The word ‘development’ is widely used to refer to a specified state of advancement or growth. It could also be used to describe a new and advanced idea or product; or an event that constitutes a new stage under changing circumstances.
Generally, the term development describes good change. But how do you tell which change is good?
In this regard, researchers explain three ways that the term ‘development’ is used:
Here, the term is used to describe how desirable a society or a region is, possibly with regard to what it can become
This refers to social change that occurs over extended periods of time due to inevitable processes. For instance, it is widely believed that both communism and capitalism are an inevitable outcome of progress.
This refers to deliberate action to change things for the better, as with providing aid to alleviate hunger
All of these are definitions of development, but when it comes to distinguishing between nations that are more developed than others, or when describing some other international aspect, usually more meaning is implied in the word.
So, how do you tell what country is more/less developed than the other?
In terms of wealth, it is perhaps easier to identify countries that are richer or poorer than others. However, the typical indicators of wealth only reflect the amount of resources available to a specific society.
They don’t offer any details about the allocation of said resources, like information about the equitable distribution of income among different social groups; or about the shares of resources used to offer free education and health services; or even about the effects of production and consumption on the environment.
This is one of the biggest reasons why nations with similar average incomes differ widely with regard to their population’s quality of life, employment opportunities, education and health care, the availability of clean air and safe drinking water, and the threat of crime, among other factors.
To expand on the context of development here is a look at the goals/means of development, as well as what it means to achieve sustainable development.
A. Goals and Means of Development
Each country has its own unique set of priorities in their development policies. So, in order to compare the development levels of two or more nations, you must first, identify your own markers for achievement.
Your own indicators for measuring this achievement can then be used to assess countries’ relative progress in development.
But what markers should you use? Perhaps:
- Increase in national wealth
- Improved well-being of a large percentage of the population
- Exercise of freedom
- Increased economic security
According to the United Nations, good indicators of national achievement should evaluate “human development” with regard to:
- Life expectancy
- Adult literacy
- Access to all three levels of education
- Average income
So, the UN considers human development an all-encompassing component that incorporates multiple elements of an individual’s well-being, from their health status to their economic and political freedom.
It is a fact that economic growth that increases a country’s total wealth also augments its capacity for reducing poverty and addressing other social problems. However, there are some examples in history where economic growth did not foster similar progress in human development.
In fact, growth was gained by compromising on equality, employment, democracy, cultural identity, and consumption of natural resources necessary for future generations. So, while growth was achieved, all these other elements were adversely affected.
With a deeper understanding of the links between economic prosperity and the growth of social and environmental factors, it is now widely acknowledged by experts and economists that this kind of growth is not sustainable, and must be transformed.
On the other hand, slow human development can adversely affect, and possibly bring to a halt, fast economic growth.
The Human Development Report published in 1996 claims that not a single nation in the period between 1960 and 1992 was able to move from asymmetrical development characterized by slow human development and rapid growth to an ideal scenario where human development and growth could be mutually reinforcing.
According to the report, slower economic growth preceded slower human development: a pattern that was labeled a “dead end”.
B. Sustainable Development
This is a popular term among politicians across the globe, though it may have multiple interpretations depending on the audience.
Though sustainable development is critical, its concept has yet to be fully defined, as is evident from the constant revisions, extensions, and refinements of the term.
The only certainty about the term is that sustainable development entails relationships among these key components: social, economic, and environmental factors.
The United Nations World Commission on Environment Development argues that development can only be considered sustainable if it addresses the needs of the present without endangering the capabilities of future generations to meet their own needs.
Experts argue that it is impossible to achieve this ‘intergenerational’ equity without present-day social equity, especially if some economic groups continue to endanger the wellbeing of other segments of the population across the globe. For instance:
The greenhouse gasses emitted largely by the highly industrialized countries cause global warming, change in climate, and devastating floods in low-lying islands, resulting in the displacement and impoverishment of massive populations.
Pharmaceutical companies continue to enjoy massive profits at the expense of millions of disadvantaged people who cannot afford the highly priced medications needed to treat their life-threatening diseases.
