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Development Progress Report

undphdr.jpgWe have just ten years left before we hit the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. How are we doing? And how do the various leading aid donor nations compare?

Draft answers to these two questions came out this last week.

The 2005 Human Development Report, from the UN Development Programme, is a detailed discussion of the current status of global development. Nearly half of the Report -- which totals nearly 400 pages -- is taken up by charts on a tremendous variety of development-related subjects. The full Report is available as a single 6.3mb PDF, and each chapter can be downloaded separately at this location. Complete versions in English, Spanish and French are available, with summaries in a variety of other languages.

The Commitment to Development Report, from the independent non-profit group the Center for Global Development, ranks the OECD countries on the basis of a variety of development-support categories. These rankings are a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures, and are therefore a bit more subjective than the UN's information. Nonetheless, the report offers a filter through which one can compare different countries' strategies for supporting global development.

Although one is an official document from a global institution, deeply rooted in measurable indicators, while the other is a more political document from an independent group, combining measurement and perspective, they both come to largely the same conclusion: we (as a planet) are not doing nearly enough, and if we're going to meet the Millennium Development Goals' deadline of 2015, we'd best get moving.

The Commitment to Development Index ranks 21 different nations on a variety of development-related policies: Aid; Trade; Investment; Migration; Environment; Security; and Technology. Not all of the policies examined have explicit development links. Some, like Environment, look at behaviors and decisions made by the 21 richest countries that have indirect effects on the developing world. We looked briefly at the 2003 edition of the Index in November of that year; it should be noted that the 2005 version changed some of the rated factors, and the two lists are not directly comparable. The CDI website does include a link to a retrospective version of the 2003 numbers using the current methodology, however.

Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden rank as the top three development-supportive nations. It may come as a bit of a surprise to some that the United States, which ranked with Japan at the bottom of the 2003 list, is now more solidly in the low-middle, just behind Canada and ahead of Switzerland; this is due largely to changes in methodology, although even under the revised standards, the US shows a bit of improvement. Ironically, this might have the effect of getting Americans to have more concern about their standing, as a middling rating is less-arguably partisan than a near-the-bottom rank. The methodology CGD uses for rankings is available for examination.

None of the nations score very highly, however, as all have at least one poor category, and some have no good ones at all.

The comparisons between countries in the UN Human Development Report are less subjective than the CDI, but all the more devastating. Reading through both the category rankings and the analysis, it's easy to come away with the impression that the Millennium Development Goals are a lost cause. Certainly, if the 2010 progress report is at all similar to this one, such a conclusion would be unavoidable. This time, however, the argument is more determined than fatalistic:

What is not in doubt is the simple truth that, as a global community, we have the means to eradicate poverty and to overcome the deep inequalities that divide countries and people. The fundamental question that remains to be answered five years after the Millennium Declaration was signed is whether the world’s governments have the resolve to break with past practice and act on their promise to the world’s poor. If ever there was a moment for decisive political leadership to advance the shared interests of humanity, that moment is now.

Although the report covers a wide variety of issues around development, a key theme it returns to time and again is the question of aid. The cycle of poverty in which the least-developed nations are mired is effectively inescapable without external support. Wisely, the report's authors don't simply advocate more money -- instead, they go into rich detail about smarter, wiser provision of financial support. And they don't dismiss the need for the recipient nations themselves to take responsibility for development. From the summary:

There are three conditions for effective aid. First, it has to be delivered in sufficient quantity to support human development take-off. Aid provides governments with a resource for making the multiple investments in health, education and economic infrastructure needed to break cycles of deprivation and support economic recovery—and the resource needs to be commensurate with the scale of the financing gap. Second, aid has to be delivered on a predictable, low transaction cost, value for money basis. Third, effective aid requires “country ownership”. Developing countries have primary responsibility for creating the conditions under which aid can yield optimal results. While there has been progress in increasing the quantity and improving the quality of aid, none of these conditions has yet been met.

The "low transaction cost" aspect is something that gets insufficient attention, in my view. Conditions such as "tied aid" (where support moneys have to be spent on a limited list of items sold by the donor country), overlapping reporting requirements, and a lack of coordination between donors can bleed away aid money, reducing the overall effectiveness of development support programs. This is an area where major steps can be taken to improve conditions, steps that will benefit both donors and recipients.

