With the Human development index in reverse: why are we ignoring a world at breaking point?

Monica Merino – Resident Representative, UNDP Albania

September 23, 2022

The world is not transitioning to a post-covid ‘building forward better’ scenario. The pandemic, now in its third year, continues to spin off new variants. The war in Ukraine is reverberating throughout the world, causing immense human suffering, including a cost-of-living crisis, while climate and ecological disasters threaten the world daily. In Albania, all these are happening, in the backdrop of a devastating earthquake that shook the country in November 2019.

Global development has stalled. Until 2020, the global human development index – a measure of a nation’s health, education, and average income - had risen every year since 1991 when UNDP began calculating it. It fell in 2020. And it fell again in 2021. And it fell almost everywhere: 90 percent of countries saw a decline in one or other year, wiping out five years of progress.

Albania's HDI value for 2021 is 0.796— which put the country in the High human development category—positioning it at 67 out of 191 countries and territories. Albania’s human development gains rebounded in 2021 but uncertainties lay ahead.

Development today, with its new dimensions of uncertainty, is the focus of UNDP’s Human Development Report 2022 – launched on September 8th. The report examines the ways in which crises are piling up to unsettle life, and interacting with our changing planet, increasing polarization and societal transformation. These are all moving at unprecedented speed and scale and interacting with each other in ways we cannot ignore. We are navigating uncharted waters.

An obvious example is humanity’s impact on planetary processes, from melting glaciers to dwindling wildlife. For the first time in history, manufactured materials, such as concrete and asphalt, outweigh the Earth’s biomass. Microplastics are everywhere: in country-sized garbage patches in the ocean, in protected forests and distant mountaintops, in people’s lungs and blood. This is threatening humanity’s very survival.

For the first time we can see a future in which our children may be worse off than we are. But this can be reversed. The human forces destroying our world must be reoriented to save our world. Our success will depend upon humanity’s ability to take decisive action, and to prioritize policies that invest, insure and innovate. Investment - in the capabilities people will need to enable socioeconomic and planetary conditions for human flourishing. Insurance - to protect people from the unavoidable contingencies of uncertain times, safeguarding their capabilities, including their fundamental freedoms (enhancing human security). Innovation – to foster capabilities that might not exist today.

Crucially, this report is also about opportunity. We have an opportunity to do something new. This means looking at new ways of working. It also means that in times of increasingly rapid and growing complexity, delivering development solutions requires preparing for the unexpected, to promote human security and safeguard people’s dignity and agency. 

Some of these opportunities are very relevant for Albania. They include: (i) Social protection measures including the expansion of care systems, critical to support health and basic services, food and energy security for the most vulnerable populations. (ii) Diversification of renewable energy sources; (iii) Macroeconomic monitoring and finance for development tools, crucial for economies to overcome the burden of debt and expand fiscal space; (iv) Accountable and inclusive governance - including at sub-national and local levels - ensuring delivery of public goods and services in an equitable and inclusive manner, as well as strengthening accountability, voice, and gender equality; (v) Mental health and psychosocial support which is becoming more acute in the context of polarization and crisis; (vi) Building resilience of communities to a wide range of shocks and crises, with a focus on better understanding and addressing the systemic nature of risk.

Humanity’s only certainty is that our future is uncertain. To thrive together, we must recognize the world has changed. It is innovation that will be at the epicenter of us conquering the unknowable challenges ahead. It is time to usher in a new era. To rekindle hope and re-write the future.

UNDP in Albania will advocate and construct a relevant policy and programmatic dialogue in the country based on the main messages of the report as well as its data analysis. Most importantly addressing and bridging short-term imperatives and the need for long-term structural transformation towards the country’s accession process to the European Union.