Posted in Reports & Indices

Human Development Report 2019

“The wave of demonstrations sweeping across countries is a clear sign that, for all our progress, something in our globalized society is not working. Different triggers are bringing people onto the streets: the cost of a train ticket, the price of petrol, political demands for independence.

A connecting thread, though, is deep and rising frustration with inequalities.

Too often, inequality is framed around economics, fed and measured by the notion that making money is the most important thing in life. But societies are creaking under the strain of this assumption, and while people may protest to keep pennies in their pockets, power is the protagonist of this story: the power of the few; the powerlessness of many; and collective power of the people to demand change”

UNDP’s Human Development Report 2019 begins with these powerful words in the Foreword penned by Achim Steiner, Administrator UNDP.

Here in India, we are at a pivotal moment in our history where the CAA-NPR-NRC triad threatens to embed inequality in the very concept of citizenship – and the nationwide demonstration of ‘collective power of the people’ resonates around the globe.

The HDR 2019 makes a quantum leap from earlier Reports insofar as it looks at a different set of ‘enhanced’ capabilities, without which, large swathes of humanity will continue to fall further and further back, leading to greater disparities and consequent frustration and unrest around the world.

The Report has 5 key messages to deliver:

Key message 1: Disparities in human development remain widespread, despite achievements in reducing extreme deprivations. For example, while mobile telephones may have penetrated deep into villages and squatter settlements, how many users are capable of using the internet for banking? Or how many of those who stay the course through primary and secondary education have access to higher and vocational education which will help them earn a decent livelihood in a globalized economy?

Key message 2: A new generation of inequalities is emerging, with divergence in enhanced capabilities, despite convergence in basic capabilities. Thus, while immunization against childhood disease may be universally available, tertiary care for more serious illnesses may not.

Key message 3: Inequalities accumulate through life, often reflecting deep power imbalances. Malnutrition begins in the womb for the children of the poor, and becomes a lifelong liability affecting their mental development and capabilities to learn and participate fully in a modern knowledge society, making poverty endemic from generation to generation.

Key message 4: Assessing and responding to inequalities in human development demands a revolution in metrics – new ways and means of measuring need to be introduced to correctly assess the new inequalities of modern society.

Key message 5: We can redress inequalities if we act now, before imbalances in economic power are politically entrenched. The HDR 2019 proposes the following framework for designing policies to redress inequalities in Human Development:

In present-day India, every such report which doesn’t show the country in a very good light is either pooh-poohed as a leftist conspiracy, or everybody is consoled if India outperforms Pakistan. However, in my humble view, if our PM struts the stage at every meeting of the BRICS countries, why shouldn’t we compare our HDR parameters with these four instead?

The results are indeed very illuminating, and I leave you to draw your own conclusions.


I am a trainer of Government Officials and Elected Representatives, specializing in the urban and municipal sector. I have also written extensively on Urban Governance, Poverty, Development, Social Accountability and Municipal Management in the Indian context, and wish to share these writings with you through this blog.

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