Despite progress globally, many countries are falling behind, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV/AIDS pandemic is dramatically reducing life expectancy and creating financial and social burdens that slow development.
The stark findings contained in the 2005 Human Development Report were presented to world leaders a week before they meet in New York for a U.N. summit to review progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. The goals include halving extreme poverty, reducing child deaths by two-thirds and achieving universal primary education by 2015.
The goals "are a promissory note, written by 189 governments to the world's poor people," said Kevin Watkins, the development report's chief author. "That note falls due in less than 10 years time, and without the required investment and political will, it will come back stamped 'insufficient funds."'
Since the U.N. Development Fund's first report in 1990, more than 130 million people have been lifted out of poverty, Wednesday's report said. Life expectancy has increased by two years in developing countries, there are 2 million fewer child deaths annually and 30 million more children in school.
Yet 18 countries — 12 of them in Africa and the rest in Europe — registered lower scores on the UNDP's human development index than in 1990.
The index ranks 177 countries based on key indicators such as income, life expectancy and education from 2003. Norway tops the list, while Niger is last.
Despite increasing global prosperity, more than 1 billion people still survive on less than $1 a day; 10.7 million children die before their fifth birthday; and 115 million children are not in school, the report said.
HIV/AIDS has inflicted the single greatest reversal in human development, claiming 3 million lives in 2003 with another 5 million left infected. South Africa, which has more people living with HIV than any other country, has dropped 35 places on the development index since 1990.