2.2 billion people at risk of poverty, warns 2014 Human Development Report

Jul 24, 2014

Universal provision of social services and full employment seen as crucial to maintaining development progress

Skopje, 24 July 2014 — Human development has continued to advance globally in recent years but the pace of progress is slowing markedly, according to the 2014 Human Development Report, released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Entitled Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, the report faults “vulnerability” as the cause of the slowdown and urges policies to strengthen “resilience” as the remedy.

UNDP puts the number of poor people worldwide at 1.5 billion, and warns that almost another 800 million people risk falling back into poverty if setbacks occur. This vulnerability has many sources, including financial crises, fluctuations in food prices, climate change, natural disasters and violent conflict. The rising tide of crises, the report argues, should be a rallying cry for the world leaders defining new global goals to supersede the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

“Reducing vulnerability is a key ingredient in any agenda for improving human development,” writes Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, in a contribution to the report. “[We] need to approach it from a broad systemic perspective.”

One component of this broad effort to build resilience is the universal provision of basic social services. The report challenges conventional wisdom by arguing that a robust social safety net is something all countries – not just rich ones – can afford. As proof, the report cites the cases of South Korea and Costa Rica, alongside the familiar Nordic welfare states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

And although most of the world’s population currently lacks pensions and unemployment insurance, it reckons that providing these and other basic social security benefits to the world’s poor would cost less than 2 percent of global GDP.

A second component of the proposed policy agenda for resilience is a government commitment to full employment. This was a mainstay of macroeconomic policies of the 1950s and 1960s, but it lost its place in the policy agenda following the oil shocks of the 1970s. Again, the report argues that full employment can be a realistic prospect even for poorer developing countries, though it acknowledges that this transition will require time and investment in education and infrastructure.

The reward in terms of social cohesion and stability is clear, however. “By addressing vulnerabilities, all people may share in development progress, and human development will become increasingly equitable and sustainable,” notes UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

Vulnerability differs according to context, the report notes. The three key threats in the less-developed regions of Europe and Central Asia are natural disasters (particularly earthquakes), the impact of climate change (including drought in Central Asia and the Caucasus and flooding along river and sea basins elsewhere), and social exclusion, which make certain groups, such as remote and rural populations and ethnic minorities such as Roma, more vulnerable to setbacks than others.

The report contains a new round of global rankings, which assess human development according to an index that combines measures of income, health and educational attainment. Topping the 2014 rankings are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands and the United States. At the bottom are Sierra Leone, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger.

Building on years of steady progress in the index, this country ranks 84 out of 187 countries and lands in the “high human development” category. Among the most notable gains, life expectancy has grown by 6.6 years since 1980, and expected years of schooling have increased by 2.7 years. In addition, GNI per head has risen by nearly 17 percent since 1990. Progress varies widely across the region: according to the 2014 human development index, Slovenia ranks 25, Greece 29, Croatia 47, Montenegro 51, Bulgaria 58, Serbia 77, Bosnia and Herzgovina 86, and Albania 95.

* * *

ABOUT THIS REPORT: The Human Development Report is an editorially independent publication of the United Nations Development Programme. For free downloads of the 2014 Human Development Report, plus additional reference materials on its indices and specific regional implications, please visit: http://hdr.undp.org

Full press package available at: http://hdr.undp.org/en/2014-report/press

* * *

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

Contact information

Sandra Ismanovski, Communications and Partnerships Officer, sandra.ismanovski@undp.org, (+389) 70 219 648.