In 182 Countries, Uneven Progress and Inequality in Health, Wealth and Education Persist

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Disparities in life expectancy can range up to 30 years, says the 2009 Human Development Report

Despite progress in many areas over the last 25 years, the disparities in people's well-being in rich and poor countries continue to be unacceptably wide, according to the Human Development Index (HDI) released today as part of the 2009 Human Development Report (HDR). This year's HDI, a summary indicator of people's well-being--combining measures of life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and GDP per capita--was calculated for 182 countries and territories, the most extensive coverage ever.

"Despite significant improvements over time, progress has been uneven," says the Report's lead author Jeni Klugman. "Many countries have experienced setbacks over recent decades, in the face of economic downturns, conflict-related crises and the HIV and AIDS epidemic. And this was even before the impact of the current global financial crisis was felt," Klugman adds, since the most recent internationally comparable data is for 2007.

The HDR, which is an independent report commissioned and published annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), tackles pressing global challenges. The 2009 Report is titled Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development and has been translated into more than a dozen languages and launched in many countries around the world.

New rankings

The top three ranked countries in the HDI are, in order, Norway, Australia and Iceland. France rejoined the top 10 countries after dropping down for one year, while Luxembourg fell from the top 10.

Five countries rose three or more places, compared with 2006: China, Colombia, France, Peru and Venezuela. These were largely driven by increases in incomes and life expectancy and, in the cases of China, Colombia and Venezuela, were also due to improvements in education.

There were extensive changes in country rankings across the board--fifty countries dropped one or more places in rank relative to 2006, and a similar number moved up--although most countries moved no more than two places. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana gained two positions (due to education gains) while Chad, Mauritius and Swaziland fell two places. Seven countries dropped more than two places in the ranking: Belize, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, and Tonga.

The bottom three ranked countries in this year's HDI, in order, are: Niger, Afghanistan (included for the first time since 1996) and Sierra Leone, respectively. In other words, a child born in Niger can expect to live to just over 50 years, which is 30 years less than a child born in Norway. Furthermore, the differences in per capita income are huge--for every dollar earned per person in Niger, US$85 are earned in Norway.

Klugman underlines that data revisions and updates imply that the HDI is subject to adjustment, and urges readers to not compare this year's HDI with those published in previous Reports, but to refer directly to the 2009 Report which contains revised data and updated figures since 1980.

Wide differences

This year's HDR introduces a new top country category: Very High Human Development. It shows that people living in countries in the higher human development categories can expect to be better educated, to live longer and to earn more: for example, per capita income ranges on average between less than $1,000 in Low HDI countries to more than $37,000 in the Very High HDI countries.

Differences in life expectancy and educational attainment are also striking. For example, a child born in a Low HDI country can expect to live on average just over 50 years--17 less than in Medium HDI countries, and 30 years less than in the Very High HDI countries. One in five adults in Medium HDI countries and one in two in Low HDI countries are still illiterate, while this is very rare elsewhere.

Longer-term trends

Trends in the HDI since 1980 show significant advances in human development, with an average improvement of 15 percent in countries' HDI scores. The strongest gainers have been China, Iran and Nepal. Yet progress has been much more significant in education and health than on the income front.

"While the closing of the gaps in many health and education indicators is good news, the persistent inequality in the distribution of world incomes should continue to be a source of concern for policy makers and international institutions," says Klugman, who noted that deeper analysis of these trends is being undertaken as background for the 2010 Report, which marks the 20th anniversary of the HDR.

A wealth of statistics in the HDR beyond the HDI

Beyond the HDI, the Report includes tables on various measures of human development including demographic trends, the economy and inequality, and education and health. It also provides a wealth of internationally comparable data that allows users to detail the key features of international and internal movements of people.

"These tables provide a basic reference for reporters, students, policy makers and researchers interested in knowing more about the role of migration in today's changing world," says Klugman.

To access the Human Development Report and the complete Press Kit please visit:

To access the HDI:

About this report: The Human Development Report continues to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity. It is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Jeni Klugman is the lead author of the 2009 Report. The Report is translated into more than a dozen languages and launched in more than 100 countries annually. The 2009 Human Development Report is published in English by Palgrave Macmillan.

About Human Development: Human Development is the expansion of the freedoms that people have to live their lives as they choose. This conception--inspired by the path-breaking work of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the leadership of the late Mahbub ul Haq, and known also as the capabilities approach because of its emphasis on the freedom that people have to achieve vital 'beings and doings'--has been at the core of UNDP's approach since the first Human Development Report in 1990, and is as relevant as ever to the design of effective policies to combat poverty and deprivation. This approach has proved powerful in reshaping thinking about topics as diverse as gender, human security and climate change.

About UNDP: UNDP is the UN's global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners. Please visit:


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Jean-Yves Hamel
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