The UN Human Development Index is a measure of education levels, life expectancy and living standards of countries. It was developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq in 1990, with the aim of “shifting the focus of development economics from national income to people-centred policies”. The index had risen steadily for nearly three decades, but started falling in 2020 – and has already reversed the gains made over the past five years. At the same time, the authors say that forces such as climate change, globalization and political polarization are creating levels of uncertainty “never seen in human history”.
“It means we die earlier, we are less well educated, our incomes go down,” UN Development Program chief Achim Steiner told AFP.
In these three settings, he added, “you can understand why so many people are starting to feel hopeless, frustrated, worried about the future.”
According to the report, one of the main drivers of the global reversion has been the COVID-19 pandemic – but, the authors note, the impacts of this have been compounded by other climate, financial and political crises that are affecting us. left little time to recover.
Mr. Steiner added: “We have had disasters before. We have had conflicts before. But the confluence of what we are facing right now is a major setback for human development.
At the top of the human development index are Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, while South Sudan, Chad and Niger occupy the bottom of the ranking.
The report notes that the recent setbacks have affected more than 90% of the nations of the world, making it a truly global phenomenon.
The researchers warned that next year’s results could be even worse, as the food and energy security fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not yet reached the index.
Mr Steiner said: “Without a doubt, the outlook for 2022 is bleak.”
Much of the decline seen to date revolves around a decrease in average life expectancy, which fell from 73 years in 2019 to 71.4 in 2021.
The report’s lead author and public policy expert, Professor Pedro Conceição, described it as an “unprecedented shock” – pointing out that some countries, including the United States, have seen their life expectancies drop by two years or more.
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According to the report, focusing on a few key areas would pave the way for improvements.
These are: investment in renewable energy sources, preparedness for future pandemics, insurance to absorb shocks, and innovation to help us better cope with future crises.
Mr. Steiner also appeared to urge countries to reverse a trend of cutting development aid to the most vulnerable countries.
To continue to reduce support, he said, would be a serious mistake, which “underestimates the impact it has on our ability to work together as nations”.
The full findings of the report — titled “Uncertain Times, Unstable Lives” — are published on the United Nations Development Program website.