UN ESCAP Working Paper on From human development to human security: A prototype human security index

Working paper12 Oct 2009

Since 1990, the Human Development Index has revolutionized discussions about human development. However, it suffers from two deficiencies, which can now be mitigated: geographic incompleteness and insufficiently “on-target” representation of economy, knowledge, and “a long and healthy life” at the level of the individual. This report summarizes attempts to rectify those deficiencies.

In addition, steady advances in attempts to characterize different aspects of the human condition have resulted in indicators, covering varying numbers of countries, on a wide variety of subjects. If one were challenged to create an index on the condition of people-centric Human Security (Human Security is currently being used to describe a peoples' sense of inclusion, of being valued, of being safe from perniciousness (by other individuals, organized crime elements, or from corrupted governmental or corporate impositions), basic comfort (as opposed to “luxury”) and freedom), such as the authors of the Human Development Index faced in 1990 and expanded qualitatively in 1994, one could now begin to do so – at least for the sake of discussion and resultant improvements. A prototype Human Security Index is presented and initially assessed here.

This paper extends a paper (Hastings 2008) with additional data, and is designed to complement the Hastings (2009) on geographically extending the Human Development Index. Initial findings are consistent with those of some sustainability and governance indicators – that stereotypical material development needs to be harmonized by good governance aimed at peacefulness, fair circumstances to all people, long-term environmental sustainability. The data show that most countries are characterized (in the draft indices) by one or more relative strengths, and also one or more weaknesses, which might help them to focus on areas for improvements. Indeed, no country ranks above 0.800 (on a 0-1.000 scale as in the Human Development Index) in all components.

Another initial result of this work is a form of documentation that GDP-“developed” economies are not necessarily highly developed societies, in terms of equitability, social fabric, or human security. These societal characteristics are arguably more important to contentment-happiness-satisfaction than raw GDP per capita. Where the Human Development Reports of United Nations Development Programme pushed the envelope significantly from GDP per capita to include health and education, the equitability and social fabric documentation now beginning can push the envelope even farther. Thanks to the work of many organizations, we may now begin to further characterize human security and societal development, and perhaps rectify challenges faced by societies in such dimensions of life.