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News, 11/8/2010

Multiple pathways to human development

There isn't a single path to development, confirms the recent Human Development Report for the UN Development Programme. Countries with similar starting points have developed through making different choices.

The Human Development Index (HDI) measured by the variables of health, education and income indicates that poor countries have experienced the most rapid progress. However, many countries with similar starting points have not evolved through making similar choices. The successful countries include both democratic and authoritarian states.

”There isn't a single pathway to human development. It is difficult to create a system measuring human development that would pay attention to distinctive cultural features in development,” says Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Under-Secretary of State responsible for development policy in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

There isn´t a single pathway to human development, Under-Secretary of State Riva Koukku-Ronde emphasized (second from right). Photo: Eero Kuosmanen.There isn't a single pathway to human development, Under-Secretary of State Riva Koukku-Ronde emphasized (second from right). Photo: Eero Kuosmanen.

Over the previous 40 years, almost all countries included in the statistics of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have made progress, apart from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Since 1971, the world's average HDI has increased 41 percent. The progress has been remarkable, the report says.

Different pathways for development

Countries that have made the greatest progress in improving the HDI include countries that are well known for their rapid economic growth, such as China, Indonesia and South Korea. Lack of economic growth is not, however, an obstacle for improving education and health, the report emphasizes.

Ethiopia has made the greatest progress, Kaarina Immonen said. Photo: Eero Kuosmanen. Ethiopia has made the greatest progress, Kaarina Immonen said. Photo: Eero Kuosmanen.

”The top list contains several countries not typically described as top performers, such as Ethiopia, Botswana, Cambodia and Benin. Ethiopia has experienced the greatest human development in 40 years: as much as 122 percent,” says Kaarina Immonen, Head of the UNDP country office in Moldova.

Unlike in previous reports, this year's HDI figures are compared with the situation five years ago. The change was made to analyse long-term development trends. Impact of the global economic crisis is evident in, for example, Iceland, where the 2005 ranking sunk by ten positions.

Finland's ranking is 16, following Israel – a country that as recently as in the mid-1990's received official development assistance. Finland ranked two positions up five years ago. Finland's 12th position last year is not comparable to this year's ranking, because the new report uses a new method for calculating the HDI.

Equity supports development

The Human Development Report is constantly evolving; the new report introduces three new indices for human development. These new measures can guide decision-makers in improving living conditions in a sustainable way. The original HDI was also fine-tuned to better answer to the current needs.

The new measures for development enhance understanding of multidimensional development. Even though there isn't a single pattern for successful human development according to the report, there are factors that are shared by many countries with top ranking.

Inequality between genders and within the society is weakening human development. Multidimensional poverty, too, is a negative factor in human development.

The report highlights the importance of equity, sustainability and people's active engagement in human development. Development programmes and policies must be based on the local context and sound overarching principles, the report recommends.

”Considering of sustainable development, effectiveness, need to display the results and methods for data gathering,” Koukku-Ronde listed the remaining challenges for measuring human development in spite of the revision.

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Updated 11/8/2010

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