Human Development Report 2003
Millennium Development Goals: A Compact Among Nations to End Human Poverty
The Human Development Report was started in 1990 by Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen, who were struck by the fact that up until then progress was measured by per capita GNP, while the quality of people’s lives is not always dependent on the size of the economy. GNP does not measure such valuable things in life as the way we bring up our children, household events, or the quality of poetry that people write. Many countries improve people’s lives without making actual economic progress. Countries in East Asia, for example, have been transformed in a single generation from being illiterate to being among the most educated countries in the world.
The Human Development Report assesses the state of the world by looking at improvement in human lives in terms of Sen’s theory of capabilities. Some of these capabilities are universal, like the ability to survive, read, or enjoy a decent standard of living, while others, like the capability to enjoy political freedom and participate in society, are not included in the index.
Let us look at this year’s Human Development Report, which is called Millennium Development Goals: A Compact Among Nations to End Human Poverty. These goals are derived from a declaration of the Millennium Summit of the year 2000, which was a unique general assembly of over 150 heads of state committed to such goals as democracy, human rights, peace, and development. They committed themselves to taking responsibility globally for reducing poverty, for which they set specific quantitative targets and timetables.
Since the year 2000 there has been important progress in international agreements. A framework was laid down in the Monterrey Consensus when rich countries agreed to provide aid if poor countries did their part by putting the right kinds of policies into place, removing corruption, etc. One of the eight millennial goals was developing a global partnership for development. The United States is rather lukewarm about this goal, and in some instances has not acknowledged it as a legitimate goal. These goals are to be achieved by 2015.
These goals are not going to be achieved by letting business go on as usual. Progress in poverty reduction is far too slow, and what progress we can point to may be due almost entirely to events in China. In Africa the goal of reducing hunger will not be achieved until 2165. Life expectancy, as an indicator of how people’s lives have improved, has grown quite steadily, although it is very badly distributed by region. In the 1990s we see new trends of reversal and stagnation.
Several observations are possible. First there is a staggering stagnation and reversal of progress in some countries over a wide range of indexes. We can no longer talk about the developed and the developing world. In 54 countries, there has been a decline in per capita income as well as in such other indexes as health. This decline is a broad phenomenon. The whole picture, however, is not entirely gloomy. Some countries are making great progress in infant mortality or life expectancy goals. The international community should therefore be focusing its attention on those groups of countries that are in fact going backwards. Most of these priority countries are in Africa.
Why do certain countries do badly? Sometimes it is because of internal violent conflict. But most often it is due to certain economic and geographical characteristics. Priority countries are frequently small and exporters of primary commodities, which do not support a viable position in a global economy. Many are hard-hit by AIDS, geographically landlocked, or heavily indebted. Development policies of the 1990s focused on issues of macroeconomic policy and governance. While these are important, they did not address other kinds of disadvantages that some countries face. Geographical factors, unsustainable debt burdens, unfair trade rules, or conflict and violence often cannot be addressed by the countries themselves.
The Millennium Development Goals can make a difference because they raise ambition and spur effort. Some goals have failed entirely, while others, like the eradication of smallpox or polio vaccination, have been spectacular successes. Goals have a chance of succeeding if they are backed up by commitment. We need to have this kind of campaign here. Poor countries have to help themselves, but rich countries can contribute in essential ways in aid, debt relief, greater market access, and fairer trading rules.
This is a chapter from Making the Great Transformation (Conference).
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