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This blog was created as an exercise for a group of students of the course “Human Development Economics” at the University of Roma Tre in Italy.

Currently no longer active but we want to leave the opportunity, for those interested, to read what has been done. It is a series of summaries and reviews of some paper analyzed during the course.


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Curse or Blessing? Natural Resources and Human Development


The following paper aims to provide a summary and an analysis of the research ”Curse or Blessing? Natural Resources and Human Development” by José Pineda and Francisco Rodríguez. A short introduction – based on the same research paper – leads to an explanation of the different channels through which Human Development can be affected and to the question why natural resources can be seen as a curse as well as a blessing. I would like to classify the examples listed by Pineda and Rodríguez into two categories: I present on the one hand countries that had difficulties with natural resources (curse) and on the other hand examples of successful development through natural resources (blessing). The main part of this paper deals with the empirical study of Pineda and Rodríguez and its results. A conclusion summarises the various mentioned reasons and contains also a personal critical reflexion in light of the capability approach of Amartya Sen.

1 Introduction

  One might argue that natural resource abundance should lead to positive changes of the development of a country and should result in a higher HDI. In the contrary, various studies aim to show that in spite of the presence of natural resources a region has very low prospects regarding human development.                                                                                                                                                                                                               Scrutinizing the ‘old’ HDI-components from 1980 until 2005 and dividing countries into ‘net-exporters’ and ‘net-importers’ of natural resources Pineda and Rodríguez show that “GDP growth has been smaller for net exporter countries, which is at the heart of the natural curse hypothesis.[and that] …, changes in the non-income component of HDI,…, are on average larger for net exporting countries.”  (Pineda/Rodriguez, 2010: 2)

They find out that the changes (in the period from 1980 to 2005) for net exporters were higher than for net importers for life expectancy, gross enrolment and literacy, but not for GDP/capita. This would lead us to the argument that human development is affected by various channels, and not by income. (Pineda/Rodriguez, 2010: 2-4)

1.1 Channels that affect Human Development

The following paragraph is based on the literature review of Pineda and Rodríguez (2010: 4-10) and presents a short description of the different ‘channels’ that try to find an answer why natural resources are linked to a negatively impact on human development: Dutch Disease, volatility, trade structure, depletion, rent-seeking and institutional weakness. 

  • Dutch Disease

A boom in one resource within a country leads to capital moves from outside and in the following to a higher exchange rate. The other sectors of this country might lose competitiveness because of higher prices abroad.

  • Volatility

The prices of natural resources depend on various factors, such as the extraction rate or contracts.

  • Trade Structure

Another study shows (Lederman and Maloney, 2007) that growth can be affected if exports are not diversified. In other words, a negative impact of natural resources on growth can be assessed when a certain trade structure exists.

  • Depletion

After a resource boom a country can suffer from negative growth. This could be averted by investing in foreign assets.

  • Rent-Seeking

A higher so-called rent-seeking behaviour can be identified when point-source resources exist. This is linked, for example, to inefficient projects and fiscal policies due to lobbying and weak or non-existing institutions.

  • Institutional Weakness

Institutions play a crucial role regarding the relationship between natural resources and growth: “…once institutions have been controlled for, oil actually has a beneficially effect on growth.” (Pineda/Rodriguez, 2010: 7) In the contrary, other studies tried to show that natural resources have a negative impact on democracy or that strong growth can exist within countries characterised by a weak institutional setting.

1.2 Difficulties with Natural Resources: The Curse Argument

The following paragraphs – based on Pineda and Rodriguez (2010: 6-14) – introduce different examples of the discussed channels and should provide insight into why natural resources are/were seen as a curse or culprit for a lower development of a region.

            Firstly, when states acted as a ‘direct recipient’ of the wealth of natural resources the result was a Dutch disease. In other words, industries other than the developing one were not supported which led to a loss of competitiveness. Examples are Spain (silver and gold rich in the 16th century) and the ‘petro-states’ Nigeria, Algeria, Iran and Venezuela. Especially the ‘Venezuela case’ shows that a deterioration of an economy goes hand in hand with a change in the policy type and could moreover be influenced negatively by investing only in intensive industries (relying on energy).

            Secondly, the oil boom in the 1970s led also to Dutch disease effects: characterized by dependence on the oil sector and foreign capital influx. It highlighted in the fall of the prices. As a consequence loans were not able to be paid back.

1.3 Natural Resources as a Blessing

In contrast, various examples exist that argue against the curse theory of natural resources for the development of a region. The following cases – based on Pineda and Rodriguez (2010: 6-14) – show that resource dependence can result in economic prosperity, or to cut a long matter short, successful resource-based growth does exist.

            Countries, such as Norway or Chile, founded a fund (Petroleum/ Copper) in order to stabilise their wealth and to protect their economies from negative impacts. Sweden and Finland are also examples for successful development based on natural resources. They are better-off than many other countries (although they had the same wealth as Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century) because they have invested their revenues in education, knowledge clusters and research. Others examples are the US (investments in infrastructure and knowledge), Australia (creation of a knowledge based intensive mineral sector) and Botswana (institutions combined with a diamond mining sector).

            By reading this, one might argue that natural resources have only a beneficial effect on the whole state. But Aragon and Rud (2009) showed that also the situation within local communities (they scrutinized the area around a Peruvian gold mine) can be improved by rising income levels and standards of living.

            To sum up, it can be said that natural resources could be both, a curse and a blessing. It mostly depends on the policies and on the institutional setting.

2 The study by Pineda and Rodríguez

The following parts (2; 2.1 and 2.2) deal with the empirical study of Pineda and Rodríguez and its results (Pineda/ Rodríguez, 2010: 14-26).  Like Lederman and Maloney they see natural resources as

“…assets for developing that necessitate appropriate policies and adequate human and physical capital. …[natural resources can properly be employed by countries in order] to create sustainable economic growth and development through proper export diversification, human and physical capital investment, volatility and real exchange rate control.”

(Pineda/ Rodríguez, 2010: 11)

2.1 Empirical Method

Pineda and Rodríguez try to analyse the impact of natural resources on the one hand on GDP (per capita) growth and on the other hand on human development taking data (of HDI components) from 1970 to 2005 into consideration. At first, they define the indicator of resource abundance by the net exports of natural resources per worker. With a linear regression – the ordinary least square (OLS) method – the question if natural resources have a positive influence on the human development index – and its components – should be answered. In order to address the question if human development is influenced differently in Latin America Pineda and Rodríguez take also ‘a set of regional dummies interactions’ into consideration. In the regression the changes of the components of the HDI are the dependent variable while natural resource abundance is the so-called key variable.

2.2 Results

The results of the (OLS) regression method show that natural resources have a positive effect on human development for net resource exporting and net resource importing countries as well. What concerns the HDI components the researchers found out that natural resource abundance influences literacy positively and significantly while the components gross enrolment and life expectancy do not always have positive and statistically significant specifications.

“Regarding the income HDI component, GDP per capita growth shows that natural resource abundance could be a blessing for growth. …For both the HDI and GDP, …, [the] resource abundance is more important for exporters than for importers.“ (Pineda/Rodriguez, 2010: 18)

The researchers have also measured the interaction in Latin America but the results show that the effect of natural resources on human development in this region is significantly smaller than in the rest of the world.

To sum up, Pineda and Rodríguez find strong evidence that the effect of natural resource abundance on literacy and life-expectancy is positive, even stronger than for GDP growth.

