In every country many people have little prospect for a better future. Lacking hope, purpose or dignity, they watch from society’s sidelines as they see others pull ahead to ever greater prosperity. Many have escaped extreme poverty worldwide, but even more have neither the opportunities nor the resources to control their lives. Far too often gender, ethnicity or parents’ wealth still determines a person’s place in society.
Inequalities. The evidence is everywhere. Inequalities do not always reflect an unfair world, but when they have little to do with rewarding effort, talent or entrepreneurial risk-taking, they can be an affront to human dignity. Such inequalities in human development hurt societies, weakening social cohesion and people’s trust in government, institutions and each other. Most hurt economies, wastefully preventing people from reaching their full potential at work and in life. They often make it harder for political decisions to reflect the aspirations of the whole of society and to protect the planet, if the few pulling ahead flex their power to shape decisions in their interests. In the extreme, people can take to the streets.
There has been some progress worldwide in people’s ability to overcome extreme deprivations (basic capabilities), such as access to basic education, basic health services and basic technology (the left side of the illustration below). Many people at the bottom are now reaching the initial stepping stones of human development. Yet, looking at the right we see that disparities are high or increasing in the areas expected to become more important in the future (enhanced capabilities), including receiving quality education at all levels, access to high-speed Internet or more advanced health services. Under the shadow of the climate crisis and sweeping technological change, people well positioned today appear set to get even farther ahead tomorrow.
Data shows that two children born in 2000 in countries with different levels of human development will have vastly different prospects for adult life today.
The child born in the very high human development country is very likely to be enrolled in higher education, along with 55 percent of 20-year-olds in very high human development countries. She or he is preparing to live in a highly globalized and competitive world and has chances do so as a highly skilled worker.
In contrast, the child from the low human development country is much less likely to be alive. Some 17 percent of children born in low human development countries in 2000 will have died before age 20, compared with just 1 percent of children born in very high human development countries. And those who survive have an expected lifespan 13 years shorter than their counterparts in the group of more developed countries. The child born in the low human development country is also unlikely to still be in education: Only 3 percent are in higher education.
Both of these young people are just beginning their adult lives, but circumstances almost entirely beyond their control have already set them on different and unequal paths in terms of health, education, employment and income prospects—a divergence that can be irreversible.
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat.