Global perspective Human stories

Norway at top, Niger at bottom of UN’s 2005 Human Development Index

Norway at top, Niger at bottom of UN’s 2005 Human Development Index

Norway maintained its top ranking in development indicators, while Niger, beset by drought and locusts, displaced Sierra Leone at the bottom of countries analyzed in the annual United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), released today.

The 2005 HDI, which shows global development progress but slippage among individual countries, reveals that most of the countries making the greatest strides are located in Asia, and those falling further behind are in sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union.

The yearly report, which measures human development by broad social, political and economic criteria, is produced by an independent team of experts under an advisory network of leaders in academia, government and civil society. It has been commissioned by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) since 1990.

The 2005 HDI data, covering 177 countries, demonstrates that overall global trends are positive, with substantial overall progress registered in most developing regions of the world. Bangladesh, China and Uganda have increased their ranking by about 20 per cent since 1990, the 2005 Index shows.

Of the 18 poorest countries which are doing worse on most key human development indicators than they were in 1990, 12 are in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa has fallen 35 places to 120 in the HDI ranking since 1990 and Botswana 21 (to 131), a stark decline that UNDP attributes mainly to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The other six countries that suffered reversals since 1990 belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that succeeded the Soviet Union. Since 1990, Tajikistan has fallen to 122, down 21 places in the HDI rankings, Ukraine has gone down 17 (to 78), and the Russian Federation 15, to 62. Declining life expectancy, combined with economic disruption after the fall of the Soviet Union, are the main factors, the report states.

Success stories include Viet Nam, which has cut poverty and child mortality rates substantially. Bangladesh has made significant gains in education, income and life expectancy.

Some countries are much better than others at converting income into HDI progress, according to the Report – Saudi Arabia has a far higher average income than Thailand, but a similar HDI (77 and 73 respectively). Guatemala has almost double the average income of Viet Nam, but is lower on the HDI (117 versus 108).

Finally, the Report noted that the risk of conflict could be related to a low ranking in the HDI and some war-ravaged countries – such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia – are not included in the Index tables at all, due to the lack of reliable recent statistical information.