3 Conclusion and Critical Reflexion

The paper of Pineda and Rodríguez shows clearly that a curse of natural resources on HDI components does not exist due to positive effects of natural resource abundance on human development. The researchers give an excellent literature review and show examples that led to the development of “the curse and the blessing view” of natural resource abundance. But Pineda and Rodríguez only scrutinize the ‘old’ HDI-components (until 2010) in order to evaluate if the presence of natural resources in a country should be seen as curse or blessing for the (human) development. They do not see or consider human development (as a whole) more than HDI components and therefore a better title for their paper would be ‘natural resource and the HDI’.                                                                   

In other words, with regard to the critics on the calculation of the HDI until 2010 (as an arithmetic mean) their work cannot be criticised because they scrutinised the single HDI-components. Furthermore they do not even justify why they have chosen the HDI and its components for measuring human development. It’s a pity that they do not give any explanation why Latin America has different results than the rest of the world.

Although it is obvious that the capability approach is tightly linked to institutional questions (or economics), to environmental questions and to the ecological pillar of sustainability, Sen does not say much about environment or natural resources  – linked to human development – in his book ‘Development as Freedom’.

But his view: “For efficient provision of public goods, not only do we have to consider the possibility of state action and social provisioning, we also have to examine the part that can be played by the development of social values and of a sense of responsibility that may reduce the need for forceful state action.” (Sen, 1999: 269) and “The need to go beyond market rules …, in the context of environmental protection.” (Sen, 1999: 269) is not only linked to the theory of collective action (Sandler 1992) but can also be connected to Elinor Ostrom’s approach of how to “governing” common-pool-resources in a sustainable and efficient way (Ostrom/Gardner/Walker, 1994 and Ostrom, 1999). Furthermore Ostrom lists different intermediary institutions that constitute local arenas of participation and interaction, maybe examples – for Sen’s approach – of the process and the aim of development. In other words, I would say that natural resources as well their management through (local) institutional settings play a decisive role within development and should therefore be taken into consideration to a greater extent in the Human Development approach and should also be considered in studies in a broader view (instead of reducing resources to exports and imports).

It is a matter of fact that the exploitation of natural resources and their export result in an increase of the GDP. Even if the revenues are used for education and healthcare it is hard to tell if there are less or more capabilities than before. To sum up, the difficulty is in registering and assessing all different effects and impacts on the environment and on the single agents.

            In my opinion an interesting new approach would be to take the Environmentally Adjusted Domestic Product (EADP) and to derive a (environmentally adjusted) GNI in order to estimate the HDI. Were this possible, the (green) GDP or the GNI would be smaller when a country’s welfare is based on exploitation of natural resources (Indonesia). Hence on the one hand a decrease in capabilities could be better illustrated in the HDI and on the other hand the sustainability-issue could be introduced.

Beside this, also others scientific strategies are highly debatable:  Other scientists would prefer cost-benefit-analyses (imperfect: because non-monetary assets that are not be able to be reproduced cannot be valued) for a certain region, or would define a list of basic capabilities (Martha Nussbaum).

[Remark: These controversial approaches arise because a so-called ‘silver bullet’ (Jeffrey Sachs), a precise criterion of development or a list of well-defined elements does not exist.]

            From my point of view Pineda and Rodríguez have failed to analyse the relationship between natural resources and human development because on the one hand they have only scrutinised the impact on the HDI and its components (but human development is more: for instance its about people and their relationship to commodities) and on the other hand their focus on natural resources – regarding that they are more for people than net-imports or exports – is too narrow. In other words, they only look at natural resources and HDI components, but what would be central in human development are functionings.                                                                                                                                                                     

 To conclude, I would say that the question if natural resources (abundance) are a curse or a blessing is still highly debateable and even more when analysing functionings of a certain person.



Ostrom, Elinor (1990), Governing the Commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge u.a.: Cambridge University Press

Ostrom, Elinor/Gardner, Roy/Walker, James (1994), Rules, Games and Common-Pool Resources, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

 Pineda, J., and Rodriguez, F. (2010). Curse or Blessing? Natural Resources and Human Development UNDP Human Development Research Paper No. 04. April 2011)

Sandler, Todd (1992), Collective Action. Theory and applications., Ann Arbor, Univ. of Michigan Press


Sen, Amartya (1999), Development as Freedom, Oxford University Press

“Economic Growth and Human Development: India’s case”

Gustav Ranis’s reflection has led me to deepen the experience of India.

The purpose of Gustav Ranis’s paper is to show the two-way links between human development (HD) and economic growth (EG). This study permits us to examine the usual  assumption that EG must precede progress on HD. There are two distinct casual chains to be examined: one runs from EG to HD; the other runs from HD to EG.

We can start by analyzing the first chain: from EG to HD.

GDP is an important instrument for achieving a wide range of capabilities but the impact of economic growth on a nation’s human development level also depends on other conditions of the society. One important is the role of the distribution of income. The same level of GNP can lead to very different performance on HD according to the allocation of GNP among and within these institutions: household, government activity, civil society, community organizations and other nongovernmental organizations.

At the micro level, individual and household consumption can be an important element in increasing human development. Household’s propensity to spend in something that can contribute to the promotion of HD depends on level and distribution of income across households as well as on who controls the allocation of expenditure within households.In societies where women contribute more to family income and have more influence on household decision-making expenditures on human development-oriented goods ( such as food and education) are relatively higher.

At a macro level, the distribution of the increased income from economic growth will also have a strong impact on human development. Because poorer households spend a higher proportion of their income on goods which directly promote better health and education than those with higher incomes. But it is necessary to say that the way in which growth translates into income distribution and poverty reduction depends on “the nature of the growth process”: if growth generates employment and increases rural incomes there will be an improvement of income distribution and a poverty reduction than if growth is urban and capital intensive.

Anand and Ravallion find that most of the effects of economic growth on HD are led by government budgetary expenditures, central or local. The government must identify priority sectors such as primary education and health that have the highest potential for HD improvement. Government expenditures for HD should be distributed predominantly to low income groups and areas since it is here that we can obtain the highest marginal impact on promoting HD.

Now we can analyze the second chain: from HD to EG.

Higher levels of HD, in addition to being an end in themselves, have an influence on economy through increasing people’s capability and consequently their creativity and productivity. Each different components of human development have a distinct impact on economy growth. Think about education that has a strong effect on labour productivity. According to a survey: in Thailand, farmers with four or more years of schooling were three time more likely to adopt fertilizer and other modern inputs than less educated farmers.

The education also has an influence on technological improvements. In this sense human development may enter into an Uzawa-Lucas type endogenous growth model as a factor affecting growth rates through its effect on technological change: more educated are more likely to innovate and this affects everyone’s productivity. It is necessary to stress that education alone cannot transform an economy. Economic performance is determined by the quantity and quality of domestic and foreign investments, together with the choice of technology and policy environment. But the volume of both domestic and foreign investments will be higher when a system’s human capital level is higher.

Regarding to health, a large literature documents how improvements in health and nutrition improve productivity and incomes. Education and health may also have strong indirect impacts on economic growth through their effect on the distribution of income, and education even more so through its impact on health (for example, education, especially female, tends to improve infant survival and nutrition). When education and health improve, low income people are better able to seek out economic opportunities. Education has a strongest impact on income equality, and a more equal distribution of income favours growth. A more equal distribution of income implies better nutrition and a stronger demand for education and therefore increases labour productivity.

In Ranis’s paper country performance are classified into four categories, virtuous, vicious and two types of lop-sidedness: lopsided with strong HD and weak growth(called HD-lopsided); and lopsided with weak HD and strong growth (EG-lopsided). In the virtuous cycle case, good HD enhances growth, which in turn promotes HD, and so on. In the vicious cycle case, poor performance on HD tends to lead to poor growth performance which in turn depresses HD achievements, and so on.While HD-lopsidedness permits movement towards a virtuous cycle, in the case of EG-lopsidedness, all the cases reverted to a vicious cycle.

Ranis’s study suggests that to move from vicious to  HD-lopsided one are necessary some of the following policies: i) the allocation of  resource toward education and health services; ii) a more equitable income distribution (for example, through land and tax reform); iii) opportunities for the unemployed. While movement from the HD-lopsided to the virtuous category requires  for example: i) taking advantage of an improved HD to promote economic growth through policy reform; ii) increasing the investment rate; iii) improving the distribution of income.

