Written by Heather Wilhelm
On Monday, the United Nations (UN) released their Human Development Report (HDR) for 2009, ranking 182 countries into their respective places based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Human Development Index (HDI) of these countries. GDP is defined as the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports. In layman’s terms, it measures a country’s economic performance on a yearly basis. Since its inception in 1990, the HDR has reached beyond simply looking at a country’s GDP and has created the HDI which measures three dimensions of human development: life expectancy, literacy and gross enrolment in education, and having a decent standard of living. While it is easy to argue that these measurements are not an effective way to gauge the success or failure of a country in a numbered ranking system (what of gender, social services, child welfare), for the purpose of this article, let’s just look at the gross difference between those living at the top (Norway, Australia, Iceland and Canada ranked 1 through 4) and the bottom (Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Niger in spots 180-182).
While it should be noted that this Report was created using 2007 statistics before the current economic crisis, it is still very apparent that there are stark disparities between those countries at the top of the list, and those at the bottom. For instance, the average life expectancy in Niger is 50 years, which is a full 30 years less than the life expectancy in 4th place Canada. For every dollar earned in Niger, eighty-five (85) dollars is earned in 1st place Norway. It is believed that more than half the population in the lowest ranking 24 countries are illiterate. These kinds of statistics put on paper what most students of global studies already know – we do not live in a world of equality and justice. These yearly reports simply reiterate that while the privileged can expect to enjoy a long life with education and excellent standards of living the poor seem to be destined to remain in a position of poverty, illiteracy and shortened life expectancies. I’ve provided a very brief background on the UNHDR for you, and I encourage you to click the link that follows and read a bit more on your own…the results will hopefully shock you back into reality – I know it always does for me.