The Millennium Development Goals give us achievable, measurable targets for pulling those most hurt by poverty into better conditions. What makes reports such as the CDI and the HDR so painful is the underlying recognition that the Millennium Goals are actually rather tame, and that the direct expenditures required to solve the problem of global poverty are far lower than most might imagine. Global poverty is a problem that we know how to solve, and that we have the means to solve. What we seem to be missing is a real commitment to do it. The development progress report is simple, then:

Has great potential, but shows uneven performance. Not working up to potential.

Comments (8)


Thanks for the link to that "Commitment to Development Report". I think it's total quack. If it comes to development - in any form - money is the biggest tool. Someone has to be the anti-American partypooper here and so I'll say it rightaway: the USA ranks totally at the bottom of *all* the indexes out there.
It is completely ridiculous to see a socalled "independent group" create an index which ranks the US in the middle of the pack, while it contributes shamingly little, and when it contributes, it's with big strings attached (ask the AIDS fighters of UNAIDS what they think of the US's contribution on this front).
Let's not make this more pathetic than it already is and debate this ranking further, because there's nothing to debate.

Jamais, I would appreciate it if you and the WC team were a bit more critical. You often cite "independent groups" which aren't independent at all; instead they're sponsored by big fat corporations. Just look at who sponsors this so-called "Center for Global Development" -- all parties who have a horrible record when it comes to 'Commitments to Development'! Only in America.

Another example: I remember a WC article treating the "World Business Council for Sustainable Development" in a very friendly manner, while we all know that this extreme right wing corporate machine has a history and of ultra-capitalist rogue behavior trying literally to destroy the World Summit in 1992, and that it has a total anti-sustainability agenda.

When do we get an article here about the dirty way in which the corporate world at large is silently co-opting the "development" and "sustainability" discourse while its agenda is completely the contrary? You published about Shell's little carbon-storage competition today and en passantyou mentioned that "we should remain critical" indeed. But I have the vague impression that this has just become side-thought here on WC.

I don't want to be too paranoid or dull here, but one more thing: I personally know several people who once took development seriously and worked in the sector, then jumped on the corporate bandwagon because the money is so much better and they are now in the business of greening and embellishing corporations. They write custom reports about CSR etc... Great careers, because they know the language of NGO's and non-profits, and corporations hire these people en massenowadays. They know it's all bogus though. One of my good ex-friends has even worked for a major and well known terrorist corporation which had a plan to mine ores on a certain Pacific island - he participated in writing what we would now call a "CSR" report, and the entire official development and government world nearly bought it (everyone was happy, certainly my friend who received a generous cheque for such a nice report); but the people of the island in question didn't like it all that much, and the entire venture became a total disaster, creating misery for "the natives", who, thank God, kicked out the socially responsible terrorists.

In short, I think the accaparation of the development discourse by the corporate world is one of the biggest dangers for the South. Development matters should remain the privilege of those whose main purpose is not their own profit and of those who refuse to accept corporate money. (How's that as a rule for basic credibility? I remember the days when it used to be that way.)

This may all sound a bit old fashioned because the trend of blurring boundaries between corporations and their diametrically opposed adversaries - development thinkers and workers - is so hot now. I think its still crucial.

There's really absolutely no way to reconcile corporate agendas with development. No matter how big the efforts, how hot the trend, or how big the career opportunities for those who attempt to prove the contrary. This is a case where you should be as un-nuanced as possible.

On a final note, maybe the WC team should re-read someone as unfashionable, un-nuanced and un-sympathetic as Arundathi Roy.

Jamais Cascio:

Lorenzo, rather than try to argue with you -- as you've made it pretty clear that you have set convictions on these matters -- I'll simply say thank you for the advice.


Rather than asserting how bad the above report is could you be a bit more specific in your criticisms. It would help convince people of the truth of your claims.

