A United Nations report published on Thursday argues that an unprecedented array of crises, chiefly among them COVID-19, has set human progress back five years and fueled a global wave of uncertainty.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) announced that for the first time since it was created over 30 years ago, the Human Development Index -- a measure of countries' life expectancies, education levels, and standards of living -- has declined for two years straight, in 2020 and 2021.
Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and the impact of climate change are blamed for putting global development in reverse.
The Human Development Index captures a picture of a nation’s health, education, and standard of living. This year’s rankings show some countries are beginning to get back on their feet, while others remain mired in deepening crises. The report finds Latin America, the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia have been particularly hard hit.
Switzerland tops this year’s rankings, followed by Norway, Iceland, Hong Kong, Australia, and other wealthy nations. Countries from sub-Saharan Africa are among the lowest ranked in human development, with South Sudan at the bottom.
Setbacks in a majority of the 191 countries included in the index, especially in life expectancy, have taken development levels back to those seen in 2016, reversing a 30-year trend.
Insecurity and political polarisation are feeding off each other
The report’s lead author, Pedro Conceicao, said the unprecedented decline in human development was driven by economic recession, and by an extraordinary decline in life expectancy.
That, he said, includes the 21st-ranked United States, which has seen a dramatic drop in life expectancy due to COVID-19 from 79 years to 76.1 years.
Conceicao said other new data from the report show global levels of trust are the lowest on record. He added those who are most mistrustful hold the most extreme political views.
“Uncertainty and the feeling of insecurity hardens people’s commitments to a group that shares a similar set of beliefs and increases hostility to other groups that think differently,” he said.
“And digital technology often adds fuel to this flame of divisiveness. So, as a result, the report documents that democratic practices are under stress.”
The report warns insecurity and polarization are feeding off each other. And that, it says, is preventing nations from taking the collective action needed to address the multiple threats and crises the world is facing.