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Human Development Report 1999


When I was arguing that helping a one-meal family
to become a two-meal family, enabling a woman without a change of clothing
to afford to buy a second piece of clothing, is a development miracle,
I was ridiculed. That is no development, I was reminded sternly.
Development is growth of the economy, they said; growth will bring everything.
We carried out our work as if we were engaged in some very undesirable activities.
When UNDP’s Human Development Report came out we felt vindicated.
We were no longer back-street operators, we felt we were in the mainstream.

Thanks, Human Development Report.



In 1990 the time had come for a broad approach to improving human well-being that would cover all aspects of human life, for all people, in both high-income and developing countries, both now and in the future. It went far beyond narrowly defined economic development to cover the full flourishing of all human choices. It emphasized the need to put people—their needs, their aspirations and their capabilities—at the center of the development effort. And the need to assert the unacceptability of any biases or discrimination, whether by class, gender, race, nationality, religion, community or generation. Human development had arrived.

        The first Human Development Report of UNDP, published in 1990 under the inspiration and leadership of its architect, Mahbub ul Haq, came after a period of crisis and retrenchment, in which concern for people had given way to concern for balancing budgets and payments. It met a felt need and was widely welcomed. Since then it has caused considerable academic discussion in journals and seminars. It has caught the world's imagination, stimulating criticisms and debate, ingenious elaborations, improvements
and additions.

        Human development is the process of enlarging people's choices—not just choices among different detergents, television channels or car models but the choices that are created by expanding human capabilities and functionings—what people do and can do in their lives. At all levels of development a few capabilities are essential for human development, without which many choices in life would not be available. These capabilities are to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable and to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living—and these are reflected in the human development index. But many additional choices are valued by people. These include political, social, economic and
cultural freedom, a sense of community, opportunities for being creative and productive, and self-respect and human rights. Yet human development is more than just achieving these capabilities; it is also the process of pursuing them in a way that is equitable, participatory, productive and sustainable.

        Choices will change over time and can, in principle, be infinite. Yet infinite choices without limits and constraints can become pointless and mindless. Choices have to be combined with allegiances, rights with duties, options with bonds, liberties with ligatures. Today we see a reaction against the extreme individualism of the free market approach towards what has come to be called communitarianism. The exact combination of individual and public action, of personal agency and social institutions, will vary from time to time and from problem to problem. Institutional arrangements will be more important for achieving environmental sustainability, personal agency more important when it comes to the choice of household articles or marriage partners. But some complementarity will always be necessary.

        Getting income is one of the options people would like to have. It is important but not an all-important option. Human development includes the expansion of income and wealth, but it includes many other valued and valuable things as well.

        For example, in investigating the priorities of poor people, one discovers that what matters most to them often differs from what outsiders assume. More income is only one of the things poor people desire. Adequate nutrition, safe water at hand, better medical services, more and better schooling for their children, cheap transport, adequate shelter, continuing employment and secure livelihoods and productive, remunerating, satisfying jobs do not show up in higher income per head, at least not for some time.

        There are other non-material benefits that are often more highly valued by poor people than material improvements. Some of these partake in the characteristics of rights, others in those of states of mind. Among these are good and safe working conditions, freedom to choose jobs and livelihoods, freedom of movement and speech, liberation from oppression, violence and exploitation, security from persecution and arbitrary arrest, a satisfying family life, the assertion of cultural and religious values, adequate leisure time and satisfying forms of its use, a sense of purpose in life and work, the opportunity to join and actively
participate in the activities of civil society and a sense of belonging to a community. These are often more highly valued than income, both in their own right and as a means to satisfying and productive work. They do not show up in higher income figures. No policy-maker can guarantee the achievement of all, or even the majority, of these aspirations, but policies can create the opportunities for their fulfilment.

