The Human Development Index

What entails ‘development’ for a country? Is it a steadily growing economy? Or rather people’s health, education and income?

The human development concept was pioneered by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq. At the World Bank in the 1970s, and later as minister of finance, he argued that existing measures of human progress, such as the Gross Domestic Product, provides only a partial view of how people are faring. They fail to account for the true purpose of development—to improve people’s lives.

Dr Haq’s research, along with economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen’s work on human capabilities and other contributions, led to the Human Development Index, first used in the 1990 Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme.

The HDI index measures countries' levels of social and economic development based on four criteria: life expectancy at birth, average years of schooling, expected years of schooling and gross national income per capita. These criteria make it possible to track changes in development levels over time and compare development levels in different countries.

The Human Development Index has become an official government statistic in several countries, and the annual HDI publication sparks national debates and policy initiatives to improve people’s lives.