loader image

Picture: Innova Labs en Pixabay

Human Development Report 2024: The World on the Brink

03 April, 2024 | Ricardo Changala

The Human Development Report, unveiled in March 2024 by the United Nations Development Programe (UNDP), affirms that, while humanity enjoys unparalleled wealth and technology – unimaginable to our ancestors – which could fuel bold and essential pathways towards peace and sustainable, inclusive human development, we find ourselves constantly teetering on the brink, inhabiting a socio-ecological house of cards with cascading violations of human rights and blatant massacres of individuals in their homes, social gathering spots, hospitals, schools, and shelters.

According to a February 2024 report from The Lancet, the obesity rate has quadrupled among children and doubled among adults over the last three decades. The combined prevalence of underweight and obesity in adults has surged in 162 countries.

Concurrently, UNICEF, referencing 2022 data, asserts that 149 million boys and girls under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition, while 45 million endure acute malnutrition. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), 43.2 million people suffer from hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2022, 247.8 million individuals in the region faced moderate to severe food insecurity.

Furthermore, globally, approximately 13% of food produced is lost between harvest and retail sale, while nearly 17% of total food production is squandered in households. Malnutrition, obesity, and food wastage coexist in this world, stark evidence of prevailing inequality and exclusion.

Meanwhile, as underscored in the aforementioned UNDP report, technology and food production capabilities theoretically enable seamless food provision to all inhabitants of the planet. However, the reality is that while some segments of the population have access to abundance, others have very little or almost nothing.

It is therefore imperative to question the root causes of this reality, or at the very least, endeavor to identify some explanatory pathways.

One observation worth highlighting is acknowledgment that technology alone can’t alter reality,, as its development and application depend on political, economic, and social factors. In fact, access to technology and its dissemination are also part of the prevailing inequality on the planet.

This is clearly observed in the world of work, where a significant portion of the recent regulatory changes lean towards neoliberalism, deregulating the protections established by labor law, despite the digital technological advancements that could improve working conditions.

Conversely, new technologies often become tools for limiting rights rather than freeing up time and enhancing working conditions, sometimes packaged as false independence or income autonomy, denying the existence of dependency relationships.

According to the UNDP, among the causes of this reality, the report emphasizes the “…metastatic dogma of non-intervention hiding the assault on economic and ecological common resources…” with policies and institutions – including those that have mismanaged the dynamics of the globalized market – that prioritize the “I” over the “we”.

State non-intervention and extreme individualism are clear signs of the intention to dismantle the structures of the so-called Welfare State, which, although it never fully materialized in many places, has prevailed for decades in central countries.

Unlike what was envisioned in the mid-20th century, capitalist development does not seem to have room for all people or cultures if it intends to continue generating and increasing profits constantly and relentlessly.

Therefore, the normative, institutional, social, and cultural framework organized around the concept of the Welfare State is entirely dysfunctional to hegemonic interests, hence there is a push to eliminate it, either through democratic means or through other authoritarian and violent avenues.

Currently, what we see and hear almost every day, from various speakers, is a questioning of the state, public policies, and the protection of rights, with concrete actions that stand in stark contrast to the standards recognized in international instruments and also in regional and even national norms.

Such is the case with labor rights, both individual and collective, which have always faced opposition, generally from the business sector, arguing that they are hindrances or anchors to economic development.

Similarly, we can observe constant attacks on women’s rights under the pretext of “gender ideology,” a concept that is never quite clear but ultimately results in the denial of rights to women and against sexual diversity, etc.

The same applies to indigenous peoples and communities. Despite the significant global and regional advancements since 1989, which in the case of Latin America were also reflected in laws and constitutions, the present reality exhibits a notable regression, especially concerning the appropriation of their lands and natural resources, even against protective legislation.

It is a clear reaffirmation of three foundational characteristics of the capitalist system: patriarchy, colonialism, and limitless economic exploitation.

As implicitly emerges from the discussed Human Development Report, it is no longer about defects or limitations of the dominant economic, social, and political system: inequality and the exclusion of a large number of people are intentional features of the system as it seeks to consolidate itself.

It is essential to start from these premises if one intends to modify the current landscape.

The same UNDP document proposes some ideas in this regard, including, although they do not address the root causes of the detected problems, they are nevertheless unusual proposals considering the agency expressing them.

One of the ideas is to demand from states and those with influence the concept of “common ownership,” which entails “…equitably distributing the power to set collective objectives, the responsibilities to pursue them, and the anticipated outcomes…emphasizing the formation of social norms that cultivate the value of collective achievements and cooperative behavior.”

Another proposed idea is to “…build a 21st-century architecture for global public goods…aimed at transferring wealth from rich to poor countries to promote goals that benefit all countries. All countries could voice their opinions and contribute. As such, this third way is inherently multilateral.”

The Report also suggests additional measures, such as implementing new financial mechanisms to complement humanitarian aid and traditional development assistance for low-income countries.

Additionally, it proposes reducing political polarization through new governance approaches focused on amplifying citizens’ voices in decision-making processes and combating misinformation.

Beyond assessing the feasibility and relevance of these recommendations, it’s crucial to underscore that the United Nations, in response to the profound challenges facing the world, seeks alternative pathways away from the prevailing ideologies of extreme liberalism, individualism, and militaristic rhetoric.

This perspective represents a significant contribution to understanding the current global reality and shaping the future trajectory of humanity.