Human Development in Zimbabwe


The report covers ‘human development’, its meaning and measures within the context of Zimbabwe. The primary aim of the report is to promote thought and analysis on the meaning of the term ‘development’ and its measurement within the context of Zimbabwe. Thus, the report answers basic questions about development and human development by incorporating aspects of the United Nations Development Program, including measures.

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Definition of Development

The term development implies that the process of change reflected in human success, advancement and more impressive. It reflects sustained improvement in human achievements such as sustained economic development. Development should show improvements in human life and change over time.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), human development involves enhancing the richness of human life. The definition provided by the UNDP goes beyond mere economic achievements of a country. It reflects the creation of fair opportunities and various choices for the public. It is imperative to understand how these factors are considered in human development from the UNDP perspective. First, the concept of human development is all about people. It reflects improvements on living conditions of people. The definition does not assume that improved economic growth would translate to enhanced opportunities for all. It therefore seems income as an essential means to achieve human development, but not an end to it. Second, human development focuses on opportunities and freedom available to individuals so that they can lead lives of their choices. In this context, human development leads to development of “abilities and chances for people and letting individuals to use them” (HDRO Outreach, 2015). Education for girls, for instance, would lead to acquisition of knowledge and skills, which should be used for available job opportunities.

Opportunities should be fundamental aspects of human development and allow individuals to flourish. To reflect aspects of human development, the UNDP has focused on three foundations, including healthy lives, acquisition of knowledge and resources for decent living standards. Other issues are also of significant, specifically in assisting to develop optimal conditions for human development. These issues are mainly sustainability of the environment and improving opportunities for men and women. Once individuals attain these basic aspects of human development, they would have more opportunities to advance various aspects of their lives. Third, according to the UNDP, human development is generally about more choices for people. While several opportunities should be available, it not mandatory that people must exploit them. Choices should entirely be left to individuals for their own happiness. In this regard, human development processes should therefore strive to create conditions for people, either individually or collectively to develop their full capabilities and lead to sound opportunities for productive lives based on individuals’ values (HDRO Outreach, 2015).

Overall, human development should reflect basic aspects of life, including ability to be well fed, healthy and sheltered; and do valuable things in life, including work, vote, learn and participate in community life. These aspects of human development stress the importance of human freedom.

The UNDP definition of human development has provided basic definition thus far. However, changes in aspects of life could imply that the definition could be narrow to account for all elements human development. Nevertheless, the definition has been useful by highlighting issues related to equitable and sustainable development.

Measure of Human Development

Various measures for human development have been development to show progress. The Human Development Index (HDI) was developed a statistical tool to help in assessing overall attainment of countries on social and economic issues. Public health, education levels and standard of living are critical elements of any socio-economic spheres. The HDI calculation comprises of four primary factors, which are life expectancy, expected years of studying, mean of years of schooling for education and the gross national income per capita to reflect living standard.

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From this Index, the UNDP ranks many countries to reflect their achievements every year. The Index has become the best tool to assess and record achievement of countries. It captures major elements that reflect socioeconomic developments in a country.

One must however recognize the limitations of the HDI because it does not account for all aspects that lead to human development and other capabilities. Nevertheless, it is a standardized tool for measuring human capabilities in different countries. Some elements of human development, which are considered difficult to quantify, are normally left out of the Index. They include incomes, time invested in raising children, barter trade and people’s perception of self-worth and well-being. Other measures such as the Human Poverty Index and the Gender Empowerment Measure to account for human development have been introduced to assess these areas believed to be critical components of human development.


Zimbabwe has been chosen for this report because of its unique position in the Human Development Index Report of 2010 (United Nations Development Programme, 2010). The country was ranked last.

Source: (Glennie, 2010)
2010 rank HDI

Characteristically, Norway has always been on the top while several African states, including Zimbabwe occupy the bottom ten positions. Changes in the Index are also noted as minor perhaps because of the methodology applied and variables considered in calculation.

