Thematic Overviews

Human Development

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has created a composite index that measures the quality of life in United Nations member countries on an annual basis. This index is based on three aspects of human development: longevity (measured by life expectancy at birth), knowledge (measured by a combination of adult literacy and school enrolment) and standard of living (measured by GDP per capita in PPP US$).

On this page, you can see a map of the world using the 2013 rankings. It may surprise you! You will see that although some countries are quite poor in terms of GDP, their human development index ranking is "high". This may be because the population has access to quality education and health care systems, resulting in increased levels of life expectancy and knowledge.


More than seven billion people live on our planet.

It took the world thousands of years to become home to a billion people, but only 12 years to grow from six billion (1999) to seven billion (2011).

Children under the age of 15 make up 40 per cent of the population in the world’s least developed countries. In fact, the number of children (less than 15 years old) and young people (aged 15 to 24) in the less developed regions of the world are at a record high – 2.6 billion.

However, the world’s population is also ageing. The number of people aged 60 or over is expected to more than double by 2050. Sixty-five per cent of the world’s older people live in less developed regions of the world.

Poverty and Hunger

In 2010-12, nearly 870 million people – or one in eight – were chronically undernourished. While we have made more progress in reducing hunger around the world than previously believed, trends vary across regions. For example, Eastern Asia and South-Eastern Asia are decreasing hunger faster than before; meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africa has reversed its recent progress and the rates of undernourishment in Western Asia are on an upward trend.

Hunger is inextricably linked to poverty, which is reflected in the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. About 1.2 billion people – nearly one in six – still live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day. But, overall, poverty is decreasing. In fact, we have already achieved the MDG target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, due in large part to some of the most populous countries’ success at eradicating poverty – China alone has 510 million fewer people living in poverty.


Over the past 35 years, significant progress has been made in improving children’s health. In 1975, less than five per cent of children around the world had been immunized against childhood diseases. Today, more than 90 per cent of one-year-olds have been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, toxoid and pertussis.

Yet more can be done. In sub-Saharan Africa, 120 children under five die for every 1,000 live births – that’s more than double the world average of 55. Inequality in access to affordable healthcare remains a problem. Poor child health can permanently affect a child’s labour productivity as an adult. More than 10 per cent of the global population has some form of disability, and poor health is one of the most common sources of impoverishment.

Access to drinking water

One of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aims to halve the proportion of people who do not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. And the world is on track to meet this target.

In 2011, more than two billion more people worldwide had access to drinking-water sources protected from outside contamination than in 1990. However, about 768 million people worldwide still do not have access to improved drinking-water sources, and improvements to national averages do not necessarily show the whole picture, as there is often unequal access to improved drinking-water sources within countries.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that recognized safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right.