Geography: Human Development: Objectives and Human Development Index

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  • Today, the entire world is divided into two groups of countries- developed and developing. This classification is mostly based on level of economic development. Though this trend is still continuing but a change in thinking about development was introduced and that was a change in emphasis on measurement of development from purely economic to human.

  • In 1990 two economists, Prof. Mahbub Al Haque and Prof. Amartya Sen introduced the concept of Human Development. From 1990 onwards, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), each year calculate Human Development Index (HDI) and publish as a report which is known as the Human Development Report (HDR). This report is published each year in which almost all the countries are placed under three categories, high, medium and low based on the defined parameters.


The major objectives of this chapter are:

  • To define the term human development

  • To explain the term human development index

  • To find out India’s position among the various countries in the world in terms of human development index

  • To describe the regional patterns of human development index in the states of India

  • To highlight the need for improvement in human development index in Indian context

Human Development Index

Image of human development index

Image of Human Development Index

  • The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite index that measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development. These basic dimensions are a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living. The above-mentioned dimensions are measured by the following indicators:

    • A long and healthy life is measured by life expectancy at birth.

    • Knowledge is measured by the adult literacy rate (with 2/3rd weight) and the combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio (with 1/3rd weight).

    • A decent standard of living is measured by GDP per capita in purchasing Power Parity (PPP) US Dollars.

  • HDI is a barometer for changes in human well-being and for comparing progress in different regions. Human development concept is based on the idea of development as a freedom. It is about building human capabilities- the range of things they can do and what they can be. Individual freedoms and rights matter a great deal. But these freedoms and rights are restricted for some because they are poor, ill, illiterate, discriminated against, threatened by violent conflict, or denied a political voice, etc.

  • That is why in the inaugural issue of Human Development Report 1990, the authors defined these above-mentioned indicators as essential choices and the absence of which can block many other opportunities. Therefore, they defined human development as a process of widening people’s choices as well as raising the level of well-being. To achieve this there is a need for re-orientation of our process of development.

  • The basic difference between economic development and human development is that economic development entirely focuses on the increase of income whereas the human development believes in expanding and widening of all aspects of human life be it economic, social, political, cultural, etc. Since, the real wealth of a nation is its people, therefore, the goal of development should be the enrichment of human life.

  • Apart from Human Development Index (HDI), the other four indicators of human development have been selected which were used by the Human Development Report. These are:

    • Human Poverty Index for developing countries (HPI-1)

    • Human Poverty Index for selected high-income OECD Countries (HPI-2)

    • Gender- related Development Index (GDI)

    • Gender Empowered Measurement (GEM)

  • Out of these given HDI, HPI-1 and GDI are calculated by three common dimensions- a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living. But some of indicators are different within these dimensions. Let us know their similarities and differences from the table given below.

A Comparative Analysis of Dimensions Used in HDI, HPI-1 and GDI

A Comparative Analysis of Dimensions Used in HDI, HPI-1 and GDI
A Comparative Analysis of Dimensions Used in HDI, HPI-1 and GDI

Sl. No.






A long and healthy life

  • Life expectancy at birth

  • Probability at birth of not swimming at age 40

  • Life expectancy at birth



  • Adult literacy rate (with two third weight) and

  • The combined primary, secondary and gross enrolment (with one third weight)

  • Adult literacy rate

  • Percentage of the population without sustainable access to an improved water source

  • Adult literacy rate

  • Combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio


A decent standard of living

  • GDP per capita (adjusted to purchasing power parity in US $)

  • The percentage of children underweight for age of one year

  • Estimated earned income (PPP in US $)

Why Human Development?

Paul Streeten, a development economist identified six reasons in favour of the human development. The reasons are as follows:

  1. The ultimate purpose of the entire exercise of development is to improve the human conditions and to enlarge people’s choice.

  2. Human development is a means to higher productivity. A well-nourished, healthy, educated, skilled alert labour force is the most productive asset. Therefore, investments in these sectors are justified on ground of productivity.

  3. It helps in reducing the rate of growth of population.

  4. Human development is friendly to the physical environment also. Deforestation, desertification and soil erosion decline when poverty declines.

  5. Improved living conditions and reduced poverty contribute to a healthy civil society and greater social stability.

  6. Human development also helps in reducing civil disturbance in the society and in increasing political stability.

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