Human development falling in 90% of nations: UN report; India part of trend

In the Human Development Index (HDI) rankings for 2021 released by the UNDP, India is ranked 132 among 191 countries. India’s HDI value of 0.633 places the country in the medium human development category

UNDP human development
The report said six out of seven people were feeling insecure around the world even before the pandemic. Representational image: UNDP

For the first time in the 32 years that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been calculating it, the Human Development Index (HDI), which measures a nation’s health, education, and standard of living, has declined globally for two years in a row, according to its latest report.

Human development has fallen back to its 2016 levels, reversing much of the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The reversal is nearly universal as over 90% of countries including India registered a decline in their HDI score in either 2020 or 2021 and more than 40% declined in both years, signalling that the crisis is still deepening for many, as per the latest Human Development Report, “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World”.

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While some countries are beginning to get back on their feet, recovery is uneven and partial, further widening inequalities in human development. Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been hit particularly hard, it said.


UNDP’s warning

The UNDP warned that “the world is lurching from crisis to crisis, trapped in a cycle of firefighting and unable to tackle the roots of the troubles that confront us. Without a sharp change of course, we may be heading towards even more deprivations and injustices.”

As per the report, layers of uncertainty are stacking up and interacting to unsettle life in unprecedented ways. The last two years have had a devastating impact for billions of people around the world, when crises like COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine hit back-to-back, and interacted with sweeping social and economic shifts, dangerous planetary changes, and massive increases in polarisation.

“The world is scrambling to respond to back-to-back crises. We have seen with the cost of living and energy crises that, while it is tempting to focus on quick fixes like subsidising fossil fuels, immediate relief tactics are delaying the long-term systemic changes we must make,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

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“We are collectively paralysed in making these changes. In a world defined by uncertainty, we need a renewed sense of global solidarity to tackle our interconnected, common challenges,” Steiner added.

“To navigate uncertainty, we need to double down on human development and look beyond improving people’s wealth or health,” says UNDP’s Pedro Conceição, the report’s lead author. “These remain important. But we also need to protect the planet and provide people with the tools they need to feel more secure, regain a sense of control over their lives and have hope for the future.”

People feeling insecure

The report said six out of seven people were feeling insecure around the world even before the pandemic.

“Thirty-two years ago, the very first Human Development Report declared boldly that ‘people are the real wealth of nations’. That powerful refrain has guided UNDP and its Human Development Reports ever since, with its messages and meanings taking on richer hues over time.

“People around the world are now telling us that they feel ever more insecure. UNDP’s Special Report on Human Security, launched earlier this year, found that six out of seven people worldwide reported feeling insecure about many aspects of their lives, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Is it any wonder, then, that many nations are creaking under the strain of polarisation, political extremism and demagoguery — all supercharged by social media, artificial intelligence and other powerful technologies?” the report said.

Also read: Global life expectancy has climbed by 9 years in 3 decades: UN report

To chart a new course, the report recommended implementing policies that focus on 3Is (investment, insurance and innovation).

“Investment” — from renewable energy to preparedness for pandemics, and “Insurance” — including social protection — to prepare our societies for the ups and downs of an uncertain world. While “Innovation” in its many forms — technological, economic, cultural — can also build capacities to respond to whatever challenges come next, it said.

India ranked 132

In the Human Development Index (HDI) rankings for 2021 released by the UNDP, India is ranked 132 among 191 countries.

India’s HDI value of 0.633 places the country in the medium human development category, lower than its value of 0.645 in the 2020 report. India was ranked 130 among 189 countries in 2020.

UNDP Human Development Index 2021

“Like global trends, in India’s case, the drop in HDI from 0.645 in 2019 to 0.633 in 2021 can be attributed to falling life expectancy – 69.7 to 67.2 years. India’s expected years of schooling stand at 11.9 years, and the mean years of schooling are at 6.7 years,” the report said.

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Switzerland is the top-ranked country with HDI value of 0.962. Norway is second followed by Iceland, Hong Kong and Australia.

China is ranked 73 while Sri Lanka is at 79th spot. Pakistan is ranked 161. South Sudan remained at the last place (191) as it was in 2020.

UNDP Human Development Index 2021

Over the last decade, India has lifted a staggering 271 million out of multidimensional poverty. The country is improving access to clean water, sanitation, and affordable clean energy. India has also boosted access to social protection for vulnerable sections of society, especially during and after the pandemic, with a 9.8 percent increase in the budgetary allocation to the Social Services sector in 2021-22 over 2020-21, the report said.

UNDP Human Development Index 2021

Also read: World Population Day: India to surpass China in a year’s time