Skip to main content
A man counts Nigerian Naira as he waits for customers at a local foodstuff market in Lagos, Nigeria November 2, 2016.REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye - RTX2RIT8
Africa in focus

Figures of the week: Human development progress in Africa and globally

This week the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) launched its 2016 Human Development Report entitled Human Development for Everyone. The report takes stock of the global progress toward meeting human development objectives—as envisioned in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—paying particular attention to people who face distinct deprivations and challenges to realizing basic human development. It also proposes policy options for governments and global institutions to address persisting deprivations and achieve inclusive human development.

Figure 1: Regional trends in Human Development Index values

Regional trends in Human Development Index values

Source: UNDP, Human Development Report (2016).

According to the report, recent trends in human development offer hope that positive change is occurring although there is much work still to be done. Reflecting growing incomes and advancements in education and health, levels of human development—measured using Human Development Index (HDI) values—have gradually improved in all regions of the world over the period from 1990 to 2015, as seen in Figure 1. However, the report also notes that aggregate HDI values obscure unequal concentrations of well-being within regions and countries and do not necessarily reflect the well-being of large proportions of the population. Another measure, the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IDHI), takes into account the effects of inequality on human development (as measured by the HDI). According to the IDHI, approximately 22 percent of the world’s human development is lost due to inequality, suggesting that unequal distribution of capabilities, access to basic services, and opportunities are major obstacles to achieving universal human development. Sub-Saharan Africa has the most significant inequality-induced human development losses at 32 percent, the report indicates.


Amy Copley

Research Analyst and Project Coordinator - Africa Growth Initiative

Furthermore, systematic patterns of deprivation are visible among certain populations. For example, women in all regions of the world have consistently lower HDI values than men do. The Gender Development Index (GDI), which measures differences in HDI estimates for women and men, reveals that the largest disparities are evident in South Asia (17.8 percent), Arab states (14.4 percent), and sub-Saharan Africa (12.3 percent). In addition, Figure 2 suggests that people in rural areas are much more likely to be multidimensionally poor than people in urban areas—especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the share of people in rural areas who are multidemensionally poor (74 percent) is more than double the share in urban areas (31 percent). As countries strive to improve their human development outcomes, the report argues that disadvantaged groups must have equal choices and opportunities in order for everyone to benefit from social and economic advancement.

Figure 2: People in rural areas are far more likely than people in urban areas to be multidimensionally poor

People in rural areas are far more likely than people in urban areas to be multidimensionally poor

Source: UNDP, Human Development Report (2016).

Moving forward, the report argues that “time is of the essence” in sub-Saharan Africa as countries attempt to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eliminating poverty and hunger and achieving gender equality, by 2030. Figure 3 shows the annual proportionate rates of change needed for the region to meet the SDG targets related to education, poverty, and under-five mortality based on the year that the region begins taking action. For example, to meet the SDG target of eliminating extreme poverty, countries will need to reduce extreme poverty at a rate of 10 percent a year between 2015 and 2030. However, if they wait until 2018 to take action on extreme poverty, the rate would increase to 13 percent a year, or if they wait until 2027 to begin their interventions, the rate would quadruple to 42 percent a year.

Figure 3: Reaching everyone—time is of the essence in sub-Saharan Africa

Reaching everyone—time is of the essence in sub-Saharan Africa



Get daily updates from Brookings