For example, here is the list of the funders of Center for Global Development (from their website)

Asian Development Bank
Better World Fund
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Citigroup Foundation
Colgate-Palmolive Company
Commonwealth Secretariat - UK
Development Alternatives, Inc.
Global Development Network, Inc.
Grayson Family Foundation
The Harmon Foundation
International Development Research Centre (Canada)
Japan Bank for International Cooperation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Make a Mark Foundation
Microsoft Corporation
Nathan Cummings Foundation
Nike Foundation
OSI Development Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation
Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Norway
The Tinker Foundation, Inc.
United Nations Development Programme
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The World Bank

Lorenzo wrote :
""independent groups" which aren't independent at all; instead they're sponsored by big fat corporations. Just look at who sponsors this so-called "Center for Global Development" -- all parties who have a horrible record when it comes to 'Commitments to Development'! Only in America."

The list seems to be more a list of middle of the road development multilateral agencies, governments, and private foundations, with a few companies that are neither terrible nor great.

Could you post some links to articles or other references that support your assertions about these groups.

I'd also like to learn more about the "extreme right wing" World Business Council on Sustainable Development and its " ultra-capitalist rogue behavior."

I don't know about the other report, but

The UN Human Development Report is full of information

for example:

On the (conservative) assumption that the world’s 500 richest people listed by Forbes magazine have an income equivalent to no more than 5% of their assets, their income exceeds that of the poorest 416 million people

Measured more systematically by the Gini coefficient, the most widely used yardstick for inequality, the overall pattern of distribution for the world is more unequal than for any country except Namibia. On a scale where 0 is perfect equality and 100 is total inequality, the Gini coefficient for the world is 67.

Income inequalities between countries account for the bulk of global income inequality. About two-thirds of overall inequality can be traced to this source. Inequality within countries accounts for the balance. Reproduced at a national level, the gap between rich and poor countries would be regarded as socially indefensible, politically unsustainable and economically inefficient even in high-inequality regions such as Latin America.

Passion Flower:

"Global poverty is a problem that we know how to solve". Absolute poverty manifests locally, it's a messy issue that does need locally relevant solutions to give the poor on the land even a slight means of earning a living & reduce urban migration.

Aid & trade is important, but the primary focus needs to be giving local people a way of earning a living (labour intensive farming and other rural support activities). To that end, it's equally important, particularly in Latin America & Asia, to reform land and property rights - although attempts to fix these inequalities have to be careful not to fall into the hands of the wealthier locals or cause civil war. LDCs might be able to use committed long-term support from UN/donors to make changes like these as peacefully as possible, rather than waiting for major civil uprising which is the usual catalyst – but how to do this without corruption or misuse of power setting in at some level?

Highly unequal land distribution reduces total and individual agricultural output, forcing once small land holders to become heavily indebted and then become subsistence labourers with big debts and no security and no hope. Small to medium sized family-owned farms are the most efficient in terms of productivity and lower cost outputs. As if land reform & property rights corrections aren't politically challenging enough, they aren't sufficient, it's crucial to have complementary activities eg local markets, remove price distortions on agricultural output and inputs (eg equipment), health care, info, transport, education and careful activities to ensure the women & indigenous minorities aren't made worse off.

It's right to question how aid is provided. When assessing the aid contribution of countries, the UN should assess the conditionality of loans eg given in kind (dumping subsidised agricultural products which undercut local farmers) or major infrastructure construction to the donor countries contractors, projects which aren't necessarily in the best development interests of the recipient country. Some European nations are making concerted efforts to untie their aid. The extremely complicated programmes that are needed to arrest poverty and hunger and give people some dignity won't come about from conditional aid or rapidly liberalizing markets without first creating a robust domestic economy.


Garry Peterson,

first of all, I think we're dealing with a cultural difference: over here (Europe) it is simply unthinkable to have a group which writes "meta-reports" about governments or about development topics, being sponsored by corporations. This is totally not done. It's aso very funny. There are, I think, obvious reasons as to why this is so. (A criminal being his own judge makes for a bogus trial.)

In the same manner it is even encoded in laws that aid is always neatly de-coupled from commercial interests, or it is not considered to be aid and it falls under a different regime - we all know what it leads to when a government gives aid to projects in the South, which are intended to help companies from the home country acquire the contracts to implement it. We have all seen countless "white elephants" and abuses, over the past decades.

So in Europe we have a tradition where commerce and aid are totally separated from each other - in a clear, legal way. Even sponsorship is out of the question.

