by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- For two decades the UN Development Program (UNDP) has been issuing annual reports on how humans are progressing around the world in health, education and basic living standards.
On Thursday, the UNDP released its 20th anniversary edition showing increasing income does not necessarily mean long-term upward progress in the Human Development Index (HDI). It also looked back an additional 20 years where it had data.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who helped develop the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990 launched Thursday the Human Development Report (HDR) at the UN Headquarters in New York. The HDR is editorially independent of UNDP.
The first HDR analyzed previous decades and concluded "there is no automatic link between economic growth and human progress."
After looking back at indicators from most countries since 1970, the latest report affirmed there is no consistent correlation between national economic performance and achievement in the non- income HDI areas of health and education
The "top movers" in HDI improvement from 1970-2010 are Oman, China, Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco.
In non-income HDI it is Oman, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Iran, Ethiopia, South Korea and Indonesia while in income it is China, Botswana, South Korea, China's Hong Kong, Malaysia, Malta, Vietnam, Mauritius and India.
The next 10 leaders in HDI improvement over the past 40 years include several low-income but high HDI-achieving countries, "not typically described as success stories," the report said.
Among them were Ethiopia at No. 11, Cambodia at 15 and Benin at 18. The report said they all had big gains in education and public health.
The area with the fastest HDI progress since 1970 was East Asia, led by China and Indonesia, with Arab nations also posting major gains, the report said. The Arab nations had eight of the 20 leaders in HDI improvements in the last four decades.
There was no single formula for sustainable progress, the report said.
It showed some countries even lost ground over the last 40 years.
However, sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union fell behind due to, among other reasons, AIDS, conflict and economic upheaval, it said.
A quarter of developing countries saw their HDI increase less than 20 percent, another quarter more than 65 percent, the report said. "These differences partly reflect different starting points - - less developed countries have on average faster progress in health and education than more developed ones do."
"But half the variation in HDI performance is unexplained by initial HDI and countries with similar starting points experienced remarkably different evolutions, suggesting that country factors such as policies, institutions and geography are important," the HDR said.
"Of 135 countries in our sample from 1970-2010, with 92 percent of the world's people, only three -- the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe -- have a lower HDI today than in 1970, " the report said in its Overview section.
The cover of the 227-page report is emblazoned with a rainbow representation of a cross section of an overall progress graph within, but showing basically a steady rise.
A closer look at the "Overall progress, significant variability " graph on page 27 shows, indeed a generally upward trend over the last 40 years, but with some dramatic dips beginning in the late 1980s and into the 1990s before recovering.
One brownish-orange line drops rapidly to much lower than any other, then rebounds from about 1995, forming a "V" shape on the graph, to rejoin this year, after a slightly roller coaster-like ride from the turn of this century, the other lowest on-the-totem pole countries.
That nation was Liberia, in West Africa, while it was in the throes of civil war.
Almost echoing, but depicted not quite as severely, was a downturn leading to the 1994 genocide of some 800,000 people in Rwanda. "The country ... which dips to third lowest on the chart in 1995 and then steadily increases is Rwanda," a representative of the report told Xinhua.
Both Liberia and Rwanda recovered enough to remain above the lowest in this year's HDI, the graph showed, well above the DRC and the lowest, Zimbabwe.
Sierra Leone, neighboring Liberia, which itself fell victim to civil strife, was not included in the trends analysis because of a lack of data availability going back to 1970, the representative said. Sierra Leone is where youthful rebels hacked off limbs wantonly.
The colorful depictions clearly reflecting brutal history demonstrate the value of peace and security, the United Nation's prime concern.