_________________________________________________________________________ Human Development Reports have had a significant impact worldwide.
Up until the publication of these Reports, discussions on development centred on economic growth, using variables such as per capita income growth. Of course these economic variables also generate some social benefits. But this view of development had been quite limited. While a country could perfectly well be considered highly developed, income might be concentrated in the hands of a few, and poverty worsening…. Speaking as President of Brazil, until today the country is plagued by a lot of problems—income concentration, poverty, and so on.  If we do not adopt a development model that responds to the needs of the majority, this development will not be long-lasting. FERNANDO HENRIQUE CARDOSO, PRESIDENT, BRAZIL


This year’s Report marks the tenth anniversary of the Human Development Report. Each year since being launched in 1990, the Report has focused on different themes and introduced new concepts and approaches. But the central concern has always been people as the purpose of development, and their empowerment as participants in the development process. The Report puts economic growth into perspective: it is a means—a very important one—to serve human ends, but it is not an end in itself.


How has human development changed since the Report was first published in 1990? A balance sheet of human development in 1990–97 shows tremendous progress—but also enduring deprivations and new setbacks.


Each year the Human Development Report has made strong policy recommendations, for both national and international action. The proposals, some emphasizing suggestions by others, some putting forward new approaches, have drawn both criticism and praise. But most important, they have helped to open policy debates to wider possibilities.


Global proposals have been aimed at contributing to a new paradigm of sustainable human development—based on a new concept of human security, a new partnership of developed and developing countries, new forms of international cooperation and a new global compact.

THE 20:20 INITIATIVE (1992). With the aim of turning both domestic and external priorities to basic human concerns, this initiative proposed that every developing country allocate 20% of its domestic budget, and every donor 20% of its official development assistance (ODA), to ensuring basic health care, basic education, access to safe water and basic sanitation, and basic family planning packages for all couples.

GLOBAL HUMAN SECURITY FUND (1994). This fund would tackle drug trafficking, international terrorism, communicable diseases, nuclear proliferation, natural disasters, ethnic conflicts, excessive international migration and global environmental pollution and degradation. The fund of $250 billion a year would be financed with $14 billion from a proportion of the peace dividend (20% of the amount saved by industrial countries and 10% of that saved by developing countries through a 3% reduction in global military spending); $150 billion from a 0.05% tax on speculative international capital movements; $66 billion from a global energy tax ($1 per barrel of oil or its equivalent in coal consumption) and $20 billion from a one-third share of ODA.

A NEW GLOBAL ARCHITECTURE (1994). A globalizing world needs new institutions to deal with problems that nations alone cannot solve:

  • An economic security council—to review the threats to human security.
  • A world central bank—to take on global macroeconomic management and supervision of international banking.
  • An international investment trust—to recycle international surpluses to developing countries.
  • A world antimonopoly authority—to monitor the activities of multinational corporations and ensure that markets are competitive.

A TIMETABLE TO ELIMINATE LEGAL GENDER DISCRIMINATION (1995). As of December 1998, 163 countries had ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but others—including the United States—had not. Women's rights are human rights. There should be a timetable for recognizing legal equality between women and men everywhere, say by 2005, using CEDAW as the framework.
 _________________________________________________________________________ The issues raised by this Report [Human Development Report 1995] are of central importance to all of us…. In country after country women have demonstrated that when given the tools of opportunity—education, healthcare, access to credit, political participation and legal rights—they can lift themselves out of poverty, and as women realize their potential, they lift their families, communities and nations as well…. This Report not only provides a graphic portrait of the problems facing today’s women, but also opens up the opportunity for a serious dialogue about possible solutions. It challenges governments, communities and individuals to enter
into this conversation in a common effort to overcome shared problems.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FIRST LADY, THE UNITED STATES __________________________________________________________________________

National proposals have focused on the centrality of people in development, on the need for a new partnership between the state and the market and on new forms of alliance between governments, institutions of civil society, communities and people.

RESTRUCTURING SOCIAL EXPENDITURES (1991). Resources should be reallocated to basic human priority concerns through an analysis of a country’s total expenditure, social expenditure and human priority spending ratios. The key is to move away from military spending towards social spending—and to shift the focus to primary human concerns: better education, health services and safe water accessible to poor people.

