Development of Human Development Index (HDI)


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

Human development can be measured in many ways but the best-known measure is UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), developed by Amartya Sen and Mahbub Ul Haq back in the early 1990s as an attempt to challenge GDP’s hegemony in development discourse. The HDI was introduced explicitly to challenge that orthodoxy. Though it was always seen as a crude measure that missed many aspects of human development, such as equity and sustainable development, it did recognize the multifaceted nature of human well-being by going beyond income alone. Indeed the HDI has helped transform the debate about development by demonstrating that while economic growth may foreshadow progress in health and education, this is not guaranteed. Moreover, a number of countries have seen relatively weak economic growth in recent years but enjoyed strong progress in health and education.
As Amartya Sen said, “Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.”
 The human development approach is based on the twin – and related – concepts of functionings and capabilities. Functionings can be broadly defined as people’s “beings and doings”: those things that together describe our lives. Being fed, being sheltered, being hungry, being cold are examples of the group of being functionings. Travelling, working, attending the cinema, voting are examples of the doing group. Sen described five broad categories of functionings: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security.
Capabilities, broadly defined as freedoms to “lead the kinds of lives we have reason to value,” are people’s opportunities to achieve desirable functionings. Freedom, or agency, is central to the human development approach, and so both capabilities and functionings are important. Being well-nourished or being under-nourished are different functionings. But if the latter arises from poverty then it is a more undesirable outcome than if it is comes through choice (from fasting, say). So here, Sen would argue, it is the capability to enjoy an adequate diet that is the true measure of development, not simply whether an individual chooses to make use of that opportunity and actually eat.
Some functionings compete for resources against one another and so the human development approach sees that each person chooses a set of functionings (a life path) from among those they are capable of achieving given the capabilities they possess. For instance, people may be able to exercise the freedom to travel the world and have the skills to find a job in a different country, but choosing this path may come at the expense of being able to spend time with one’s family. Similarly, enjoying freedom to choose from different options can come with the expense of greater complexity in life. This ability to choose from different functionings is an integral part of the human development approach.
The first Human Development Report defines human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices. To lead a long and healthy life, to be educated and to enjoy a decent standard of living are the three most critical choices identified in the first HDR. Additional choices include political freedom, guaranteed human rights and self respect.
Evolving Concept
Human development is a constantly evolving concept. The HD measurements also undergo refinements.
The first Global Human Development Report was launched in 1990 by the UNDP and has been prepared annually since then. Each year, HDRs address a theme highly relevant to the current development debate. They provide path-breaking analysis and policy recommendations, are translated into more than a dozen languages, and are launched in more than 100 countries.
Spurred by the Global HDRs, Regional, National and sub-National HDRs have been prepared. These reports are regionally and nationally/sub-nationally owned, and take the human development approach to the regional and country level. At the regional level, human development is put into a regional context, and provides policy advice and promotes partnerships for tackling the HD themes of highest relevance and exigency in the region. At the national and sub-national level, the multi -stakeholder approach in preparing the HDRs has contributed to sensitisation of governments at different levels, civil society, academia, and the public on the human development issues and challenges. In many countries HDRs have become an essential tool for national and sub-national policy making. So far, around 700 regional and national/sub-national reports have been prepared in over 140 countries, and all address various regional, national, and sub-national specific approaches to tackle the current development challenges of poverty reduction, education, health and HIV/AIDS, human rights and gender, environment and effects of climate change, economic reform, and globalisation.
Philosophical Underpinnings
The philosophical underpinnings of the HD approach are not new. In ancient Greece, Aristotle said: “Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful for the sake of something else.” However, During the Post Second World War era, the development agenda, however, centered on growth rather than human wellbeing. The focus was on accumulation of physical capital through savings and investments for promoting industrial development and growth in the war torn economies.
 By the late 60’s and early 70’s a general shift in the development debate started to take place, where more emphasis was put on social development rather than capital accumulation and growth. The ‘basic needs’ approach was introduced, putting the basic needs of people such as access to basic education, basic health care, food, nutrition, water and sanitation on the agenda. Fulfillment of these basic needs was seen as a prerequisite for development.
During the 80’s the global development agenda largely focused on expanding growth through various liberalisation measures. The general perception was that liberalisation would generate economic growth through the power of market forces, which in turn would benefit the poorer sections of society through the “trickle-down effect”. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) were carried out in order to streamline and “adjust” developing economies into the liberalisation agenda, but the approach to a large extent failed to tackle the issue of poverty and inequalit es. Evidence demonstrated that the assumed “trickle-down effect” did not take place, and the human costs of the SAPs soon became apparent. In addition, social ills such as crime, weakening of social fabric, HIV/AIDS and pollution continued to spread despite high growth rates.
Introduced in the 1990s as an alternate development paradigm that treats people as the real wealth of nations, the human development approach has become the prevailing development paradigm for the past more than 20 years. 


Thursday, 06th Aug 2015, 07:51:14 AM

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