HDR 2016 – Human Development for Everyone

When it first came out in 1990, the Human Development Report (HDR) laid down a whole new way of thinking about deprivation – it identified poverty not by what a person has or doesn’t have; but what he can or cannot do. This approach to development spoke of humanity’s very basic capabilities – to simply stay alive a reasonable length of time, to be able to read and write, and to earn enough to provide a life of decency for families and communities… The concept of human rather than economic development was to electrify all stakeholders, as they thought of new means of tackling deprivation in their countries – other than government hand-outs, subsidies and the ‘trickle down’ effect.

As the HDR 2016 proudly states:

The human development approach shifted the development discourse from pursuing material opulence to enhancing human well-being, from maximizing income to expanding capabilities, from optimizing growth to enlarging freedoms. It focused on the richness of human lives rather than on simply the richness of economies, and doing so changed the lens for viewing development results.

The HDR 2016 rightfully gives credit to its progenitor (UNDP) for making it possible for diverse countries to adopt the Millennium Development Goals in 1995, for putting the onus of poverty reduction on national governments, and achieving quite substantial results by 2015. But sadly, the MDGs were viewed by the developed world with benign tolerance, and as an acceptable means of channeling donor funds to the poor and deserving in Asia, Africa and Latin America… Nothing more.

However in the last few years, the Left-Right divide has sharpened in Europe and North America, discrimination has become legitimised through travel bans, the 1% are being increasingly resented, every G20 summit takes place amid violent protests, and multilateralism has come under attack everywhere. Add to this the growing awareness of climate change, global pandemics and environmental damage, and the developed world can no longer stand apart as a mere spectator and reluctant benefactor.

Thus, when the 8 MDGs gave way to 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the issues of sustainability moved centre-stage, then every country – rich and poor – had to perforce become part of a global multilateral project. Human development, if it is to be achieved must be achieved everywhere – in the refugee camps of Italy, the war fields of Syria, among the indigenous populations of Australasia and North and South America, the Dalits of India, and the minority enclaves in China. Hence, the theme of the latest HDR – Human Development for everyone.

Essentially, the Report conveys five basic messages:

Universalism is key to human development, and human development for everyone is attainable
• Various groups of people still suffer from basic deprivations and face substantial barriers to overcoming them
• Human development for everyone calls for refocusing some analytical issues and assessment perspectives
Policy options exist and, if implemented, would contribute to achieving human development for everyone
• A reformed global governance, with fairer multilateralism, would help attain human development for everyone

Of course the Report dwells especially on the heightened barriers to development placed in the path of indigenous groups, religious and ethnic minorities, women and girls, migrants and refugees, the elderly, disabled, and the differently inclined. These are the disadvantaged, universally acknowledged. What I find more disturbing though, is the almost universal marginalization of the poor because they are poor and without choice or voice – be it reduced health support in the US, or cut in allocations to primary education in India. It’s as if the world has decided to simply write off its bottom 10%, the hungry and the homeless, as being beyond help…

And in this darkening scenario of Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ the slogan of development for everyone seems rather idealistic, although the UNDP claims that it is possible through the right policies and actions by national governments, and the strengthening of the multilateral framework of global governance.

The Report’s prescription for national governments are summarised beautifully in this diagram:

And the Report ends with an appeal to strengthen the multilateral framework of global governance, so grievously undermined by nationalistic rhetoric, growing insecurity leading to an unending arms race, religious hatred and ethnic conflict.

Its formula for strengthening the multilateral framework is:

• Stabilizing the global economy
• Applying fair trade and investment rules
• Adopting a fair system of migration
• Assuring greater equity and legitimacy of multilateral institutions
• Coordinating taxes and monitoring finance globally
• Making the global economy sustainable
• Ensuring well-funded multilateralism and cooperation
• Globally defending people’s security
• Promoting greater and better participation of global civil society


So there you have it… A blueprint for a better world? Perhaps.
A voice to be listened to? Definitely.