Sustainable Development = Equitable + Balanced
For there to be sustainable development, equitability and balance must be put into account.
In other words, the only way development can be continual in perpetuity is if it creates a balance between the interests of different groups of people within the same generation and among generations.
Another condition that must be met is that the equitability and balance be attained simultaneously in three primary interrelated areas: social, economic, and environmental.
As such, sustainable development can be defined as the equality of opportunities for well-being. It needs the consideration of certain objectives that if ignored, can slow down or even reverse development in other areas.
The objectives of sustainable development fall in three categories:
The diversity of these objectives makes it a great challenge for any nation to attain perfect balance. For instance, can you justify a country that prioritizes national security over economic growth (income and employment) and environment sustainability?
Although there is no definite, scientific method of performing such comparisons and valuations, governments are faced with such decisions regularly.
For democratic republics, where decisions are made depending on the interests of the majority, then they must be made in the most participatory way possible.
But even then, there is no guarantee that the long-term interests of children and the next generation will be accounted for because minors and future generations cannot cast a vote for themselves.
To ensure that future generations inherit the needed conditions to sufficiently provide for their own wellbeing, present-day values must be informed enough to reflect their interests as well.
The necessary conditions for sustainable development
One of the biggest challenges for equity and balance is the fact that the world today is somewhat interdependent, and many aspects of sustainable development are global.
So, on the one hand, many decisions taken at the local or national level have international consequences – social, economical, and environmental. In the event that these consequences are adverse, the situation is referred to as “exporting unsustainability”.
On the other hand, national policies are seldom adequate to effectively address the many challenges of sustainability. As such, it becomes indispensable for the international cooperation on an array of transboundary and global challenges of sustainable development.
When it comes to achieving sustainable development, one of the biggest problems, possibly the biggest, is eradicating extreme poverty – both at the national and international level.
This is because poverty is in itself an evil, plus it blocks or inhibits the achievement of most of the other goals of development, from personal freedom to a clean environment.
Another closely related global problem is establishing and preserving peace in all nations and regions. Poverty and war are essentially destructive of all social, economic, and environmental goals of development.
The 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (alternatively referred to as the UN Conference on Environment and Development) arrived at the following conclusion:
Humans are at the core of concern for sustainable development. They’re entitled to a productive and healthy life in harmony with nature.
So, sustainable development can be described as the fulfillment of the long-term conditions necessary for human being’s multidimensional well-being.
Development Diamonds versus The Human Development Index
When comparing the development of different countries, the most common approach examines the GNP (or GDP) per capita.
But as already discussed above, higher per capita income does not necessarily mean that its population is better off than those in a nation with lower income, because there are numerous aspects of human well-being that are not accounted for in these indicators.
So, the World Bank uses development diamonds to illustrate relationships among four socioeconomic indicators for a given country, relative to the averages for that country’s income group (high-income, upper-middle income, lower-middle income, and low-income).
- Gross primary or secondary education enrollment
- Life expectancy at birth
- Access to safe water
- GNP per capita
These aspects are presented, one on each axis and then connected with bold lines to form a polygon.
The resulting “diamond” shape can then be used for comparison purposes. This system, however, makes it hard to compare development achievements in countries with different income groups.
So, UN experts prefer to use the human development index (HDI), which is a simple average of three indexes identifying a nation’s achievements in:
According to the UN, achievement in each area is determined by assessing to what extent each country has achieved these goals:
No country is yet to attain any of these goals, so the parameters are expressed as decimals or fractions of the ideal. The one problem with the HDI system is that it does not allow one to make judgment relative to its different components, or understand why a nation’s index changes over time.
For more detailed analysis, the UNDP uses the human poverty index (HPI) to identify the proportion of people deprived of the opportunity to reach a certain basic level in each area.
So, whilst the HDI represents development achievements for the average citizen, the HPI helps to identify how evenly the benefits of development are spread within a country. A higher HPI indicates a greater level of deprivation, which translates to a higher level of poverty.