Human development is a necessary prerequisite for long-term sustainable growth. Policy reforms which focus only on economic growth are unlikely to succeed. The crucial lesson that emerges is that the old view of “grow first and human development later” is not supported by the evidence. Improving levels of education and health should have priority or at least move together with efforts to directly enhance growth.

Ranis’s analysis is very interesting as well as his data about India and that allows me to deepen and contextualize his analysis. The starting point of my research is the  Ranis’s data and that show us that the Indian performance from 1960 to 1980 is characterized by a vicious cycle, and from 1980 to 1992 by a EG lop-sided. The Indian case allows us to understand that economic growth is not the necessary or sufficient condition for development. In addition, according to Ranis, what is important is the quality of this “growth”.

In the World Economic Outlook of April 2010, the IMF has expected an Indian GDP growth of 8,4%  in 2011. India does not stop surprising us with her breathtaking performance of gross domestic product. An Indian proverb says: “Whatever you say about India is always true also its opposite”. In the nineties, has emerged in the Western imagination clichés on India shining, India grows, the primacy of Indian GDP, the land of Bollywood stars and of super manager of information technology. A huge minority, more than one hundred million people, is admired around the World. But meanwhile, the other side of India, the one made ​​by millions of people living on less than two dollars a day (about 60% of the population), by female illiteracy just over 50%, by 200 million malnourished – mostly women and children – remain hidden.

You cannot just applaud the results of a breath-taking growth. The empirical experience has largely demonstrated that the increase in GDP alone is not sufficient condition to achieve the broader objectives of inclusive growth and human development.
India, in fact, the greatest democracy in the world, is still far from resolving the most basic issues of redistribution and social justice. In the eleventh Five-Year Plan, India has set out to achieve a GDP growth of 10%. Gandhi used to say that “without a vision the nation perishes”, he could ask: what India intends to achieve through this brilliant growth and in particular how she intends to achieve a just society?

I think examining the Indian workforce is very important to try to understand what development India is having.

The Indian workforce is made up of more than 400 million people, and of these, only 7% are “formal”. The word means having a formal contract with a regular wage or salary, in a company registered and have access to the welfare state. The rest of the workforce in India, supplying the so-called “informal sector”.
The informal sector is defined as: “a heterogeneous set of productive activities of goods and services that are conducted in illegal or irregular shapes and that, by not observing the rules governing labor relations, licensing, fiscal and quasi-fiscal , are beyond the statistical surveys”.

The informal employment  represents  93% of total employment. The high growth of the last fifteen years, in fact, is reflected in a jobless growth in which the informal sector is the main source of flexible workforce, low cost, both for national economic actors than for large foreign companies.
From being a means of survival, informality has become a competitive factor that allows to avoid any rule about quality product , working conditions and environmental protection. This is well evident in Indians clusters.
The form of production unit that supports the development of clusters in India is made up of small family workshops. The latter represents the final link of an articulated chain of subcontracting.

While exporting company must registered because her foreign trade, so she has to do bubbles accompanying, receipts; little family laboratory producing for example one, two carpets, must not be registered. It is a very small company does not have employees and using family labor. In this laboratory  all  members of the family work: older, disabled, children. In these workshops, the level of exploitation, well documented, it is likely that the English literature renamed them as “sweat shops”: no sanitation facilities, no electricity, no bathrooms. There are no predefined working hours, because the working time depends on demand.

The high level of exploitation which marks these laboratories is generated by a complex social balance. On the one hand, there is the practice of subcontracting that leads to the formation of very small laboratories that manage to escape from the public controls, allowing the exploitation of workers. Second, there is the Indian society with its inherent complex stratification.

They accept to work for wages that are little more than the poverty line, according to an ideology that goes back to the caste system and communitarianism. Communitarianism is the belief that individuals which belong to the same religion, they also share political and economic interests. In Tiruppur, South India, the level of exploitation in the production of clothes – girls work 17/18 hours with the chassis – is possible because the workers belong to the same caste of the owner and the caste solidarity goes against the conscience of class. The ideological use of religion explains the low level of unionization and social consensus toward a capitalism that makes profits on the exploitation of workers and the environment.

As Marx said: “The exploitation of live work becomes a poor basis for the development of general wealth”.

According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index, in 8 States of India there are more or less 421 million of poor, while in the 26 poorest African nations are just over 410 million. Multidimensional Poverty Index takes into account a wide range of factors, including lack of education, healthcare, services in general, employment, adequate nutrition. The UN Report on Human Development adopts the concept of  “ruthless “, indicating that growth does not reach the poor but rather uses the work of the latter to increase international competitiveness.
In this context, an underestimation of the role of the informal economy contributes to the formulation of inappropriate analysis and planning of wrong  policies. In fact, according to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (whose intent is to go beyond the Human Development Index) among the selected missing dimensions of well-being, there is: employment, particularly informal employment and safety at work.

Through the Indian experience we can understand the need for a new strong political action characterized by a radical change of mentality, a new perspective that looks to the interests of labor and not just growth. A new perspective that  tries to ensure decent work for all.

Decent work is the key strategy to achieve sustainable development based on people.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) considers the “decent work” the turning point for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals signed in September 2000 by 189 world leaders and with whom, they are firmly committed to free other human beings from the “abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty “.

While the work is a key to fight poverty, it is also true that only a decent work can guarantee the right to a dignified life. A dignified life must be objective and  paradigm of development.
Decent work is the basis for a just, equitable and inclusive  society based on the creation of jobs, respect for workers’ rights, on access to social protection and social dialogue.

According to the definition just given of decent work, we can say that the informal economy is organized so that work cannot be defined as “decent”.
How to get out of the trap of informality?

A concrete example is offered to us by the experience of the trade union of  SEWA – Self Employed Women’s Association – representing more than 700,000 women employed in the informal sector in India and has 530,000 members in the state of Gujarat.
Sewa, as trade union, aims to achieve autonomy and full employment of independent workers. Full employment guarantees a regular income, food security and social security, autonomy means independence and decision-making in the economic, social and individual sphere.

“We have learned that without the right to work, we cannot achieve freedom from poverty or what our sisters of SEWA called second freedom: that from poverty …” Namrata Bali, founder of Sewa.

“Education” is the keyword of the projects promoted by Sewa.

Amartya Kumar Sen, says: “Education is especially relevant in India as an instrument of social justice. The history of this country, in fact, is full of inequalities based on caste system of social regulation”.

Sewa not only operates as a trade union but also deals with micro-credit, home, health education (contraception, AIDS prevention), childhood, literacy, human resource development, communication.

Analyzing the work done by Sewa, we can see that any improvement in the lives of women, has had a positive impact on improving the entire household. You can talk about this natural inclination of women as the democratization of profit.
A concrete example is offered to us by the experience of Sewa regarding to traditional childbirth assistants (called Dai). The obstetrics is considered a ‘dirty profession ‘, and it is practiced mostly by women who come from lower social classes. Sewa is leading a battle against the tide: the last ten years, the national government does not finance the courses of Dai because according to him is more modern and secure shelter pregnant women in hospital. But the farmers who can get there are few. The true alternative is often the travail alone, or assisted by unskilled hands. So Sewa has created a project to revalue the Dais and make them a basic health experts on contraception, AIDS prevention and nutrition.

This project has produced an increased security for birth and motherhood: thanks to this project many Dai  have left some harmful practices, such as press on the uterus during travail and prohibit mothers to breastfeed their babies for the first three days after childbirth. Now Dai have a set of sterilized scalpel while before they usually cut the umbilical cord with a sickle. The experience of SEWA trade union is a social laboratory that can show us the way to rescue the subordinate position of women workers in India, focusing on empowerment and capacity building of vulnerable people to guarantee independence and a dignified life.

