Geography Compass

Human Development and Inequalities

by Magali Bonne-Moreau

What do Ethiopia and Cambodia have in common? Aside from their complicated political histories, these two countries have made great improvements in education and public health over the past 40 years, in spite of low incomes. Their progress places them among the “top movers” in a list of 135 countries, according to new indicators used to compile the latest Human Development Index (HDI), with Ethiopia in 11th place, and Cambodia in 15th place.

Since 1970, the world has experienced significant overall improvements in living standards and access to health and education, but there have been disparities, both globally and within countries, according to the 2010 edition of the UN Human Development Report, published earlier this month. These conclusions are based on a systematic review of human development opportunities and challenges at national and global levels over the past 40 years. The additional indicators used to determine the new HDI confirm that progress is possible even in countries with limited resources – in other words, there is no direct link between economic growth and progress in human development.

While these results are extremely insightful and deserve to be examined in detail, there is another noteworthy aspect of the 20th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report. Three new human development indices have been introduced to take into account growing concerns about inequality, gender equity, and the multidimensional nature of poverty.

The original Human Development Index  is a composite index developed in 1990 to measure the level of development of a country by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income. The Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) considers the effect of inequality on human development by looking at disparities in the HDI indicators.

According to Jonathan Glennie of the Guardian, “One of the main findings of the first 10 years of the Millennium Development Goals is that inequality matters… Equality matters as an end in itself, and it matters as one of the quickest means to reduce absolute poverty.” As geographers, we also have a role to play in the way inequality is addressed and researched.  For those of you who are interested in learning more, Alan Gilbert discusses this comprehensively in a Geography Compass paper entitled “Inequality and why it matters”.

Read Gilbert, A., 2007. Inequality and Why It Matters. Geography Compass, 1(3), pp.422-447

Read the Guardian article by Jonathan Glennie

Read the UNDP Human Development Report 2010 – The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development

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