The infographic above visualizes which countries improved the most in the UN Human Development Index from 2010 to 2019. We have broken down countries into the following three groups according to index value in 2010: countries with index value greater than 0.8; countries with index value between 0.5 and 0.8; and countries with index value smaller than 0.5. This is to assess the improvement more fairly because the marginal improvement gets harder when the index value is greater.
This article will first briefly introduce methodology of the UN Human Development Index, i.e., how the index defines and measures human development of countries. Then it will further investigate which countries saw the most development in the last decade.
Introduction: The UN Human Development Index
The Human Development Index is a summary measure of health, education, and standards of living. These three factors are the key dimensions of human development. The longer the lifespan, the higher the education level, and the higher the standards of living, a country scores higher in the Human Development Index. It ranks countries based on their scores with 1 being the most developed and 0 the least developed.
The index was created by a Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq in 1990. His purpose of creating this index was “to shift the focus of development economics from national income accounting to people-centered policies.” It does not reflect on other elements that compose human development such as inequality, poverty, and so on. However, it gives a simple and partial picture of a country’s level of human development.
The index assesses the health dimension by life expectancy at birth. Mean of years of schooling for adults aged 25 years and more and expected years of schooling for children of school entering age determine the education dimension. Gross national income per capita determines the standards of living.
The Human Development Index 2020 covers 189 countries, using data collected in 2019. Below, let’s look at which countries improved the most in each group from 2010 to 2019.
Countries with Index Value Greater than 0.8
UAE, Ireland, Bahrain, Lithuania, and Iceland Improved the Most
The index indicates more and more countries achieved higher human development in the last decade. In the 2010 index, there were 50 countries that had scores above 0.8. Ten years later in 2019, 66 countries scored above 0.8. Most of them are in Europe or East Asia including Oceania (so-called Global North). Some are in the Middle East and South America.
In this category, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) improved the most from 2010 to 2019, jumping from 0.820 to 0.890 by 0.07. Ireland achieved the second most improvement from 0.901 to 0.955 by 0.054. Bahrain followed the two with a jump by 0.052, improving the score from 0.800 to 0.852. Then Lithuania and Iceland jumped by 0.051, from 0.831 to 0.882 and from 0.898 to 0.949, respectively.
Overall, countries in this group achieved relatively less improvements in the last decade than those of the other groups. This would be simply because these countries have limited room for improvements in their wellbeing measured by lifespan, length of education, and GNI per capita.
Countries with Index Value between 0.5 and 0.8
Eswatini, Turkey, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Botswana Achieved the Most Improvements
This group consists of the largest number of countries—107 countries in 2010 and 105 in 2019. Some of the world’s fastest growing economies are in this group in 2019 rankings: China (0.761), India (0.645), Indonesia (0.718), and Viet Nam (0.704).
In terms of improvement, Eswatini, a Southern African nation with a unique flag, led the group boosting its score by 0.101 from 0.510 to 0.611. Turkey reached the milestone of 0.8 in the last decade, improving by 0.081 from 0.739 to 0.820. Bhutan brought up its score by 0.080 from 0.574 to 0.654. Meanwhile Bangladesh went up by 0.075 from 0.557 to 0.632. Botswana, another Southern African nation, also achieved significant improvement during this period, jumping by 0.072 from 0.663 to 0.735.
Among the top five countries with the most improvement in this group, Turkey stands out as a newly industrialized country. Currently, the country has been in financial crisis since 2018 with the Turkish lira plunging to record lows. However, the UN and several other organizations classify Turkey as a developed country today.
Countries with Index Value below 0.5
Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, and Lesotho Improved the Most
The number of countries in this group nearly halved in the last decade—31 in 2010 and 18 in 2019. Most of the countries in this group are in Africa with a few exceptions. Fourteen countries left the group in 2019. They are Djibouti, Lesotho, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan, United Republic of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Rwanda, Benin, and Uganda.
Among them, Zimbabwe made the highest score improvement from 0.482 to 0.571, which was an increase by 0.089. Côte d’Ivoire and Djibouti improved their scores by 0.070, from 0.468 to 0.538 and 0.454 to 0.524, respectively. Burkina Faso remains in the group. However, it made an improvement by 0.068 from 0.384 to 0.452. Lesotho lifted its score by 0.067 from 0.46 to 0.527.
Although these countries made improvements in the last decade, they still suffer from poverty. For instance, extreme poverty rate increased steadily between 2011 and 2020 in Zimbabwe. 46% of the population live in poverty in Côte d’Ivoire. 79% of Djiboutian live in poverty.
The Human Development Index measures health, education, and standards of living as key factors of human development. It does not provide the full picture of a country’s development. However, by focusing on these dimensions, it is possible to glance at an aspect of human development of a country. It also provides meaningful insights into regional imbalance of human development.
Comparing 2010 index with 2019 index indicates more countries improved their level of human development during this period. Of all, Eswatini achieved the most significant improvement. Similarly, many African countries improved their level of human development in the last decade. However, the region still leaves room for much improvement.
Unfortunately, the latest UN Human Development Report released in September 2021 shared concerning news. 9 out of 10 countries fell backwards in human development. Global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war hit countries across the world. For the first time since its beginning, the Human Development Index fell backwards for two years in a row. The level of human development has fallen to its 2016 levels.