The growth is not a necessary or sufficient condition for development. Look at the case of India: its GDP is growing but continue to persist its known plagues: high rate of poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy.

According to Sen: ” Manmohan Singh did initiate some essential economic reform, and this is admired success. That success could have been even greater if the reforms were combined with a commitment to expand the development of social opportunities that had been neglected so persistently in India”.

Daniela Bernaschi






Sen frequently criticized traditional literature that in welfare economics, searching for inequality, focus their attention on income. He assumed that it is not the pure economic aspect that makes people unequal, but it is the real freedom that they have to lead a valuable life. What people can be or can do makes the real difference between them.

His approach is not a product ready to be used, Sen gave a general framework of thought that needs to be defined and adapted according to its rules. It is not a  Sen’s forgot, it is a completing part of his theory, since he did not want to defend or to establish one particular point of view or a set of capabilities. Sen created it intending to make a broader and less specified instrument of analysis, in order to make it flexible to be used: he believed that a list of capabilities must be context dependent. That is why he emphasized the role of people, that should be taken “seriously as agents” and should be involved in the defining capabilities process, as  expression of a great collective evaluation.

In the evaluation of gender inequality in Western countries, Ingrid Robeyns defines a new method, starting from Sen’s capability approach. She identifies strengths and weakness of the capability approach.

A first strength is in that functionings and capabilities are properties of individuals. It is an ethically individualistic theory and an ontologically non individualistic theory: each person is taken as individual, but is not assumed being atomistic entity. This ethical individualism does not have a great application in practical works. For example individuals and families are usually taken as the same, as assuming that partner pool their incomes or that receive equal share or benefits, that is a higher hypothesis. It has a significant meaning in gender analysis, because we cannot take as the same a woman earning money herself and a woman obtaining it from her partner. Wolley and Marshall said that “standard approaches to inequality measurement presume that there is no inequality within the household”.  Sen notes that well being aspect and the agency aspect of woman are inevitably interconnected and that it is important to understand the agency role of women, as responsible person, focusing not only on wellness or illness, but also on their decisions of acting.

According to Robeyns, the second strength is in that it is not limited to the market, but looks at people’s being and doing in both market and non market settings. A person is not only an “homoeconomicus”, so we cannot   focus only on income or wealth: there are many other dimensions revealing complexities and ambiguities of wellbeing, many of which are related with studying gender inequalities.

The third strength is in that capability approach explicitly acknowledge human diversity. Each person is unique by himself, each one has his characteristics. Looking for inequality we cannot assume something different to human diversity. Okin called “false gender neutrality” the economic approach  that ignores differences between men and women, puts all of them at the male conditions: it does not consider that being man or woman could have an impact on the real experience and life of people.

The author finds a weakness of the capability approach in its being underspecified. As explained, Sen does not define capabilities at all, according to their intrinsically being  linked to the contest in which this approach is applied. In some way, what the author define as a weakness, could be interpreted as the pillar of the capability approach itself: we cannot find inequality in a defined socio-economical context without analysing inequalities in its peculiar capabilities, as if there is an individualism also in the analysis of the environment.  Also Martha Nussbaum stated the need for a defined list in this approach, underlining the importance of an “universally valid” list of capabilities, made up by scholars, that would be translated into many other specific lists, according to the context. Regarding this underspecified nature, Ingrid Robeyns introduces three additional specifications setting her new method:

  • select which capabilities are important for the aim of the analysis, 
  • take a stand on where to look  between functioning and capability,
  • give a weight to the different functioning or capabilities.

She created her method based on five criteria driving the making list process:

        i.            Explicit formulation

      ii.            Methodological justification

    iii.            Sensitivity to the context: it is the direct consequence of what Sen called “context dependent”

     iv.            Different levels of generality: she argued that at first we should create an “ideal” list of capabilities and then we have to rework it with the more pragmatic one. It is useful the compared study of these two list layer because it can show the distance between ideal and second best choice.

       v.            Exhaustion and non reduction.

Studying gender inequality in post-industrialized western countries, at the begin Ingrid Robeyns defined her list of capabilities at the ideal level. She started with a brainstorming, she made a draft and test it with existing literature, then she compared her list with others’ and debated it. For the comparisons, she chose the list used by the Swedish approach to the quality of life measurement and the one proposed by Sabina Alkire and Rufus Black, and by Martha Nussbaum.

While in the first one she criticized the mixed composition of material and non material resources and the coexistence of real opportunities and achievements, in the second list, she found the elements too abstract and vague to make possible the use of it. The last one, made by Nussbaum, shows a high level of abstraction, in line with her universal aim. The special feature of this list is in that beside capabilities as real opportunities, Nussbaum includes also talents, internal powers and abilities. In many items this is like the one made by Robeyns. To be honest, in all these three lists there are many common dimensions as health, life, knowledge or education and work, even if they are analysed in different ways. The author notes that all these capabilities are included also in the UNDHR and it could be considered as core set of capabilities to be used in every context. Anyway we do not have to forget that one of the main critic to this declaration is in its ambition to be universally used.

Robeyns’ list is made up of fourteen capabilities:

  1. Life and physical health: being able to born and to live a healthy life. In Western countries we can see a gender difference in the expectancy at birth, with a higher life expectancy for women than men. It is caused by the biological intrinsic difference between genders, with no relevance .
  2. Mental well-being: related both to mental and psychological activity, it shows that women are suffering more often than men of mental disturbs, as anxiety and depression.
  3. Bodily integrity and safety: every kind of violence that could injure a person in its integrity. In this capabilities there is an evident gender dimension since women are suffering sexual violence (usually victims of their household) more than men, which are most frequently victims of physical violence.
  4. Social relations: creating and maintaining social ties. Men and women have different behaviour: men have extensive social network, that they use to get advantage in economic and public life; while women invest in informal network and social support.
  5. Political empowerment: political activity has historically been seen as a male activity, in the recent decades women appeared in the political arena, but now they are still few. Anyway we can find inequality also in the behaviour required in their activity to female politicians, because they have to conform their behaviour to the masculine one.
  6. Education and knowledge: in Western countries there is no gender inequality in the access to formal basic education. The gender inequality is in the approach of the household to children’s higher education. Actually this difference is made up also by class background and by the gendered character of school, colleges and university.
  7. Domestic work and nonmarket care: this is about housework and cares of children and elderly. It shows high gender inequality, since it seems that this kind of care belongs quite exclusively to women.
  8. Paid work and other projects: this capability refers to all the activity outside to housework. In the working sphere women takes few and worse place, while in the artistic one there are not great differences between gender.
  9. Shelter and environment: it refers to the decision power and the freedom of action that people have in their environment more than to the environment in itself.
  10. Mobility: as instrumental capability that enables people to be independent. Its gender relevance is in the relation to other activities (e.g. caring children) that creates a kind of indirect gender inequity (women that usually travel with pushchairs can have difficulties in using public transports).
  11. Leisure activities: it refers to the free time. The real gender difference is not in the number of hours people spend in leisure activities, but in the way they enjoy it according to their gender.
  12. Time autonomy: is the capability to allocate daily time between work, domestic and care activity and leisure activity.  Many feminist underlined that the unequal division of labour becomes a disadvantage for women, because, even if the time men and women spent in those activity is the same, women have many responsibilities and that generates more stress for them.
  13. Being respected and treated with dignity: feminist affirmed that women are devalued and that they frequently are treated as sexual object otherwise they are belittled because doing homework.
  14. Religion: it goes beside the freedom to practice or not a religion or to became religious leaders. Moreover the author focuses her attention on the influence that religious context could have on the developing of other capabilities.