A CRITICAL THRESHOLD OF 30% FOR WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION (1995). Women must have a critical 30% representation in all decision-making processes—economic, political and social—nationally and locally. Reaching this threshold is essential to enable women to influence decisions that affect their lives. And to achieve gender equality, social norms and practices must be changed, and women’s access to social services, productive resources and all other opportunities made equal to men’s.

PRO-POOR GROWTH (1996). The quality of economic growth is as important as its quantity. For human development, growth should be job-creating rather than jobless, poverty-reducing rather than ruthless, participatory rather than voiceless, culturally entrenched rather than rootless and environment-friendly rather than futureless. A growth strategy that aims for a more equitable distribution of assets, that is job-creating and labour-intensive, and that is decentralized can achieve such growth.

AGENDA FOR POVERTY ERADICATION (1997). People’s empowerment is the key to poverty elimination and at the centre of a six-point agenda:

  • Empower individuals, households and communities to gain greater control over their lives and resources.
  • Strengthen gender equality to empower women.
  • Accelerate pro-poor growth in low-income countries.
  • Improve the management of globalization.
  • Ensure an active state committed to eradicating poverty.
  • Take special actions for special situations to support progress in the poorest and weakest countries.

The Human Development Report has become an important instrument of policy
and the concept of the human development index a fundamental tool in formulation of policy by government…. Growth and advancement must be measured by the extent to which it impacts positively on people, but the starting point must be human development. We need to focus particularly on the sectors of society that are the most disadvantaged—
women, youth, children, the elderly and the disabled. THABO MBEKI, DEPUTY PRESIDENT, SOUTH AFRICA



The human development approach has tremendous potential for analysing situations and policies at the national level. Two Human Development Centres have been established—the first in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the second in Guanajuanto, Mexico. More than 260 national and subnational human development reports have been produced over the years by 120 countries, in addition to nine regional reports. In each country these serve to bring together the facts, influence national policy and mobilize action. They have introduced the human development concept into national policy dialogue—not only through human development indicators and policy recommendations, but also through the country-led process of consultation, data collection and report writing.


South Africa has one of the fastest-spreading HIV epidemics in the world. The country’s 1998 human development report provided startling information on how this will affect human development. Many of the advances achieved during the short life of the new democracy will be reversed if the epidemic goes unchecked. Developing and drafting the report brought critical gaps in information to light. The economic costs alone, in lost labour and sick days, are far greater than initially realized. The report has prompted plans for further study of the full costs—direct and indirect—of the epidemic to the government, to communities and to households.


Many of India’s 25 states rival medium-size countries in size, population and diversity. National-level aggregation would hide these important regional disparities. UNDP India has therefore supported the preparation of human development reports by state governments. The government of Madhya Pradesh was the first to prepare a state report, in 1995, which helped bring human development into political discourse and planning. Its second report, in 1998, reflects the influence the first report had on planning. Social services now account for more than 42% of plan investment, compared with 19% in the previous plan budget. This success bodes well for other states, such as Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan, preparing their first human development reports in 1999.


Kuwait’s first human development report, in 1997, raised awareness of the human development concept and its relevance to the country’s struggle to shift from dependence on oil towards a knowledge-based economy. The report’s production and promotion helped advance new thinking in academia, research institutions and the government. The Ministry of Planning has started to incorporate the human development approach in its indicators for strategic planning and to monitor human development. The Arab Planning Institute has revised its curriculum to reflect the human development concept. And after the success of the first report, the Ministry of Planning is following up with a second, fully funded by the government.


Guatemala’s first human development report, in 1998, overcame data limitations to spotlight socio-economic disparities across regions, with a strong emphasis on statistics. Seen as the most complete document on Guatemalan society after the civil war, the report has become a crucial source of information for NGOs, universities and the international community. And it has led Guatemala’s government and civil society to recognize that the national system of statistics urgently needs strengthening—not only to support technical studies, but also to inform citizens as a requirement for democracy.


