Inequality is threatening human development, UN report warns

December 10, 2019

A new report released yesterday (9th December 2019) by the United Nations Development Programme, has revealed that despite global progress in tackling poverty, hunger, and disease, a “new generation of inequalities” has emerged around education, climate change, and technology.

Inequality is threatening human development on a global scale, and hindering progression towards a fairer and more sustainable planet.

From global climate strikes to anti-government protests in Hong Kong, the connecting thread is inequality.

Inequalities in education and technology

The 2019 Human Development Report (HDR), entitled “Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today:

inequalities in human development in the 21st Century,” states that while the gap in basic living standards is narrowing, the necessities people need to truly thrive have evolved.

For instance, millions more people have been able to escape poverty, yet only 42% of adults in low development countries have a primary education, compared with 94% in very high development countries, such as the UK.

Further up the educational ladder the gap further increases: In low development countries only 3.2 percent of adults in have a tertiary education compared to 29% percent in developed countries.

This gap also effects access to technology. On average, developing countries have 67 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, half the number in very high developed countries.

In terms of access to broadband, developing countries have less than 1 subscription per 100 people, compared to 28 per 100 people in high developed countries.

Things which used to be considered a bonus, such as access to higher education, broadband and mobile phones, are increasingly becoming necessary for people to achieve success.

Being left only with the basics means that “people find the rungs knocked out of their ladder to the future,” argues UNDP’s Pedro Conceição, Director of the HDR Office.

The differing effects of climate change

Climate change is also a significant factor effecting how inequality is threatening human development.

Economic and cultural differences have an impact on the adaptive capacity of different communities to cope with the effects of climate change.

For instance, communities in which access to technology and education is severely limited will be less able to develop preventative measures and adaptive methods of ensuring food, water and fuel sources remain sustainable, reliable and accessible.

This is can be broke down even further looking at it from a more intersectional angle.

For example in Senegal, women are responsible for providing food through crop production, but increased droughts have led to infertile soil, and flooding from unexpected downpours uproots crops, causing a decline in crop yields.

A global issue

The gap between basic necessities and future success is not just apparent in developing countries; inequality is threating human development worldwide, including places like the UK.

With record numbers of people using food banks and the average university graduate carrying more than £50,000 of debt, it’s clear to see how inequality is a global issue.

The two most significant shifts that will, and are already, shaping our future are climate change and advances in technology.

Climate change already hits the least developed communities the hardest and rapid advancements in technology, such as artificial intelligence, have the potential to leave entire groups of people behind.

While it’s fantastic that the global rate of poverty is decreasing, we need to ensure the gap between meeting people’s basic survival needs, and the opportunities and access to the tools for a successful and sustainable future, doesn’t continue to grow.

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Written by Romey Watters

Digital Marketing Officer