All these capabilities standing alone give a partial view of the whole gender inequality; analyzing them all together we can see that in Western countries there is no “legal” and ideal gender inequality, since both men and women enjoy the same right and receive the same chances. Inequality appears in the outcomes and some authors justify it as if it is the result of different choices of women. However it seems to be a forced justification say that women systematically prefer different options than men, even if they had the same opportunities. The focus of this analysis should move from “legal” opportunities to the “real” ones to see that women do not enjoy the same capability set than men. We can divide capabilities into three levels capabilities. In the first one gender differences cannot be reduced at the choice level (physical and mental health, bodily integrity and safety, shelter and environment and respect). In the second one gender inequality in achieving functioning reveals  gender inequality in capability (education, knowledge, mobility, leisure activities, time autonomy and religion). In the third level decisions are the result of the intrinsic difference between gender: these different choices are socially set up and imposed above both genders (social relations, domestic work and nonmarket care, political empowerment and paid work).

Ingrid Robeyns develops a precise method through the paper. She affirms that Sen’s capability approach needs a defined list of capabilities, but instead, she does not approve the position of Martha Nussbaum, which created a list that, as Robeyns said, would be appropriate for a theoretical but not practical investigation on inequalities. She tried to combine Sen’s conceptualization of the capability approach to the Nussbaum’s need for a list and then she created her own method.

However, in my opinion, this project shows some limits. At first it is lacking one of Sen’s capability approach pillar: involvement of people. Inside her method she used brainstorming, but she does not involve directly both men and women. I think that it is a serious absence and that she seems giving no importance to the active role that Sen destined to people as “agents” also in the defining capability process.

Another limit is in the definition and in the justification she made for her list of capability. I mean that she put together many items that cannot be compared between different kind of society. Looking at housework, for example, we should explain that all around European countries there are deep differences (e.g. the common behaviour of men in the countries of Northern and Southern Europe: we will see that their approach within housework is very different). Probably the research for capabilities should lead to choose the ones that are relevant for the whole context to which we are referring, and not only to one part.

Therefore,  although from the theoretical side, in terms of defining the research, the work done by Ingrid Robeyns seems to be unexceptionable, as regards the identification of capabilities, both in the method and the substance of capabilities, its activity seems to break away to the basic elements of Sen. The real weakness is in the underlined assumptions of what the list is and the construction of a list, because all the generating process affects the list’s legitimacy .

Lucilla Di Iorio

Gender – related indicators of Well – Being

This paper analyses the issue of gender-related indicators of well-being construction.

Including gender inequality in the calculation of well-being is very important for two reasons:

  1. Gender differences are so large that they cannot and should not be ignored measuring well-being. The large inequality can be found especially in two important indicators, survival and education. For both these indicators there isn’t an even access to resources in the households. Furthermore, about survival, there are some 100 million women “missing” in the populations of developing countries. Likewise there are many differences in access to education in several regions of the world.
  2. Inequality as a biological difference is applied to gender, but also to race or ethnicity.    People are punished for an ascriptive characteristic they are born with. In the case of gender the inequalities are based only on one’s sex:
  • Some gender gaps are rooted in biological differences between males and females. The most important two are the ability of the women to bear children and the differences in average body size and strength.
  • A considerable part of gender inequality is generated in the household and thus outside the formal markets. In this case gender inequality is often less measurable and visible than the other ascriptive inequalities. Moreover, despite gender inequalities are unrelated to economic resources, they have a large impact on the well-being of women.

There are numerous problems to construct indicators of well–being that take into consideration gender gaps.

First of all we have to consider the space where gender inequality has to be measured. In particular there are some spaces that are quite unsuitable examining gender dimensions of well-being (E.g. the household). The gender inequalities should necessarily be seen as relevant for a well-being assessment to the extent that they might be based on a consensual division of labour in the household. An important step to reducing gender inequalities is to remove any legal and procedural imbalances but it is not sufficient. There are, actually, other factors (social, economic and cultural) that might still maintain these inequalities.  Analyses of well-being based on capabilities might be convenient if including gender dimension. In this space is important to focus on substantive “positive” freedoms that males and female should have. Besides, focusing on aspects of life which data are available it doesn’t consider the disaggregation problem of household-based measurement. Considering freedoms, males and females might, for reasons of biology or sociology, end up with different outcomes despite enjoying the same capabilities. This advantage is only theoretical.  This approach only measures well-being using functionality rather than capabilities, because it’s more difficult to observe people’s choice sets than their actual choices. So this approach, limiting the observation to functionality, reduces one of the key advantages.

Moreover, it is necessary to understand if the equality of outcomes is the goal. In some cases, biological differences might lead to erroneous conclusions about the presence of gender gaps in opportunities or treatment (E.g. the longevity). Is a matter of fact that the female life expectancy at birth exceeds male one, but this doesn’t mean that gender inequality is favouring females. This is pretty evident, but it’s difficult to assess the precise magnitude of this biological disadvantage (life expectancy) and separate it from gendered behavioural patterns. (E.g. males abuse of nicotine and alcohol, their workplace are more dangerous). Similar problems might emerge in the assessment of gender gaps in malnutrition. Males and females, in fact, have different body size and their growth to attain such body sizes follows different patterns. This can possibly explain only a small portion of gender gaps.

In other cases, some inequalities in outcomes might be result of informed choices by males and females and thus do not signify inequalities in opportunities or capabilities.

In one of his studies, Sen argues that strengthening female agency should be considered as a separate goal alongside improving female well-being.

A central role to the threat point of males and females is allocated by the bargaining approaches to intrahousehold resource allocation. It includes education and income, earning opportunities and better economic and legal support. Economic and legal empowerment will improve their well-being. Moreover, including women in the political representation, improves public policy favouring female well-being. The problem is that we don’t know if female empowerment is a well-being goal by itself as we still have to consider the following points:

  • The ability to achieve positions of economic and political power.
  • Distinction about agency and well-being
  • Sometimes women might equate their well-being with the well-being of their family and thus accept lower allocations for them.

How can we evaluate gender inequality in these outcomes?

According to capability approach, there isn’t a capability problem, as these women could have secured more resources for themselves. If we consider agency as an important aspect of well-being, the women’s goal of sacrificing themselves for the good of the family should positively influence their well-being. On the contrary it’s possible to say that people’s preferences will reduce well-being as measured by objective indicators.

There are limitations of the claim that women are consenting agents of their own discrimination. It may be due in some circumstances, but it’s unlikely that all women and girls consent to reduce allocation for them. In grass-roots opinion exist some factor, like lack of political, economic and legal power that are often more important to explain gender inequalities in health, education, nutrition and mortality rather than the willing consent of female to improve their well-being.

There are two approaches which can be used to handle the issue of gender related measures of well-being.

  1. Gender disaggregated measures. In case one has to disaggregate well-being measures by gender to see if males and females fare differently in different well-being outcomes. This produces direct information about well-being of both gender and avoids the difficult question of having to define what is meant by gender equality. It might be also useful for policy purposes. The disadvantage is that it is not always obvious how to interpret such indicator.
  2. Gender-sensitive aggregated measures. This approach tries to assess the impact of gender inequality on aggregate well-being. It’s based on the notion that societies exhibit inequality aversion. UNDP has created Gender-Related Development Index that is an example of this approach. The advantage is that it assesses the aggregate well-being costs of gender inequality and underline that gender inequality is not only hurting women but imposes an aggregate well-being loss on societies. On the contrary, the disadvantage is that it must include an implicit notion of equality upon which it can apply penalties for deviations from equality standard.

The two approaches are both important and there isn’t any reason to choose between one and the other.

There are other issues that are important to know when you have to formulate a gender – related indicator of well being.

  1. The problem of the household. The household plays a very important and not always well-understood role in generating and allocating of most of well-being relevant resources. It earn incomes, get other well-being resources and allocate them among primarily three types of goods:
  • Private goods which are used by only one person (E.g. food, clothing, health care…)
  • Public goods that have the classical public goods qualities (non-rival and non-excludable). It’s not possible to know how much these public goods are used by one person versus another.
  • In-between goods that are private goods consumed by one member which provides positive externalities on other households members.

