‘There Is a Straight Line from the Human Development Report to the Millennium Development Goals,’ Says Secretary-General at Launch of 2010 Report

4 November 2010

‘There Is a Straight Line from the Human Development Report to the Millennium Development Goals,’ Says Secretary-General at Launch of 2010 Report

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

‘There Is a Straight Line from the Human Development Report to the Millennium


Development Goals,’ Says Secretary-General at Launch of 2010 Report


Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the launch of the twentieth Human Development Report, today, 4 November, in New York:

Thank you, Helen Clark, for that warm introduction.  And thank all of you for being here to celebrate this important anniversary.  Above all, I want to thank Amartya Sen for your groundbreaking work.  Thank you very much for your participation.  Long before the Nobel Committee gave you its highest award in economics, we at the United Nations knew that your new concept of human development was itself a prize.

Your close friend and collaborator, the late Mahbub ul Haq, was the intellectual father of the Human Development Report.  And so I feel he is with us in spirit today.  Dr. Haq was more than Pakistan’s Minister of Finance, a World Bank official, an adviser to UNDP [United Nations Development Programme].  He was a rare individual whose intellectual brilliance was matched by his equally shining compassion.  I often speak to Dr. Haq’s son, Farhan, since he is one of my spokespeople.  I understand his mother, Khadijah Haq, is continuing her late husband’s work in Pakistan.

Twenty years ago, the first Human Development Report stunned the international community with the simple premise that people are the true measure of a nation’s wealth.  Not GNP [gross national product].  Not FDI [foreign direct investment].  Not ODA [official development assistance].  Just — people.  It was a radical concept at the time.  And it overturned conventional thinking.

The Human Development Report argued that measuring progress only in economic terms is factually and philosophically wrong.  After all, by conventional measures, every weapon that is manufactured shows up in Government ledgers as positive economic activity.  The HDR had a different, more expansive vision.  It said Governments should focus not only on the quantity of growth, but also on its quality.  It suggested that Governments should not pursue growth for its own sake — but for improving people’s lives.  Ordinary people.  Children too poor to go to school.  Pregnant women with no health care.  Families wondering how to survive another day.  The Human Development Report said wealth is not gold bricks, or oil wells; it is these struggling people.

Some economists at the time viewed the poor as proof of failure — but Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq saw them as the key to success.  The idea of people-centred development is so widely accepted now it is hard to remember that we used to measure progress in such limited terms.  The HDR for the first time gave equal weight to school enrolment, life expectancy, health.  Not just how much a country earns, but how well its people live.  Yes, economic growth matters.  But what matters more is giving each individual a better chance at a long, healthy and productive life.  The idea caught on quickly, especially in the developing world.

But the Human Development Report was much more than a clever intellectual exercise; it was designed to change thinking, spur action, and get results.  And it did.  It helped planners understand that we have to do more than generate resources – we have to distribute them better, so that education, medical care, clean water, decent jobs and human rights protections reach the millions of people who struggle without these fundamental necessities.

There is a straight line from the Human Development Report to the Millennium Development Goals.  The concept of human development paved the way for the major global conferences of the 1990s on children, the environment, human rights, population, women and social development.  These summits hammered out global targets, which contributed to the Millennium Development Goals.  Putting people first means tackling poverty, hunger and disease.  That approach is embodied in the Millennium Development Goals.  The HDR was designed to measure results.  The Goals set specific targets for a better world.

This year’s Report continues the fine tradition of measuring the real wealth of nations and advancing the idea of human development.  I congratulate the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and all involved in making possible 20 years of visionary reports.  Let us draw inspiration from them as we accelerate our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals as the 2015 deadline approaches.

* *** *

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