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Finance & Innovation

Global Citizen Guide To: The Human Development Index

The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) released the annual update to their Human Development Index this week. While the name of the index sometimes makes me fear that they’re trying to develop robots that will overthrow us all, what they’re actually doing is ranking each country in the world. The index’s scores are based on three factors: life expectancy, education, and income. Each country’s score is then placed in one of four categories: Very high human development, high, medium, or low.


Norway was voted number 1 in the 2014 HDI

Why go to all this effort? Firstly, people really like lists. Let me give you the five top reasons why people like lists. No, I’m not going to do that, though you were totally going to read the five reasons, weren’t you. See. But the main reason for compiling the Human Development Index (HDI) is to enable us to track the progress of nations on key criteria, and get a quick understanding on where nations stand in relation to each other. It also helps us to get away from measuring prosperity solely in terms of money. This index gives a strong focus to life expectancy (read: health), and education. A rich country full of sick, uneducated people doesn't sound much like paradise.


Australia came in a close second

So, what does the 2014 report’s data have for us? As usual, Norway is ranked one, with Australia in second, and Switzerland third. If you were born in any of those three countries, you’re a lucky kid. You probably wouldn’t be quite so thrilled if you were born into one of the bottom three countries though, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Niger. There, life is short, hard, and without many rewards. There’s a big amount of talent and potential going to waste because the people born into countries with low HDI scores miss out on basic opportunities.


Switzerland was voted third in the 2014 HDI

There are some good news stories this year: Zimbabwe has climbed four spots on the list (to 156th out of 187), thanks to improving stability in the country. Mongolia climbed three spots to 103, boosted by growth to its mining industry. Albania is up two spots to 95, with improving infrastructure and World Bank loans helping the government to modernise the nation. On the flip side, numerous countries have slid in the rankings this year, many of which have been caused by a particularly turbulent few years in the Middle East. Syria is down four spots to 118, Libya five to 55, and Egypt two to 110, illustrating the connection between national conflict and the prospects of everyday people. From this, you could say that a key part of ensuring that development works, is playing a role in minimising conflicts that reverse those hard-won gains.


The Central African Republic was voted third to last on the HDI

While the Human Development Index is an interesting way of comparing the progress of countries, its simplicity can sometimes let it down. For example, the index isn’t able to measure inequality within a country. If half of the population is tremendously rich, and the other half is cut off from basic education and health services, the HDI score of the country might be middle of the table, and appear on the surface to be reasonably ok. That’s not a picture of successful development, though, so it’s still important to look a bit deeper than just the HDI rankings in order to gain a real understanding of how a country is doing. In the future, inequality, climate change, and bad government policies will need to be addressed by all countries.


The Congo was voted second to last on the HDI scale

Let me finish on a positive note: the HDI scores of countries are rising, and many of the development initiatives in place in the world are working. The number of kids with no access to school is falling, better hospitals are saving lives, and new economic opportunities are popping up in parts of the world that were previously missing out. More people have hope of a healthy, dignified future than ever before, so as Global Citizens, why wouldn’t we keep pushing towards a world without extreme poverty?


According to the HDI, the least developed country in 2014 was Niger