Friday, January 9, 2009

UNDP Human Development Reports

Each year the United Nations Development Program releases the Human Development Report.

The first report, released in 1990, highlighted important differences between economic growth and economic development, emphasizing (for a lot of reasons that we'll discuss in class) that national income measures (such as GDP) simply do not suffice as a measure of human well-being within a given nation.

UNDP essentially defines "development" as the improvement in people's options. Options for education, options for employment, options for health care, leisure, culture, political representation and so on... The basic idea is that more options in these facets of life translates to the ability to achieve an improved standard of living, but having more (less) money in a nation doesn't necessarily mean that people have more (less) options.

That first 1990 report provided a look back at historical development around the world since 1960, critically analyzed the state of human development around the world and suggested strategies for improvement in the future. Each year since then, the HDR provides an update since the last report, analysis and lessons learned, a lot of great statistics and a central theme.

Last year's theme (actually '07 & '08) was global climate change. In 2006 it was access to water. The theme for 2009 is migration.

These reports are extremely well-written and easy to follow and should prove to be valuable resources for our studies throughout the semester. Click here to access all Human Development Reports. Detailed reports by region and nation are also available.


  1. One thing I find interesting in the policy suggestions section of the 2007/2008 report is that there are no real suggestions for "developing" countries (call them what you will). Most of the suggestions can only be applied to more developed countries or they suggest better ways to aid the developing countries (the focus on climate change when dealing with poverty, for example). I wonder what advice they would give directly to these countries; it almost seems to give these countries a free pass, something which has been debated heavily among policy experts.

  2. Drew,
    Good point, and this is mostly true. If you read the detailed suggestions you'll see that most of the burden for change does indeed fall on the developed world, but its not like the poorer nations just get to stand there with their hands out. Much of policy call has to do with the empowerment of people and governments (rather than strict "aid"), which suggests and requires active participation in the process.

    Moreover, it is tough to do anything other than survive on less than $1/day. Not exactly a free pass when you consider where they're starting. We'll get into a lot of this in class.