Most of information about economic resources is avaible only at the level of household, so it’s difficult to assign household incomes or assets to individuals of different gender.

In 1995, UNDP has claimed that the 70% of the world’s poor are female. The most important categories which are gender-imbalanced are single households and lone parent households. In the first case we have widows or widowers, single men or women living alone. In the second case, lone parents constitute a significant share in many country but

they are not invariable poorer than two-parent household.

  1. The issue of measuring stock and flow variables[1]. Most of well-being measurements (per capita income, life expectancy and school enrolment) are based on flow variables. Flow measurement might be problematic because there might be substitutions between gender inequality in stocks and flows that would not receive due recognition when just examining flow measurements. (E.g. gender inequality in mortality inChina). One way to solve this problem is to have gender-related well-being that combine stock and flow measures. For example, in the HDI, education combines adult literacy (that is stock) with school enrolments (that is flow). So it’s very important use both kind of variables.
  1. The problem of the data. The data bases are often lacking or shaky because of different definitions or measures. There are different gaps:
  • Work in the home is not well measured and included in standard national income accounting;
  • We don’t know about the time spent in informal market;
  • Many information about well-being is not avaible at the household level;
  • A lot of gender-related data suffer from inconsistencies over time and across countries
  • Despite improvements, data remains a problem. In many countries they are estimated and not measured.

UNDP’s Gender-Sensitive Development Indicators

In 1995 UNDP[2], in his Human Development Report[3] focusing on gender, proposed two measures of tracking gender-related well-being across space and time.

  1. Gender-Related Development Index. It’s a well-being indicator that adjusts the Human Development Index downward by existing gender inequalities in longevity, education and incomes. It tries to incorporate the aggregate well-being costs associated with existing gender inequality in critical well-being outcomes. The difference between the two measures is the well-being loss linked with gender inequality in the three components of the HDI.
  2. Gender Empowerment Measure. The aim of this measure is to focus on the relative empowerment of males and females. Women’s empowerment play’s an important intrinsic and instrumental role in an assessment of well-being by gender.

While Gender Empowerment Measure has provided some cross-country comparisons on aspects of female empowerment, the Gender-Related Development Index is still a highly problematic and unreliable indicator of gender-sensitive development.

It’s very important consider the gender dimension in the indicator of well-being even if it’s very difficult. But now we know something else:

  • It might be preferable to consider functionality or capabilities space;
  • It is useful to use both gender disaggregated measures and gender-sensitive aggregated measures;
  • It’s better to consider both stock and flow variables;
  • The dimensions of gender inequality that have important well-being consequences are many and we don’t know much yet about these.
Chiara Bevilacqua

Success and Failure in Human Development (Ranis and Stewart)

The paper “Success and Failure in Human Development”, written by Ranis and Stewart, offers an interesting research to understand the relationship between some variables of Human Development and Human Development Index.

The comparison is based on some data, which refer to a period of 37 years, from 1970 to 2007, to identify, observing the results of the various countries, which are the patterns that led to the success or failure in the HDI.

Countries are divided into some groups and then the research is structured in three parts:

The first part compares the results in HDI with other variables of HD, considered as causal of HDI, and compares also individual patterns of behavior that led to the result.

The second part compares the results in HDI with some essential dimensions of the Human Development but not closely correlated with the HDI. In this section are also analyzed the patterns that led to the performances.

Finally, there is a focus on six countries to understand which specific situation, beyond the data, developed the success or failure.

The countries that are included in the research are developing countries that, in 1970, had a population of at least one million people.

The first section is organized in three groups of six countries each, according to the HDI level in 1970 (HIGH, MEDIUM, LOW). Each group includes three GOOD PERFORMERS (GP) and three BAD PERFORMERS (BP) according to the HDI results obtained in these 37 years. Performances are based on both the growth rate and shortfall reduction. This system has been used to don’t penalize countries that start from a very high level of HDI, and vice versa.

The variables considered in this first section are more or less direct causes of the HDI, and are six :

1) expenditure on social services as a percentage of GDP. 2) primary and secondary enrollment rates. 3) Female to male primary enrollment ratio. 4) income and GDP per capita rates 5) income distribution, measured with Gini index. 6) poverty rates.

In the selection of variables must be considered that the enrollment rates and per capita income growth are directly included in the calculation of the HDI.

The results of the comparisons are not very homogeneous.

– Expenditure on social services increased, on average, across countries GP, but there are some examples of increase in social ependiture between BP and a decrease in the GP.

– As might be expecte, the enrollment rates (3 and 4) are on average higher in GP, even if are increased almost for every country.

– About what concerns income inequality, it has worsened on average less in the GP than in BP, with some exceptions.

– For both per capita income and GDP, the results are better among the GP, but there are some countries that have achieved positive results even among the first group BP (HIGH HDI).

– In the case of poverty indicators, the results are positive for almost all countries, however, are conforting among the most GP countries.

What emerges from the study of patterns is extremely interesting.

– Among the countries that started from a high level of HDI, the success has been achieved thanks to what Dreze and Sen called process “growth mediated”, where  growth of income is positively correlated with HD, provided that it passes through increase in social expenditure and indicators of education.

– Unlike the countries that started from middle and lower levels of HDI, success has been achieved through the so-called “support-led” process, where the main role is taken by a balanced program of social services such as health care, education and relevant social arrangements.

– Then there is the special case of Tunisia (listed as GP), which reached an improvement of HDI with good expenditure on social services, good economic growth and weak increase of equity distribution.

– Finally, isolated cases of Indonesia and Laos, wich are among the GP (MEDIUM HDI) due to an increase in per capita income and GDP, rates of enrollment and a low Gini, without a sustained increase in expenditure on social services, particularly in the case of Laos.

Bad Performers countries are all characterized by low economic growth. What emerges is that the persistent negligence of the economic sector leads inexorably to the weakening of the social aspects and vice versa. This is the fundamental connection that seems to lead to the deterioration of the HDI.

In this first point the economic improvement seems to be a key feature for the improvement of the HDI, however, this is true in the long run, only if supported by social indicators.

The second part, entitled “beyond the HDI” is, in my opinion, far more interesting than the first. Ranis and Stewart consider five indicators, which are not closely related to the HDI, but are linked to human development.

The five indicators are: 1) Political Rights and Civil Liberties 2) Environmental Sustainability 3) income inequality 4) Conflict and Violence 5) Gender empowerment.

The results are very interesting:

– There is not a close link between a high level of “political rights and civil liberties” and an improvement in the level of the HDI, as well as for the GE.

– Regarding the inequality of income distribution, it is bad among the GP in the first group, but we can’t say the same for the other two groups where the situation is reversed.

– In the first group, the homicede ratio are particularly high in most countries. Lower levels, between the GP, are found in the other two groups, confirming the idea that there is less violence in countries with better performances in the HDI.

– The number of years in political conflict does not seem to have a clear link with improvements of HDI, while the reverse is true for improvements in the number of years in conflict. In fact, improvements can be seen between the GP, where the data are more available, with the exception of Nepal, which instead shows an unusual increase.

– Finally, the enviromental substainability does not seem to have any connection with the HDI. High values can be found among the GP countries and as among BP countries.

In conclusion of this point it is important to emphasize that “good performance on the HDI does not necessarily mean that countries also perform well on other dimensions of Human Development”. I’ll discuss this point at the end of my article.

The section about the patterns, in fact, shows no close relationship between the variables and the HDI.

It doesn’t appear that the values of variables in favor of human development are better among GP rather than BP.

This conclusion is very interesting, because it confirms the argument that the HDI is a partial measure of human development and that tends to focus its attention only on certain dimensions, ignoring others.

In this argument “Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative” called “missing dimensions” the fact that the HDI lose part of the information, explained by several variables not included in the calculation.

