As of 2013[update] the last decade saw convergence in human development indicators (HDI) values globally, although progress was uneven within and between regions. Developing countries' transformation into major economies with growing political influence has impacted human development progress.
Projections in the 2013 report suggested that by 2020 the combined economic output of three leading developing countries alone—Brazil, China and India—will surpass the aggregate production of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.
However economic growth does not automatically translate into human development progress, so reports have highlighted the need for pro-poor policies and investments in capacity building with a focus on education, nutrition, health and employment skills.
The 2013 report identified four areas of focus for sustainable development:
The report was first launched in 1990 by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. Its goal was to place people at the center of the development process in terms of economic debate, policy and advocacy. Development was characterized by the provision of choices and freedoms resulting in widespread outcomes.
“People are the real wealth of a nation,” Haq wrote in the opening lines of the first report in 1990. “The basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. This may appear to be a simple truth. But it is often forgotten in the immediate concern with the accumulation of commodities and financial wealth.”
The United Nations General Assembly has formally recognized the Report as “an independent intellectual exercise” and “an important tool for raising awareness about human development around the world.”
The Human Development Report is an independent report, commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and is the product of a selected team of leading scholars, development practitioners and members of the Human Development Report Office of UNDP. It is a report independent of the Administrator of the UNDP, as suggested by ul Haq. It is translated into numerous languages and launched in more than 100 countries annually.
Since 1990, more than 140 countries have published some 600 national Human Development Reports, with UNDP support. UNDP has also sponsored scores of regional reports, such as the ten-volume Arab Human Development Report series, which have made internationally recognized contributions to the global dialogue on democracy, women’s rights, inequality, poverty eradication and other critical issues.
The 2010 Human Development Report’s review of human development trends showed that most developing countries made dramatic yet often underestimated progress in health, education and basic living standards since 1970 with many of the poorest countries posting the greatest gains.
In the 2010 Report, the Sultanate of Oman was reported to be the most improved country in the past 40 years out of the 135 countries assessed (the report reported on improvement in the period 1970-2010). Oman's strides in education, women empowerment and health care under the patronage of the current Sultan of Oman led to it securing the 1st position.
Several new indices have been introduced over the years in different reports, including the Human Development Index, the Gender-related Development Index, the Gender Empowerment Measure, the Human Poverty Index. The Gender-related Development Index, the Gender Empowerment Measure and the Human Poverty Index were removed in 2010. The 2010 Human Development Report introduced three new indices the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, the Gender Inequality Index, and the Multidimensional Poverty Index. Each Report has its own focus drawn from contemporary debate.
The 2009 Human Development Report, Overcoming Barriers, focused on migration - both within and beyond borders. It was chosen because it is a prominent theme in domestic and international debates. Its starting point is that the global distribution of capabilities is extraordinarily unequal, and that this is a major driver for movement of people.
The 2010 Human Development Report—The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development—showed through a detailed new analysis of long-term Human Development Index (HDI) trends that most developing countries made dramatic yet often underestimated progress in health, education and basic living standards in recent decades, with many of the poorest countries posting the greatest gains.
Yet patterns of achievement vary greatly, with some countries losing ground since 1970, the 2010 Human Development Report shows. Introducing three new indices, the 20th anniversary edition of the report documented wide inequalities within and among countries, deep disparities between women and men on a wide range of development indicators, and the prevalence of extreme multidimensional poverty in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The new report also included a change in the methodology used to calculate the indexes using better statistical methods, as well as new parameters for judging the growth and development.
The first Human Development Report introduced its pioneering HDI and analyzed previous decades of development indicators, concluding that “there is no automatic link between economic growth and human progress.” The 2010 Report's rigorous review of longer-term trends—looking back at HDI indicators for most countries from 1970—showed there is no consistent correlation between national economic performance and achievement in the non-income HDI areas of health and education.
Overall, as shown in the Report’s analysis of all countries for which complete HDI data are available for the past 40 years, life expectancy climbed from 59 years in 1970 to 70 in 2010, school enrollment rose from just 55 percent of all primary and secondary school-age children to 70 percent, and per capita GDP doubled to more than US$10,000. People in all regions shared in this progress, though to varying degrees. Life expectancy, for example, rose by 18 years in the Arab states between 1970 and 2010, compared to eight years in sub-Saharan Africa. The 135 countries studied include 92 percent of the world’s population.
The “Top 10 Movers” highlighted in the 2010 Report—those countries among the 135 that improved most in HDI terms over the past 40 years—were led by Oman, which invested energy earnings over the decades in education and public health.
The other nine “Top Movers” are China, Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco. Remarkably, China was the only country that made the “Top 10” list due solely to income performance; the main drivers of HDI achievement were in health and education. The next 10 leaders in HDI improvement over the past 40 years include several low-income but high HID-achieving countries “not typically described as success stories,” the Report notes, among them Ethiopia (#11), Cambodia (#15) and Benin (#18)—all of which made big gains in education and public health.
The 2010 Human Development Report continued the HDI tradition of measurement innovation by introducing new indices that address crucial development factors not directly reflected in the HDI: