The United Nations Development Programme proposed the concept of sustainable human development as an alternative development paradigm.
The approach regards people’s well-being as the goal of development. Unlike previous development approaches, it sees economic growth not as an end in itself but as one of the means to improve human conditions.
Human development is the widening of people’s choices in life. It means having the privilege to choose one’s life direction over another because of preference rather than lack of opportunity. Knowledge, health and longevity, livelihood and political freedom provide its bearers with greater chances for a better life. People who are poor, unhealthy and illiterate simply have fewer choices in life.
Sustainable human development is concerned with widening choices of people not only of the present generation, but future generations as well. As such, it aims for the regeneration of the environment and natural resources.
Within this framework, a Human Development Index (HDI) was conceived to serve as measure of how well a country has performed, not only in terms of real income growth, but also in terms of social indicators of people’s ability to lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and skills, and to have access to the resources needed to afford a decent standard of living. The HDI looks at three outcomes of development: state of health, level of knowledge and skill, and the level of real income.
State of health is reflected in the life expectancy indicator. Life expectancy measures the number of years an infant is expected to live when born in a given year. It best represents and ultimately reflects information on physical safety, nutritional levels, efficacy of health interventions, and other health indicators.
Knowledge and the understanding of one’s natural, social and cultural environment greatly increases the achievements that people can attain. Adult literacy rate and enrollment ratios are the indicators used to measure knowledge. Adult literacy rate shows the proportion of the population who have basic reading and writing skills. Enrollment ratios show the proportion of the population who are receiving formal education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Livelihood and income provides for basic expenditures and can be used for further improvement in human capabilities. It also reflects the extent to which people are productive contributors to societal development. To estimate income levels, gross national product (GNP) per capita is used. GNP measures the value of goods and services produced by a group of people within a year. The total value is divided by population size to arrive at average income.
The value of HDI ranges from 0 to 1. An HDI very close to 1 means that the country had very high values of each of three components above. Since these components are attempts to measure the development of the human being, a high HDI means that a high level of human development has been achieved. Internationally, a country with an HDI of.80 or higher is said to have a high level of human development. On the other end of the pole are countries with an HDI lower than .50.
The HDI, as constructed, also has been modified to reflect the systematic unfavorable economic and social conditions faced by women. The Gender-Related Development Index (GDI) measures the comparative social well-being of male and female citizens of a country. In the absence of any gender disparity, on the other hand, the HDI would equal the GDI.