173. What is the Human Development Index? (English Vocabulary Lesson)



This year’s Human Development Index results have been published by the UN… and they are not good. For the first time in history, average human development around the world is in decline. Let’s take a look at the concept of human development and discuss this year’s results on today’s episode of Thinking in English!



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Vocabulary List

Development (n) – the process in which something grows or changes and becomes more advanced

The region needs more development

Indicator (n) – something that shows what a situation is like

House prices are an indicator of the country’s economic health

Well-being (n) – the state of feeling healthy and happy

Yoga can improve people’s feeling of well-being

Life expectancy (n) – the length of time that someone is likely to live

Life expectancy in Europe has greatly increased in the past 100 years

Goalpost (n) – the aim, goal, or conditions for success

In terms of minimum income, the HDI goalpost is $100

Decline (n) – when something becomes less in amount, importance, quality, or strength

Home cooking seems to be in decline

Crisis (n) – a time of great disagreement, confusion, or suffering

The country’s leadership is in crisis

Shock (n) – a sudden, unexpected, and usually unpleasant event or experience

It was a shock to see her looking so ill

 

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A Difficult Few Years…

The last few years have been eventful to say the least. At the beginning of 2020, the start of a new decade of hope and opportunity, the world was suddenly locked down by a global pandemic. Businesses closed, panic spread, and thousands of people died from coronavirus. Schools in some areas remained closed for almost a year and hospitals struggled under the pressure

2 years later, just as much of the world seemed to be emerging from the pain of Covid, Russia invaded Ukraine. Thousands of people have died, and millions forced to leave their homes. Whole cities have been destroyed and life for innocent Ukrainians will take years to recover. Energy, oil, and food prices have increased as a consequence of the invasion.

And at the same time, we are experiencing a climate crisis. 2022 has been one of the hottest years of all time. Heatwaves hit Asia, Europe, and North America. Droughts have caused water shortages and damaged farming. And climate change has increased extreme weather events – the recent flooding in Pakistan is a great example.

Against this backdrop, the UN has released the most recent Human Development Index results… and for the first time the majority of countries around the world have received a lower score than last time. Decades of progress have started to reverse.

Today, I’m going to explain what the Human Development Index is and how it is measured. I’ll talk about this year’s results and explain why they have declined for the first time ever! And at the same time, let’s learn some useful English vocabulary!


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What is Human Development?

The Human Development Index (which I will refer to as HDI from now on) is a summary of the level of human development in different countries, regions, and the world in general. Human development is a term often used by international organisations, governments, and charities… but what is it?

Development has hundreds of different definitions. Overall, it could be summarised as a state of “advancement or growth” and positive change. Development is a process that creates economic growth, social change, and national progress.  

In the years after World War II international leaders and academics began to study and discuss the links between economic growth, development, and social improvement. Traditionally, the main indicator of a country’s development was purely economic: Gross Domestic Product or GDP.

GDP is a measure of the value of all goods and services in an economy. While it was never intended to be a full measure of national progress, it was generally used to determine how successful or developed a country was – the higher the GDP the more developed.

In the 1960s, more and more people began to question why GDP was being used almost exclusively to measure development. Development is not purely economic: people wanted to also consider measures like employment, wealth equality, and basic needs.

The human development approach focuses on the wellbeing of human life as a measure of development, rather than the wellbeing of the economy.

What is the HDI?

In 1990, the UN started to publish the HDI. The HDI measures human development in three different categories – health, standard of living, and knowledge. It was created to emphasize that development should be measured in terms of people and their capabilities and not just by economic growth.

Health is measured by life expectancy. Life expectancy is the number of years a person is expected to live on average at the time when they are born. A long life is considered to be an indicator that a country’s population is healthy, and that health care provision is decent!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zcg7dxs/revision/4

Knowledge is measured by years of education. There are actually two measurements here – the expected years a person could be in education and the actual years they are in education. The more years of education a person has is connected to higher levels of development and economic growth.

