable and broad-based.

Advances in human development also benefit from sustained and inclusive growth.  If that growth is job rich, if it advances decent work, if it can occur in the agricultural and rural sectors where so many of the developing world’s people work and live, and if it leads to growing tax revenues which can be recycled into health, education, and infrastructure improvements, great human development progress can be made.

I understand that Pakistan’s Planning Commission is undertaking the development of a new growth strategy.

UNDP is committed to supporting the Government to develop and implement this new strategy, and to help ensure that it is inclusive and will advance human development.

Pakistan has a lot on its plate at present – not least the ongoing recovery from last year’s devastating floods, security challenges, and recent increases in food prices.

The UN Country Team, working with the Government through the “Delivering as One” pilot initiative, is committed to supporting Pakistan to tackle its challenges, and to achieve its development goals.

The human development approach has influenced a generation of policymakers, thinkers, and development practitioners.  For UNDP, it provides an intellectual compass guiding our activities around the world.

Today’s event celebrates the success of the human development approach over twenty years and the progress on human development which has been made.  It also enables us to pay tribute to one of Pakistan’s very own visionaries, Dr. Mahbub ul Haq, who, together with Nobel laureate, Dr. Amartya Sen, has left us this rich legacy from which to construct strategies and policies which can enlarge people’s choices and advance human development.