Malaysia maintains spot in ‘Very High Human Development’ category in new HDR Report

Will It Be Enough to Navigate Continued Global Uncertainty?

September 9, 2022

“The human development index is simply a measure of how the people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone” ~ United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

A report of this measurement is researched and collected every year, and the past few years have been particularly tumultuous globally. So, how did Malaysia do. 

First the good news.

The newly released 2021/2022 Human Development Report shows that the country has maintained its position, at number 62 out of 191 countries and territories with a Human Development Index (HDI) score that is high enough to put it in the ‘Very High Human Development’ category of countries. Three other ASEAN countries that made it to the same category are Singapore (ranked 12th), Brunei Darussalam (ranked 51st) and Thailand (ranked 66th). Malaysia’s score exceeds the average for countries in East Asia and Pacific (0.749) and the world (0.732) by a considerable margin. 

Now, the not-so-good news.

The 2021 HDI score of Malaysia is 0.803, which is lower than 2019’s HDI score (0.810) and is in fact almost close to its 2016 levels (0.800). This 5-year reversal of Human Development progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, mirrors what is happening around the globe.

For the first time in the 32 years that UNDP have been calculating the HDI, which measures nations’ health, education, and standard of living, the index has declined globally for two years in a row. For over 90 per cent of the countries, their Human Development has been set back 5 years, as layers of uncertainty stack up in unprecedented and complicated ways.

The multiple crises and uncertainties from the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the increasingly felt consequences of climate change have all collided to form a far reaching humanitarian and economic cost-of-living crisis globally.

A closer look at the indicators that make up the HDI, will show how much COVID-19 has impacted different dimensions of Human Development. For Malaysia, life expectancy at birth for those born in 2021 fell to 74.9 years compared to 76.2 in 2019. Also, the expected years of schooling that a child of school entrance age can receive declined to 13.3 from 13.7, meaning a child born in 2021 could only expect to receive a high school diploma on average. Compared to the average expected schooling years of countries in the Very High HD category (16.5 years), Malaysia falls behind significantly. Income recorded a decline too. GNI per capita (using 2017 Purchasing Power Parity Dollars) fell to PPP$ 26,658 from PPP$27,534 in 2019.

Is the HDI different for the country’s male and female population? Adjusting the HDI for gender gives a female HDI score of 0.794 (2019: 0.797) in contrast to 0.809 for males (2019: 0.821). Income shows the largest gap between gender within the index, with women’s GNI per capita being 38.5 per cent less than men’s.  

In 2020, a new index called the Planetary-pressures-adjusted HDI (PHDI) was introduced. This new adjusted HDI included two additional metrics: carbon dioxide emission and material footprint; to reflect how human wellbeing is affected by planetary pressures. Malaysia’s PHDI is 0.681, as compared to its basic HDI score of 0.803. As a consequence, the country’s ranking fell to 72nd when planetary pressures are considered.

For scope, Singapore’s PHDI score is 0.665 compared to its basic HDI score of 0.939. This was expected due to the country’s highly open economy and structural dependence on hydrocarbons for energy or revenue. On the other side however, there are also countries such as Sweden and Denmark who maintained their Human Development country ranking even after planetary effects from development are accounted for.

The latest Human Development Report, “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World”, launched on the 8th of September by UNDP, argues that layers of uncertainty are stacking up and interacting to unsettle life in unprecedented ways.

With recovery being uneven and partial, current uncertainties are likely to widen existing inequalities between and within countries.  “The world is scrambling to respond to back-to-back crises. We have seen with the cost of living and energy crises that, while it is tempting to focus on quick fixes like subsidizing fossil fuels, immediate relief tactics are delaying the long-term systemic changes we must make,” says Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

Can the world chart a new course for itself? The report says that policies that focus on the three ‘I’s - investment, insurance, and innovation - will enable people to thrive in the face of uncertainty: Investment —from renewable energy to preparedness for pandemics and extreme natural hazards— to ease planetary pressures, Insurance—including social protection— to prepare our societies for the contingencies of an uncertain world, Innovation in its many forms—technological, economic, cultural—to respond to the unknown challenges that humanity will face.

Following the recommendation from the report, Malaysia must create policies that promote the three ‘I’s to navigate the uncertainty of our time. By addressing inequalities and enhancing people’s freedoms and opportunities, and by unlocking its rich human potential, tapping into their creativity and diversity, the country can move through these troubling times and build a resilient and prosperous future. After all, people are the real wealth of nations.

The full Human Development Report 2021/22 can be downloaded here:

Human Development Report 2021-22 | Human Development Reports (