And standard of living is measured by something called Gross National Income per capita – so basically the average annual income of a person measured in US dollars.

The HDI sets a minimum and maximum target, or “goalposts,” for each of the three different dimensions – health, standard of living, and knowledge. A country’s performance is ranked in how close they are to these “goalposts.” If a country is considered to have a perfect education score they will be given a score of 1. If they have the worst possible education system, they will be given a score of zero.

In reality, countries tend to receive a score somewhere in between 1 and 0. Then these three scores are averaged to get the overall HDI value. The higher the HDI value, the higher a country’s human development.

HDI can help explain why two countries with similar incomes have very different health and education levels – and then country’s can readjust their national policies to improve their level of human development.

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2022 HDI Results

By Allice Hunter - United Nations Development Programme: Human Development Report 2021-22: Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World. Human Development Reports 272–275. United Nations Development Programme (8 September 2022). Archived from the original on 8 September 2022. Retrieved on 8 September 2022.Blank map: File:Blank world map (Miller cylindrical projection).svg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=122787272

So now that I have explained human development and the HDI, what were the 2022 results?

Out of all countries in the world, Switzerland received the highest HDI value. The average life expectancy in Switzerland is 84 years, the average time spent in education is 16.5 years, and the median salary is US$66,000 a year. Norway and Iceland also hold high positions this year.

At the opposite end of the rankings is South Sudan, Chad, and Niger. In South Sudan, the average person is expected to live just 55 years, attend just 5.5 years of education, and earn just US$768 a year.

The biggest shock, however, is that for the first time in history the average HDI across the world has declined. Of course, since 1990 individual country scores have gone up and down depending on events. Wars, revolutions, economic crises, famines, natural disasters: all of these things have pushed individual country’s HDI values down in the past 30 years.

But when taking every country’s HDI value on average, it had increased every year since 1990. Until the 2022 results. 90% of countries have seen their HDI value fall over the past 2 years, pushing the global HDI value back to 2016 levels. 30 years of constant progress and achievement has ended.

The main change has been in life expectancy at birth. COVID-19, in particular, has increased the unexpected deaths around the world and pushed life expectancy down. The global pandemic was undoubtedly the major cause.

Take the US as an example – since 2019 the average life expectancy has fallen by 2 years. Many other countries have had much more serious declines. The global average life expectancy fell from 73 years in 2019 to 71.4 years in 2021. This is without a doubt an unprecedented shock.

According to the UNDP chief Achim Steiner, this year’s results suggest that “we die earlier, we are less well educated, our incomes are going down.”

Over the past year, some countries had begun to recover from the impact of the pandemic, but many in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia continued to stuggle well into 2022. Then, at the beginning of this year, the war in Ukraine became another international crisis.

While the consequences of the Russian invasion on food and energy security has not yet been included in the HDI rankings, next years results are unlikely to be much of an improvement on 2022.

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How can we Reverse the Decline in HDI?

How can we stop the fall in global HDI values? The UN report offers some potential solutions and policies that could help.

First, they suggest we need more investment in renewable energy and in preparing for future pandemics. Making sure our economies can resist energy crises caused by oil and gas prices, reducing the speed of climate change and global warming, and strengthening health systems are very sensible policies.

In addition, the UN suggests that insurance against shocks and crises, and new innovations, are essential alongside greater investment.

Second, the UN wants countries to keep offering development assistance to vulnerable countries. Recently, there has been a trend in rich countries offering less money in overseas development aid and investment. This has had serious consequences for the countries at the bottom of the rankings.

Overall, countries need to be better prepared for a future full of potential crises and need to work together to reverse the decline in HDI!

Final Thought

Today, I have tried to explain the Human Development Index. I looked at the concept of human development and discussed what the HDI measures. Then, I briefly summarised the main trends in this year’s results and offered some potential solutions to reversing the global decline.

What do you think? How has the pandemic affected your country? What is the best way to increase the global HDI values?


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