Many nations are climbing out of poverty, report shows
The news is better than anyone anticipated. This year's Human Development Report, which measures how well countries are doing economically and socially, shows a profound global shift. Forty nations - not just economic tigers such China, India and Brazil - are rapidly lifting their people out of poverty.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which has issued 21 of these annual reports, called this year's edition, which will be officially released on March 14 in Mexico City, "The Rise of the South." It is the most upbeat report in years. But it also challenges the once-dominant North (Europe, North America and Japan) to cede some its policy-setting power to such nations as Turkey, Mexico and South Africa as well as the emerging superpowers.
"People throughout the developing world are increasingly demanding to be heard," the agency says. They have the digital technology to raise their voices and the will to foment change.
It had been clear for some time that the world's economic axis was shifting. What hadn't come to light was the improvement in people's lives in dozens of countries once considered backward. The UNDP compiled evidence on everything from income and literacy levels to gender rights and longevity to draw up its 2013 rankings. When researchers looked at the numbers, the theme of this year's report was obvious.
The UNDP would not disclose individual country rankings in advance of the report's release. But officials did say that a fifth of the nations they surveyed - all in the developing world - did better than expected. And their success looks sustainable.
Surprisingly, there was no common pathway. China relied on a rising economic tide to lift all boats. Brazil, on the other hand, deliberately put in place in anti-poverty programs to ensure that the gains of growth were shared. Other countries used tools that reflected their values and priorities.
Less surprisingly, and disappointingly, all 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa were excluded from the "rising" South. So were Asia's chronic laggards: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma) and Yemen. There is plenty of work to do.
The Human Development Index (HDI), like other statistical tools that attempt to reduce the complexity of human life to numerical scores, has always had its critics. Some say it is simplistic. Some call it arbitrary and misleading. Some point out that a slight adjustment in the evaluation criteria can lead to dramatic changes in countries' rankings. Others complain that it focuses solely on material well-being.
Many of these objections are valid. Year-to-year changes in a country's ranking can be caused by anything from the quality of its data to the weight assigned to specific components of the index. But over its two-decade history, the Human Development Report has proven to be an accurate gauge of important geo-political shifts and a good guide to the challenges they pose.
In past years, the report was welcomed by the top-ranked country - a position Canada held for eight years - and greeted with hand-wringing by development agencies. This year, the world moved in a welcome direction.
An editorial from the Toronto Star