Today marks the release of the United Nations’ latest update to its Human Development Index (HDI) and the Human Development Report. Released every two years, the new report reflects changes which occured over the period of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Over the period from 2019-2021, the new report reveals, only eight countries in Africa saw a slight increase in their HDI score, while 40 saw a decrease.
Over the period from 2019-2021, the new report reveals, eight countries in Africa saw an increase in their HDI performance, while 40 saw a decrease.
The HDI, which was first published in 1990, aims to provide an alternative to using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the main measure of growth and development, by including non-economic factors such as health and education into a composite score for countries. We’ve published several articles explaining how HDI is calculated.
The composite score shows that living conditions increased marginally in Togo, Congo and Ghana, and remained more or less the same in Ethiopia, Uganda, Morocco, Tanzania and Rwanda, but dropped everywhere else. Southern Africa states including Botswana, Namibia, eSwatini and South Africa saw the largest drop in their index scores over the period (Botswana’s decline in the index is shown in the image at the top of this blog).
Southern Africa states including Botswana, Namibia, eSwatini and South Africa saw the largest drop in their index scores over the period
Despite the overall decline in aggregate scores, the impact of Covid-19 and other factors globally means Africa countries have mostly retained similar overall positions in the rankings relative to their international peers. It's notable that Egypt rose 19 places, from 116th in 2019 to 97 in 2021, despite a decline in its actual HDI score. The top risers and fallers are shown below.
Digging into the metrics that make up the HDI indicator, life expectancy dropped in all but two African countries, Togo and Congo, The impact on “Expected years of schooling”, however, showed little change except in Benin and Burkina Faso, although this doesn’t reflect the difficulties in delivering quality education over the period.
life expectancy dropped in all but two African countries, Togo and Congo
The UNDP says that overall, the HDI has dropped to the level of 2016, but overall sub-Saharan Africa was not affected as drastically as other regions, with Latin America and the Caribbean seeing the largest declines in indicators. At the same time, however, Europe, East Asia and the Arab States saw far smaller levels of decline, as rich countries overall saw a far smaller drop in the indicator than those in low and medium HDI countries. The report points out that these kinds of inequalities has grown dramatically in a number of areas.
Total changes for African countries in the 2022 Human Development Index
"This report shows backward movement," said former Irish president Mary Robinson, speaking at the report launch. Many factors are coming together to depress progress, from climate change to Covid-19. But, she said, there are reasons to be optimistic. "We need to have a more positive narrative - what if our best world is still ahead of us?"
The change in aggregated scores for African countries in this year’s index is illustrated in the chart below.
Tanzanian president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, commented that "in my own country, we are experiencing consecutive seasons of poor rains and drought, all happening on the heels of Covid-19, which has compounded inequalities within and between countries with women bearing the brunt." Africa Data Hub will be looking in more detail at the sex-disaggregated data in this year's report over the next few days.
The HDI isn’t without its critics. One group of researchers point out that by combining statistics in economic and non-economic data, the same overall score could be achieved by different combinations (long life expectancy but poor might be the same as low life expectancy but rich). Since publication, many variations or proposals regarding new methodologies have been made.