Alkire (2007), to contribute to this argument, proposed five dimensions excluded from HDI view: Employement, empowerment or agency, phisical safety, the ability to go about without shame, psychological and subjective well-being.

However, we can’t overlook that, charging a huge amount of variables within a single indicator, could increase the complexity and limit the utility of the index. The HDI is especially important for having shifted the focus on achievements, rather than on income, putting in crisis the GDP, something that no other index has ever done before.

The third part of the paper focuses on six countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Chile, Laos, between the GP, and Zambia and Kazakhstan between the BP. However, those are very special cases, each one with its own past, so it is difficult to find a central thread that leads to success rather than failure.

In fact, the final conclusions reached by Ranis and Stewart, are that it is not possible to define similar patterns that lead to success rather than failure.

Also with regard to variables “beyond the HDI” the result is similar or even stronger.

Of course, when are compared variables such as violence or gender inequality, we would not expect to achieve certain results. Countries like Mexico, Panama, Tunisia, Indonesia and Chile have improved their position, while getting bad results in inequality of income distribution, political rights, violence and conflicts.

The results do not reflect what was hoped to demonstrate: that best results in the HDI reflects best results in HD variables. It reinforces the critical to HDI as a restricted indicator of human development.

Overall, the role of economic growth seems crucial, but the result is amplified by the fact that it is a variable included in the calculation of the Human Development Index.

If you delete the various exceptions, it is possible to identify two kinds of development, in full agreement with the thesis of Sen, a “growth mediated”and one “support-led”, but the results are too rough.

It also appears that the persistent neglect of the institutions in some areas inevitably leads to failure. This is in total accord with Sen, which argues that economic growth can be very important to improve people’s lives, but the fact to focus the attention only on this aspect has limitations that should be seriously understood.

Still, there are too many isolated cases, so, this problem, in my opinion, is caused by the difficulty to find some common schemes among few countries with very heterogeneous characteristics.

About Human Development we know that the aim is to enanche the quality of people’s lives and expand their freedoms. It is undeniable that this is possible improving at the same time different aspects as life expectancy, education, health, poverty and political rights. In accorting to Amartya Sen, there can’t be freedom and better quality of life witouth tip in conjunction each of these aspects because each is connected to the other.

Consider the comparison between China and India posed by Sen (15/05/11 Sole 24 Ore) where, in the firstone, better rates of life expectancy, infant mortality, education, education and health than India. In wich, despite bad healt situation, there is a certain social harmony thanks to democracy, more political rights, freedom of speech and press.

Therefore we could say that many aspects are important simultaneously.

As I argued before, we certainly can’t deprive the primacy of the HDI of having ousted the GDP as the most important indicator of well-being. Nevertheless we have discussed enough about merits and lacks of HDI but, in my opinion, the message that this study provides is to continue go further, considering the Development of a country as something that involves different areas, including the responsibilities of the institutions that led the current crisis in the North African countries.

Giacomo Crisci

Climate shocks: Risk and vulnerability in an unequal world

Climate shocks:

Risk and vulnerability in an unequal world

Earth’s climate is in constant evolution. Its composition, temperature and self-purifying capacity have been constantly changing since the making of our planet. This natural energy balance has been upset more strongly since our society development system has been strongly powered by fossil carbon oxides.

Compared to the human history, the last two centuries represent the blink of an eye. In that “flash”, humans, especially western, have experienced a deep transformation, the Industrial Revolution[1]. They developed a society based on a new way of producing goods, work’s system, social relation and they became an important actor that influencing climate’s balance.

This role has two important aspects:

1- active, humans are still continuing to influence the climate by using fossil resources as a basic standards of economic growth and development to guarantee their “wellbeing”;

2- passive, humans are paying important costs in terms of humans capabilities and lives for this mutation.

Climate change is now a scientifically established fact. If we look it as a puzzle, and we put together the natural factors such as increased solar radiation and reduced volcanic activity, a hole remains. The anthropogenic factors as greenhouse gas and aerosol emission complete the picture. This “anthropogenic  upheaval” increase frequency and intensity of weather-related extremes, and gradual changes in the average temperature will exacerbate these impacts.

If we imagine an ideal world like a single country, where all the citizens enjoy similar income levels and all are exposed  more or less to the same effects of climate change, “the threat of global warming could still lead to substantial damage to human wellbeing and prosperity by the end of this century”. But, in reality, the world is a heterogeneous place: climate change affects regions very differently and people have unequal incomes and wealth.

Climatic shocks bring near-term human insecurity and destroy long-term efforts aimed at raising productivity, improving health and developing education, eroding human capabilities, perpetuating the low human development traps that will be illustrated in this paper.

Climate shocks and low human development traps


Climate change is creating systemic conditions for more extreme weather events. The 2007 IPCC Report predicts that greenhouse gases and aerosols will alter the energy balance of the climate system and over the next two decades it is projected that there will be a warming of 0.2 C[2]. Climate changes are expected to have unprecedented effects on people worldwide, particularly through the increase in natural disasters[3]. The scale of the potential human development reversals that climate change will bring has been heavily underestimated. The reported data captures fail to expose the imminent risks faced by the poor and expose only the tip of the iceberg. Many local climate disasters go unreported or underreported, and many more do not figure at all, because they do not meet the criteria for a humanitarian disaster. For example, “during 2000 and 2004 these events affect the 98 percent of people that are living in developing countries and the economic impacts are skewed towards rich countries”. In the OECD countries one in 1,500 people was affected by climate disaster. The comparable figure for developing countries is one in 19 a risk differential of 79.

Whereas the rich can cope with weather shocks trough private insurance, by selling off assets as property or by drawing on their savings, the poor face a different set of choices. They may have no alternative to cut nutrition, withdraw children from school, or sell the productive assets on which their recovery depends. Climate related risks force people into trade-offs that limit substantive freedom and erode choice. This can constitute a one way trip into low human development traps, that undermine opportunities.

As Amartya Sen has written: “The enhancement of human capabilities also tends to go with an expansion of productivities and earning power”[4]. The erosion of human capabilities has the opposite effect.

Risks and Vulnerability


Climate generates a distinctive set of risks. Many countries have large and highly vulnerable populations that will face a steep increase in climate related risks, with people living in coastal areas, river deltas, urban slums and drought-prone regions facing immediate threats.

Any increase to climate-related risk exposure has to be assessed against the backdrop of current exposure. That backdrop includes the following numbers of people facing climate-related hazards[5]:

• 344 million exposed to tropical cyclones;

• 521 million exposed to floods;

• 130 million exposed to droughts;

• 2.3 million exposed to landslides.

Climate change is only one of the forces that will influence the profile of risk exposure in the decades ahead. The combination of increasing climate hazards and declining resilience is likely to prove a lethal mix for human development.

All the shocks events have the potential to disrupt the people’s lives, leading to losses of income, assets and opportunities. Vulnerability is an indication of people’s exposure to external risks, shocks and stresses and their ability to cope with, and recover from, the resulting impacts.

The processes by which risk is converted into vulnerability in any country are shaped by the underlying state of human development, including the inequalities in income, marginalization of poor into the policy making process, and strategies for coping these events. Convert risk into vulnerability depends on different facts that create a predisposition:

–       High concentrations of poverty among populations exposed to climate risk are a source of vulnerability. People in the low human development category of the Human Development Index (HDI), even small increases in climate risk can lead to mass vulnerability;

–       Inequalities (GINI Index) within countries are another marker for vulnerability to climate shocks: “countries with high levels of income inequality experience the effects of climate disasters more profoundly than more equal societies”[6];

–       Infrastructural disparities help to explain why similar climate impacts produce very different outcomes.

–       Insurance can play an important role in enabling people to manage climate risks without having to reduce consumption or run down their assets. Private markets and public policy can play a role.