Latvia and Lithuania have published national human development reports every year since 1995. The reports have covered the social effects of transition, human settlements, social cohesion and poverty. Starting out by encouraging national debate on development challenges, the reports have now inspired a cross-border academic network. Scholars from three universities in each country are jointly developing a course curriculum to provide a multidisciplinary overview of human development and its  relevance to Latvia and Lithuania. The reports will be part of the course curriculum.


Published annually since 1997, Cambodia’s human development reports have provided a unique overview of human development in a country where scarcity of reliable statistical data has been a major obstacle in developing sustainable social and economic policies. The 1998 report drew public attention to the persistent discrimination against women in access to education and health care. This message was reinforced by a television documentary and four short spots on women in different occupations, broadcast by all five national television stations. The reports have received an enthusiastic response, and several NGOs and provincial government units are using them to train field staff and community workers. Encouraged by this reception, UNDP and the Cambodian government recently began transferring ownership of the report fully into Cambodian hands. The initiative, with  the participation of many NGOs, seeks to strengthen local capacity in compiling and analysing data on human development.
 _________________________________________________________________________ We, the people of the Earth, are one large family. The new epoch offers new challenges
and new global problems, such as environmental catastrophes, exhaustion of resources,
bloody conflicts and poverty. Every time I see children begging in the street, my heart is broken—it is our challenge and our shame that we are still unable to help those who are vulnerable—children in the first place. Whatever are the problems or perspectives for the future—the human dimension is what should be applied as the measure of all events, towards the implications of every political decision to be made. That is why the idea of human development promoted by UNDP is so important for us. I would like to thank UNDP for bringing to life both the important concept of human development, and these Reports. EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE, PRESIDENT, GEORGIA


The human development index (HDI), which the Human Development Report has made into something of a flagship, has been rather successful in serving as an alternative measure of development, supplementing GNP. Based as it is on three distinct components—indicators of longevity, education and income per head—it is not exclusively focused on economic opulence (as GNP is). Within the limits of these three components, the HDI has served to broaden substantially the empirical attention that the assessment of development processes receives.
        However, the HDI, which is inescapably a crude index, must not be seen as anything other than an introductory move in getting people interested in the rich collection of information that is present in the Human Development Report. Indeed, I must admit I did not initially see much merit in the HDI itself, which, as it happens, I was privileged to help devise. At first I had expressed to Mahbub ul Haq, the originator of the Human Development Report, considerable scepticism about trying to focus on a crude index of this kind, attempting to catch in one simple number a complex reality about human development and deprivation. In contrast to the coarse index of the HDI, the rest of the Human Development Report contains an extensive collection of tables, a wealth of information on a variety of
social, economic and political features that influence the nature and quality of human life. Why give prominence, it was natural to ask, to a crude summary index that could not begin to capture much of the rich information that makes the Human Development Report so engaging and important?
        This crudeness had not escaped Mahbub at all. He did not resist the argument that the HDI could not be but a very limited indicator of development. But after some initial hesitation, Mahbub persuaded himself that the dominance of GNP (an overused and oversold index that he wanted to supplant) would not be broken by any set of tables. People would look at them respectfully, he argued, but when it came to using a summary measure of development, they would still go back to the unadorned GNP, because it was crude but convenient. As I listened to Mahbub, I heard an echo of T. S. Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton”: “Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality”.
        “We need a measure”, Mahbub demanded, “of the same level of vulgarity as GNP—just one number—but a measure that is not as blind to social aspects of human lives as GNP is.” Mahbub hoped that not only would the HDI be something of an improvement on—or at least a helpful supplement to—GNP, but also that it would serve to broaden public interest in the other variables that are plentifully analysed in the Human Development Report.
        Mahbub got this exactly right, I have to admit, and I am very glad that we did not manage to deflect him from seeking a crude measure. By skilful use of the attracting power of the HDI, Mahbub got readers to take an involved interest in the large class of systematic tables and detailed critical analyses presented in the Human Development Report. The crude index spoke loud and clear and received intelligent attention and through that vehicle the complex reality contained in the rest of the Report also found an interested audience.