In North America, things are very different, of course. Over there, you have no tradition of development aid, you have a tendency to see the corporation as saint and government as devil.
And so you end up with:
-charity (which has nothing to do with aid, and which is a purely self-satisfying form of egoism)
-corporate development projects (which make no sense from whatever perspective one takes, because corporations have only one driving principle, which is making profit)
-or a government which refuses to commit to development in any serious way (that's why the statistics from the OECD -- a truly independent group, not sponsored by corporations -- show the USA ranking totally at the bottom of the aid scale.)

In short, the mere fact that this so-called "Center for Global Development" is sponsored by corporations, is reason enough to disqualify anything it says. Not one major (European) aid agency or government will take its publications or thoughts seriously.

Now as to the corporations which sponsor this so-called think tank, they're all corporations in the first place (machines which want profit, and new markets at all costs); you have Nike (not really a clean company, remember the cute little Asian child slaves it used to employ), Citigroup (a rather large financial network of people whose interest it is to spread the fire of capitalism at all costs, war included, a big sponsor of extreme right wing governments), (Colgate-Palmolive, visit their palm oil plantations, where terror reigns supreme), Grayson Inc. (a company sponsored by a huge number of companies with a horrible track record - you name the worst, they sponsor Grayson Inc.), etc...

But it is useless to even discuss their track record. It's the mere fact that they are corporations, which makes the think tank in question dependent, and not trustworthy.


When it comes to the "World Business Council for Sustainable Development", there's quite an extensive body of critique out there. The WBCSD is a lobby group which wants to destroy all calls for norms, regulations, enforceable standards and accountability for corporations. It is a lobby group which wants to privatize all aid. It is the lobby group which represents the neo-liberal agenda which has proved to be so disastrous to millions of people in the South.
During several UN World Summits, it actively lobbied to destroy all NGO's who call for genuine, that is codified, rules concerning "corporate social responsability" and for genuine rules of accountability and ethics. Instead the WBCSD, together with the Bush government, opted for the socalled "greenwash" or "bluewash" - "allowing some of the largest and richest corporations to wrap themselves in the United Nations' blue flag without requiring them to do anything new", as the NYTimes puts it.


Google for "WBCSD + Johannesburg".

It is well known in the world of development, that this trend is a step backwards, and that it comes down to having corporations who are responsible for a lot of misery in the first place (Shell, for one, is a big member of the WBCSD, as is Rio Tinto, for which my dear friend wrote his Bougainville report!) to escape all real commitments to aid, development and sustainability.

Moreover, this shift is part of the bigger trend towards weakening and destroying multilateral institutions (a very hot hobby for many North Americans and mega corporations nowadays), and to replace them with privatized pseudo-alternatives (the ultimate ideal of some people: to get rid of the State alltogether and to have private businesses manage society in its entirety -- this horrible shift is happening in the USA).

The WBCSD wants to replace the United Nations with the United Corporations Inc., once and for all. That is its raison d'être.


As Jamais said, I have set convictions here, and thank God I do. There is a war out there between on the one hand those who want to destroy all commitments to aid & dev that come from states, multilateral organizations and non-profits and who want to replace them by neoliberal privatization initiatives, and on the other hand those who think that corporations and machines-for-profit have a conflict of interest here, and that they should first conform to some basic rules of good corporate governance before they're actively engaged in dev issues. I happen to find myself on the latter's side, I assume you are on the former's.

Philip M. Jonat:

To repeat others, you certainly have strong convictions. Though I don't trust corporations to do the right thing all the time, we will need their help in the continued fight for a better more equal planet. What I see as truth is that the more people/organizations/governments contributing, the more chance the operation has for success. Its the theory behind mutual funds etc. Government help is always going to be slowed by conflicting interests of each country, each state, and each district. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. That being said, did you notice the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Norway was a sponser of the Center for Global Development? So atleast one European government has a stock in this report. The UN Development Program was also a sponser. How do you explain their interests? I would be interested in your opinion on this matter.
Philip M. Jonat


If you hate corps they will sooner or late learn to hate you. That is why the enrgy sector let things go and why the oil companies stopped caring about you. Make someone out to be evil and you just may find you have made your own hell.


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