The 2014 Human Development Report (HDR) draws attention to the urgent need to address human vulnerabilities and build resilience as conditions for accelerating and sustaining progress. Human insecurity stems from not only low and uncertain incomes, but from many other sources, including inadequate access to health, food and shelter, unsafe environments, and inadequate protection of civil and political freedoms. Individuals experience vulnerability when they become physically weak, economically impoverished, socially dependent, publicly humiliated or psychologically harmed. Families feel vulnerable when they do not have access to good quality affordable healthcare, when they are exposed to unsafe environments, or when safety is compromised when societies are faced with crime and violence. At the same time, all new born babies are vulnerable to diseases, just as all women are to domestic violence. Preparing citizens for a less vulnerable future entails strengthening the intrinsic resilience of communities and countries. The HDR recommends how to do this.
The report connects human vulnerability to factors and conditions that erode people’s capabilities and freedoms. The concept of vulnerability becomes less abstract, the report argues, when broken down into who is vulnerable, what are they vulnerable to, and why. People feel vulnerable when they lack core capabilities that prevent them from doing things they value and in coping with threats they face without suffering serious consequences.
The report identifies “structurally vulnerable” groups of people that are more vulnerable than others by virtue of their history or of their unequal treatment by the rest of society. Such a disadvantage can be traced to many factors, including gender, ethnicity and geographic location. Human insecurity is compounded by the overlapping of structural vulnerabilities. For example, this could happen to groups that, in addition to having to cope with disabilities, are also poor and belong to a minority group.
The report has an interesting discussion on “life-cycle vulnerabilities” that are contingent upon a person’s age, and hence, stage in life. For example, new born babies are particularly vulnerable during the first 1,000 days of life, older children during the transition from school to work, and adults when they move from the world of work to an era of retirement. Since capabilities are built over a lifetime, the report argues that setbacks at these critical points in a person’s life can have adverse and prolonged impacts. For instance, neglecting childhood development has serious ramifications for learning in school, holding on to a job and coping with growing old. Such neglect also transmits vulnerabilities to the next generation.
The HDRs have gained popularity because of the ranking of countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). What does the 2014 HDR reveal? The not-so-good news is that there has been no change in India’s rank on the HDI. As in 2012, India continues to rank 135 continued…