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Are we making development progress?

Aid Effectiveness, Education, Gender, Governance, Health, Poverty, News/feature, Africa, Ireland, Global, 2014
Emanuel Mahendi is photographed in Morogoro, Tanzania, with a sack of rice. Tanzania's ranking in the HDI improved one place in the HDR 2014.

There were 47 countries which were considered to have low human development in 1990. Now that figure has dropped to 30.

The United Nations Development Programme has just released its 24th Human Development Report (HDR).

The report looks 187 countries, and measure’s their progress in terms of human development. What is the progress? The 2014 HDR shows that progress is being made in almost every country included in the index, but at a slower rate than before. 

What is Human Development?

Human Development is measured in the Human Development Index (HDI),  which represents  a country's overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions. This means that instead of just measuring just the wealth of a country (in GNP), the HDI also looks at the life expectancy, education and equality of the people living there. This gives a more accurate representation of life in the country than just reporting on monetary terms.

What has changed since 1990?

The first Human Development Report was launched in 1990, and placed countries into one of four categories:

  • Very high human development
  • High human development
  • Medium human development
  • Low human development


Ireland falls into the ‘Very high human development’ category and has done since the very first index. While there haven’t been marked changes in Ireland’s human development, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world. In 1990 47 countries were categorised as low human development – now there are 30. The number of countries which are categorised as ‘very high human development’ has increased from 12 in 1990 to 47 in 2013.

Graph from UNDP Human Development Report highlighting the number of countries who have improved their HDI ranking between 1990 and 2013. Source: UNDP Human Development Report 2014

What about Irish Aid’s Key Partner Countries?

Each of Irish Aid’s Key Partner Countries has improved their HDI score between 2012 and 2013. As most countries in the world also improved their score, these improvements are not necessarily translated into a higher ranking. Vietnam, Uganda, Ethiopia and Malawi all retained their positions in the index (respectively 121st, 164th, 173rd and 174th out of 187 countries).

However, Tanzania, Lesotho, Mozambique and Sierra Leone all improved their ranking by one place (climbing to their respective positions of 159th, 162nd, 178th and 183rd). Zambia managed to climb two positions to 141st in the index.

What does this mean?

This indicates that, on the whole, life is improving in most of the countries included in the index. Despite the improvements though, there are still 2.2billion in or are at risk of poverty, and 842 million suffer from chronic hunger. The international efforts, including Ireland’s, is helping improve the lives of millions of people around the world, however the work isn’t done yet. 

Find out more

Learn more about development progress in the Human Development Report 2014.