The latest Human Development Report- Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience– by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sheds light on the broad spectrum of global problems threatening to undercut existing human development efforts and achievements. Every society is confronted with varying degrees of risks and instability, however, not all communities are affected the same way; nor does every group recover with ease after a state of emergency. The 2014 report outlines the structural and life cycle vulnerabilities that influence human development and impede sustainable progress, while presenting different ways to strengthen resilience against future shocks.
By taking a people-centered approach, the report puts people at the core of its analysis. It considers disparities in and between countries, focuses on the context of inequality of people and its broader causes, and thereby “identifies the ‘structurally vulnerable’ groups of people who are more vulnerable than others by virtue of their history or of their unequal treatment by the rest of society.” For instance, according to the UNDP Multidimensional Poverty Index, nearly 1.5 billion people in 91 developing countries are “multidimensionally poor with overlapping deprivations in health, education and living standards.” And despite declining poverty rates, almost 800 million people are at risk of falling back into poverty if setbacks persist.
“Capabilities accumulate over an individual’s lifetime and have to be nurtured and maintained; otherwise they can stagnate and even decline.”
For the first time, the report introduces the idea of life cycle vulnerabilities. Meaning it assesses the stages in a person’s life where disruptions can have greater impact. These phases include the first 1,000 days of life, entering the workforce and retirement. Periods like the first 1000 days of life are critical and setbacks during these junctures can have long-lasting consequences that hinder an individual’s cognitive development, healthy growth and future employment opportunities. The report cites a study that claims Ecuadorian children living in conditions of poverty were already at a vocabulary disadvantage by the age of six.
Protective policies and institutional measures of support can strengthen community resilience to unrest and instability.
The report shares six recommendations to build resilience against risks and future shocks:
1. Universal provisions of basic social services like health care, education, safe drinking water and sanitation. Access to these basic social services is rooted in the principle that their obtainability should be decoupled from an individual’s ability to afford them.
2. Address life cycle vulnerabilities
3. Strengthen social protection measures like health insurance, unemployment insurance and active labor and job creation programs. These measures not only aid citizens at the individual level during times of adversity, but can also help curtail a crisis’ spiraling effect at the national level.
4. Full employment leads to a more productive citizenry. The growing inclusion of women in the work force in underserved communities will help shift ‘value’ perceptions of girls and increase investment in their education and health.
5. Establish responsive institutions and cohesive societies
6. Building capacities to prepare for and recover from crises
UNDP Administrator Helen Clark stated, “By addressing vulnerabilities, all people may share in development progress, and human development will become increasingly equitable and sustainable.” The report’s strong advocacy for a more inclusive approach to sustainable improvements resonates closely with The Hunger Project’s work, which puts people at the center. As the creation of the new development agenda following the 2015 Millennium Development Goals draws near, The Hunger Project looks forward to joining the conversation for stronger policies and social protection.