Press Conference to Launch 2010 Human Development Report

4 November 2010

Press Conference to Launch 2010 Human Development Report

4 November 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Launch 2010 Human Development Report


There had been tremendous advances all over the world since 1970, as indicated by the Human Development Index, with poor countries advancing the fastest, Jeni Klugman, lead author of the 2010 Human Development Report, said today at Headquarters, during a press conference to launch the document, entitled “The Real Wealth of Nations:  Pathways to Human Development”.

Ms. Klugman, Director of the Human Development Report Office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was joined at the briefing by Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in economics and seminal contributor to the first Human Development Reports and the creation of the Human Development Index.

The Human Development Index, explained Ms. Klugman, captures income, education and health trends over time.  The 2010 Report, the twentieth such study, shows that, overall, there was a “convergence”: people living in countries that were less well off were catching up with those in countries that were better off.  The important exception, however, was income.

Asked why the data in the 2010 Report were not comparable to those in previous such reports, she said that every year, there were revisions of the underlying data used for the Index.  The published numbers in previous reports, therefore, were not necessarily comparable to those in subsequent reports.  The 2010 Report, moreover, contained several key changes.  Instead of literacy as a measurement of education, a shift had been made to “adult use of schooling”.  That had been done because many countries were approaching universal literacy, which made differentiating between them difficult.

Another change had been a shift from gross domestic product (GDP) to gross national income (GNI), she said, because GNI captured the income available to country’s residents, including, among other things, remittances from abroad and foreign aid.  Those changes had been made to ensure continued relevance of the Index.  The Report’s “table II” provided a set of numbers consistent over time.

China had shown “spectacular” economic growth, she said in response to another question, but she added that there had been slow progress in the other human index dimensions.  The combined school enrolment rate today, for instance, was 1 per cent lower than it had been in 1970.  Earlier estimates with respect to “missing women” in China and India had been updated, with the resulting indication that trends were actually worse.

Mr. Sen said that the nature of the issue of “the missing women” had radically changed.  The mortality differential had dramatically gone down since the 1990s, as women, both in India and China, lived longer on average than men.  In China, and in India to a lesser extent, there had, however, been an increase in “natal discrimination”, such as sex-specific abortions.  In total, the number of “missing women” had stayed the same or had grown slightly, both in absolute and proportionate terms.  That hid the fact, however, that the original concern about mortality discrimination had disappeared and had been substituted by the increase in sex-specific abortions of female foetuses.  In India, sex-specific abortions were quite common in the northern and western parts, while it was mostly absent in the south and east of the country, he added.

Asked if disputed areas such as in Cyprus and Azerbaijan had been included, and why countries such as Azerbaijan, Iran and Myanmar had made such progress in terms of the Human Development Index, Mr. Sen said the numbers and rankings were based on official figures.  Expressing some scepticism about some “dismal” figures and advising caution, he said the issue was source related.  If unreliable data with the “stamp” of the UNDP Human Development Report Office became public domain, it became a political statement.  There was an issue of concern there.

Ms. Klugman added that it was important to bear in mind that the Human Development Index did not purport to be a comprehensive measure of development.  It measured changes in income, education and health.  It was possible that in some countries those three dimensions had improved.

Addressing a question as to whether such criteria as human rights, equality and environmental responsibility should be included in the Index, Ms. Klugman said that the issue had been considered seriously.  There were, however, strong arguments to maintain the current format of the Index, with its simplicity and transparency.  Part of the problem was the lack of consensual agreement about what the suggested dimensions involved, let alone how they could be measured.

Mr. Sen added that the more variables that were put into a one-number outcome, the less illuminating that number would be about any of its components.  The Index would become difficult to interpret.  The Human Development Index should be kept simple, he said, but it could be supplemented.

Asked how the United Kingdom had slipped from the sixth to the twenty-third place in Human Development Index ranking, Ms. Klugman said that that change had been the result of the shift to “adult use of schooling”.  Previously, the country was ranked according to its 99 per cent literacy rate.  With the more differential measure of “adult use of schooling”, the United Kingdom did relatively worse than some other developed countries.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.