On the quest to human development

unacto1The grassroots protests that have flared worldwide over the last few years were taken to Brazil in early June 2013.  Protests over the increase in bus fares in the city of Sao Paulo quickly expanded to cities all over the country and became a broader grievance about the poor quality of public services, especially education and healthcare, as well as government corruption, and extravagant expenditure on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.  This rise of protests and demands have served to highlight the deep social costs of hosting events such as the World Cup in one of the most unequal societies in the world, and also illustrates the relevance in ensuring that a country on its path to development does not seek economic development on its own, but a development that is inclusive and sustainable: as “human development” as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) formally defined in its first Human Development Report: “a process of enlarging people’s choices”.

Every year since 1990, the UNDP releases its Human Development Report, which covers the global debate on development issues, provides new measurement tools, advanced analysis and often unpopular policy proposals. In addition, the UNDP also publishes local, regional, and national Human Development Reports.

The concept of Human Development applied by the UNDP is an integrated intellectual framework for a human centered approach to economic and social development, which came about partly in response to the toxic environment brought by the onset of a world recession and the return of economic orthodoxy and banking policies designed to ensure that developing countries paid their debts. As a result, structural adjustment policies dominated economic policymaking in Latin America and Africa during the 80’s and much of the 90’s and became a condition for receiving support from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF.  Unfortunately, the results of these policies proved to be devastating for most least-developed countries and economic research has proved that the negative impact of these polices was illustrated in poor economic performance, health, education, and social provision.

Mahbub ul Haq, the late world-renowned Pakistani economist, is the founder of the Human Development Report and was the first one to recognize that “the real wealth of nations are its people”[1]. Today his work is continued by Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, who both have redefined and elaborated further on the human development paradigm to emphasize the broadening of choices and capabilities as a central theme to human development.

Today, the Report provides a comprehensive vision of a people-centered strategy as an alternative to mainstream economics policy and analysis, and reflects a concern with entrenched social injustice and inequality, bearing in mind that individuals are at the end of development. In its last Report titled “Rise of the South”, Brazil is recognized amongst India and China, as one of the countries who have made the most advanced changes with significant improvement on both the non-income and the income dimensions of human development index (HDI), showing that its people are not just at the centre of the streets, but also at the centre of the path to deveopment after all.


[1] UNDP, Human Development Report, (New York, NY: UNDP, 1990), 9.

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver website writer Luciana Prado

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