Gender inequalities intersect with climate risks and vulnerabilities. Women’s historic disadvantages -their limited access to resources, restricted rights, and a muted voice in shaping decisions- make them highly vulnerable to climate change. The devastating cyclone and flood during 1991 in Bangladesh it’s an example. The death rate was reportedly five times higher among women. In the aftermath of a disaster, restrictions on the legal rights and entitlements of women to land and property can limit access to credit needed for recovery[7].

Vulnerability of the poor people is increasing due to a number of trends, including increasing HIV/AIDS, conflict and pressures associated with globalisation.

Vulnerability analysis, feeding into poverty reduction strategies and other

macro-economic planning tools, needs to take the level and type of impacts of climate variability into account. Additionally, any action taken to reduce specific impacts of climate variability needs to be designed and undertaken with an understanding of the overall vulnerability context, not forgetting the special needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children and the elderly. Vulnerability assessments should be combined with hazard information to assess the level of risk to communities. This hazard information can be obtained from seasonal weather forecasts and longer-term climate predictions.

A solution: support the poor’s response-capability by reinforcing their assets.

– Social capital: supporting social networks that provide safety nets;

– Natural capital: protecting the resilience of natural systems to support livelihoods of the poor;

– Physical capital: assisting the poor to make their physical capital more climate-resilient;

– Human capital: supporting the flow of climate information to the poor;

– Financial capital: supporting the poor to reduce and spread their financial risks.

There are a number of tools that can help to achieve these aims including disaster preparedness and social protection. It will also be necessary to incorporate vulnerability reduction into wider policies and programmes.

Of particular importance will be the empowerment of communities to take collective action to prepare for, cope with and recover from shocks and stresses and to improve information on impending shocks and stresses.

Their design requires a clear understanding of the vulnerability context for all groups, which should by its nature take climate variability into account. There may also be an increasing role for financial insurance mechanisms in assisting the poor to spread and reduce their risks. Incorporate vulnerability reduction into wider policies by:

1-      Improving the flexibility and responsiveness of food security mechanisms to climate shocks, e.g. food intervention systems;

2-      Improving the resilience of the poor’s health and the health care system;

3-      Ensuring macroeconomic policies reduce poor people’s vulnerability;

4-      Protecting natural resources in poor people’s livelihood and coping strategies.

High levels of poverty and low levels of human development limit the capacity of poor households to manage climate risks. Strategies for coping with climate risks can reinforce deprivation. Using micro level household data examined some of the long-term impacts of climate-shocks in the lives of the poor. In Ethiopia and Kenya, two of the world’s most drought–prone countries, children aged five or less are respectively 36 and 50 percent more likely to be malnourished if they were born during a drought. For Ethiopia, that translates into some 2 million additional malnourished children in 2005. In Niger, children aged two or less born in a drought year were 72 percent more likely to be stunted. And Indian women born during a flood in the 1970s were 19 percent less likely to have attended primary school.

The long-run damage to human development generated through climate shocks is insufficiently appreciated. Media reporting of climate – related disasters often plays an important role in informing opinion – and in capturing the human suffering that comes with climate shocks. However, it also gives rise to a perception that these are ‘here-today-gone-tomorrow’ experiences, diverting attention from the long-run human consequences of droughts and floods.

Looking ahead – old problems and new climate change risks


Climate change will not announce itself as an apocalyptic event in the lives of the poor. Direct attribution of any specific event to climate change will remain impossible. However, while specific events are uncertain, changes in average conditions associated with climate change can be reported as five key transmission mechanisms through which climate change could stall and then reverse human development.

Agricultural production and food security. For example, drought affected areas in sub-Saharan Africa could expand by 60–90 million hectares, with dry land zones suffering losses of US$26 billion by 2060 (2003 prices), a figure in excess of bilateral aid to the region. Other developing regions will also experience losses in agricultural production – including Latin America and South Asia -, undermining efforts to cut rural poverty. “The additional number affected by malnutrition could rise to 600 million by 2080”.

Water stress and water scarcity. Changed run-off patterns and glacial melt will add to ecological stress, compromising the water lifeblood of a vast ecological and agricultural system and human settlements in the process. The Antarctic glacier, the biggest water bank, by accelerating its disintegration could multiply the ceiling predicted by the IPCC by a factor of five times.

Rising sea levels and exposure to climate disasters. Sea levels could rise rapidly with accelerated ice sheet disintegration. Global temperature increases of 3-4°C could result in 330 million people being permanently or temporarily displaced through flooding. Over 70 million people in Bangladesh, 6 million in Lower Egypt and 22 million in Vietnam could be affected. Small island states in the Caribbean and Pacific could suffer catastrophic damage. Warming seas will also fuel more intense tropical storms. With over 344 million people currently exposed to tropical cyclones, more intensive storms could have devastating consequences for a large group of countries. The 1 billion people currently living in urban slums on fragile hillsides or flood prone river banks face acute vulnerabilities.

Ecosystems and biodiversity. Losses of both of them are intrinsically bad for human development. The poor, who depend most heavily on these services, will bear the brunt of the costs. In general, climate change is already transforming ecological systems with irreversible repercussions for current and for future generations from all over the world.

Human health and extreme weather events. Climate will interact with human health in different ways. Rich countries are already preparing public health systems to deal with future climate shocks, such as the 2003 European heat wave and more extreme summer and winter conditions. However, hill-health is one of the most powerful forces holding back the human development potential of poor households. Climate change will intensify the problem of the major killer disease, because of high levels of poverty and the limited capacity of public health systems to respond. For example climate change will affect rainfall, temperature and humidity, three variables that most influence transmissions of Malaria, an additional 220–400 million people could be exposed to malaria – especially in Africa – a disease that already claims around 1 million lives annually. Dengue fever is already in evidence at higher levels of elevation than has previously been the case, especially in Latin America and parts of East Asia.

None of these five separate drivers will operate in isolation. They will interact with wider social, economic and ecological processes that shape opportunities for human development.

Inevitably, the precise mix of transmission mechanisms from climate change to human development will vary across and within countries. Large areas of uncertainty remain. What is certain is that, the distributional challenges is made particularly difficult because those who have largely caused the problem – the rich countries – are not going to be those who suffer the most in the short term. The starting point for action is the recognition that rich countries themselves curry much of the historic responsibility for the climate change now facing the developing world. In contrast to economic shocks that affect growth or inflation, many of the human development impacts – lost opportunities for health and education, diminished productive potential, loss of vital ecological systems – are likely irreversible in the foreseeable future. We know it is growing with every day of inaction. We are therefore making choices today that will affect our own lives, but even more so the lives of our children and grandchildren. This makes climate change different and more difficult than other policy challenges and the most compelling reason to act rapidly.

Marco Alongi

[1] Come scrive Yves Cochet nel suo libro Apocalypse pétrole: «La rivoluzione industriale è stata, più che una spinta prometeica per liberarsi dai vincoli della natura, la capacità di esportare questi vincoli verso le periferie del pianeta. […] I settori sviluppati delle nostre società industriali devono la propria condizione ancor più che al genio tecnologico e allo spirito d’impresa alla schiavitù e alla devastazione dell’ambiente».

Introdurre la logica della crescita ai Paesi del Sud del mondo, con il pretesto di essere la via d’uscita alla miseria che questa stessa crescita ha creato, non può che aggravare ulteriormente gli squilibri sociali e ambientali di questa parte del pianeta. In questo contesto Latouche scrive: «[…]è possibile affermare che la crescita è una “macchina” per affamare i popoli».

[2] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. IV Report of the IPCC, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2007.

[3] Giles J.,How to survive a warming world: African communities have been adapting to climate change for millennia. Nature 446: 716-717, 2007.

[4] Sen Amartya, Development as Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

[5] Maskrey et al, J Biol Chem, 2007

[6] Roberts, J. Timmons and Bradley C. Parks, A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2007.

[7] Skutsch, M. et al. (2004). Mainstreaming Gender into the Climate Change Regime (COP 10). Buenos Aires