2 November 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on New UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report


Without concerted action to slow climate change, prevent further environmental damage and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations, impressive human development gains in the last several decades, especially in the world’s poorest nations, could be halted and even reversed, according to a new report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched today at a Headquarters press conference.


By 2050, global warming’s adverse effects on agricultural production, pollution and access to clean water and sanitation would cause the global human development index — a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide — to be 8 per cent below the projected baseline, according to UNDP’s Human Development Report 2011 — Sustainability and Equity:  A Better Future for All.


If the planet experienced vast deforestation and land degradation, dramatic biodiversity loss and accelerated extreme weather conditions, the index would be even worse, at 15 per cent below the project baseline, the report states.


The world’s most impoverished countries — mainly tropical, arid and rural places, particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as drought, typhoons and soil degradation — would be hardest hit, said William Orme, Chief of Communications and Publishing of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office.  “All of these things will converge in a very negative way unless global action is taken,” he added.


The annual report ranked a record 187 countries and territories in national achievement in health, education and income, up from 169 in 2010.  Norway, Australia and the Netherlands topped the list; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Burundi were at the bottom.  But, when the index was adjusted for internal inequalities in all three areas, some of the wealthiest countries fell off the top 20.


“We consider health and education distribution to be just as important in this equation as income, and the data show great inequalities in many countries,” said Milorad Kovačević, Chief Statistician of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office.  The report includes inequality-adjusted data for 135 of the 187 countries and territories.


The report’s gender equality index — a comparative measure of reproductive health, years of schooling, parliamentary representation and labour market participation — showed Sweden to lead the world in those areas and Yemen to be at the bottom, Mr. Kovačević said.


According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index, which examines such factors as access to clean water and cooking fuel and health services, as well as basic household goods and home construction standards, some 1.7 billion people in 109 countries worldwide lived in multidimensional poverty, he said.  In comparison, an estimated $1.3 billion people lived on less than $1.25 per day or less, the measure used in the first Millennium Development Goal, which seeks to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015.


Asked about whether the report was in fact independent as UNDP claimed, Mr. Orme said it was unique in the family of annual and other regular publications issued by the United Nations system in that a General Assembly resolution recognized its editorial independence.  The report explicitly did not give the official position of UNDP, its Administrator or of the United Nations system at large.  Its analysis, opinions and statistics solely reflected the views of its authors, he explained.


[The Report is self-described an independent publication commissioned by UNDP.  The research and writing of the Report was a collaborative effort by the Human Development Report team and a group of eminent advisors led by Jeni Klugman, Director of the Human Development Report Office.]


Asked why there was little change in the report’s human development index among countries below the top 20 and whether it was even worthwhile to issue the annual publication, Mr. Orme said the report — compiled on the premise that long-term patterns of income, health and education had a great impact on thinking and how Governments and their citizens measured themselves — indeed was useful for tracking development changes over the long-term.


He said the education component of the human development index was based on the number of years of education a child today was likely to have, as well as the actual level of education of adults over age 25.  He noted dramatic changes in some of the bottom 10 countries, mainly sub-Saharan African nations recovering from conflict.  For example, in Sierra Leone and Mozambique, adults over age 25 had only one to two years of schooling on average, whereas children had six or more years.  “That’s a dramatic change in the course of a generation and it is much more within the control of the country as something like an economic variable like [gross domestic product],” he said. 


Mr. Kovačević added that last year, UNDP refined the methodology for compiling data, replacing old indicators with several new ones to better differentiate among countries.


As to whether countries had tried to improve their socio-economic lots due to their rankings in the report, Mr. Orme said they had.  For example, the Philippine Government had used the human development index as a planning tool on the municipal and provincial level to chart progress; the Indian Government had used it on the state level.  More than 70 countries had issued national human development reports, backed by UNDP.


Asked what sustainable development meant, Mr. Orme said it meant that there was no rational, achievable long-term human development model that did not take into account protection of the ecosystems on which humans depended.  Short-term environmental problems like water and air pollution could not be seen simply as a real time snapshot.  They had to be taken into account as part of a long-term development model.


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For information media • not an official record