The annual reports present opportunities for the public and governments to take keen interests about rankings of their respective countries on the HDI. In the year 2010, for instance, the HDI ranked the country at the bottom with the lowest score of 0.14 based on a scale of 0 to 1. Its closet peer was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a score of 0.24 while Norway had the highest score at 0.94 (United Nations Development Programme, 2010).

In this context, it is vital to evaluate human development conditions in Zimbabwe and determine whether the HID is too simple for its unique human development conditions. In addition, it would also be imperative to understand what the country should do increase its rank to the level of the DRC, Norway or other top ten countries on the Index. Zimbabwe would be interested to understand whether these aspects of developments meet its unique conditions as a country.

As previously mentioned, the HDI consists of three elements namely, life expectancy, years of schooling and the income based on the GDP. For the year 2010, the report presented the following for the country. The score for a life expectancy was 47 years for the country. This score was the fourth lowest globally. The HDI presented a marginal weight of 0.0017 for the country on life expectancy score. This implies that Zimbabwe would only achieve a score of 0.017 after ten years in its life expectancy. According Martin Ravallion, it would take 154 years for Zimbabwe to attain a similar life expectancy shown for DRC after allowing for nonlinearity factors in the Index (Ravallion, 2011). This analysis would simple deep the hopes of the country on its human development endeavors to rise on the HDI.

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For schooling, the report showed that the mean year of schooling in the country was 7.2 years. When the expected schooling years were factored in the equation, the figure rose to 8.2 years to reflect the HDI measure for schooling. For the country to achieve the same ranking as the DRC, Zimbabwe would require 41 years – just six years below its life expectancy. Thus, schooling Index for the country is not promising on the HDI for the country.

The national income for Zimbabwe, if increased, would perhaps elevate their ranking on the HDI. For instance, Ravallion (2010) demonstrated that if Zimbabweans increased their annual income by over half to $240, then they would probably move to the same position as the DRC – assuming other indicators remain the same. This could be a more feasible path for the country.

This observation implies that only economic growth on the HDI presents a feasible solution for the country while the other two are far beyond its reach in the near future. According to the 2010 HD report, Zimbabweans can rely on sustained economic growth to climb the ladder of HDI ranking because health or life expectancy and schooling are simply not attainable, at least for now. The HD reports have however stressed that economic growth alone is not the perfect measure of success for human development.

This report however does not emphasize economic growth as the most important element for HDI. Instead, it has promoted past arguments that countries’ growth policies for economic growth should also support or complement policies formulated for schooling and healthcare.

Perhaps the HDI is a reflection of poorly constituted index to account for aspects of human development (Ravallion, 2011). Ravallion stressed that these components of the HDI emanate from the notable changes in methodological approaches in the 2010 report. That is, the HDI did not use its “old additive model, but switched to a new geometric mean” (Ravallion, 2011). Previously, the three aspects of the Index were based on the arithmetic mean.

Zimbabwe of course is far from being an ordinary country. It is at the bottom of the Index. However, it perhaps shows that the Index does not contain enough indicators to reflect its human development capabilities.

HDI could be too narrow for the mess at Zimbabwe

The country has experienced a precipitous decline in human development spheres, specifically in the last 15 years. However, the country can still climb the HDI ranking relative to DRC. Political and economic issues were responsible for most socioeconomic challenges experienced in Zimbabwe today. Before these issued occurred, the country had excellent facilities for education and healthcare, among the best in the continent. It is imperative to note that most infrastructures put in place in the past decades are still available, but in dilapidated conditions while many personnel have moved to other countries for better opportunities.

Availability of these infrastructures imply that Zimbabwe can rise faster on the HDI ranking relative to other countries, which will still struggle to construct schools and hospital among other facilities from scratch. Thus, the prospects could be better the country.

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In this regard, the HDI does not account for Zimbabwe’s prospect to rise faster than other countries perhaps because it is hard to quantify or account for in the model. At the same time, one must recognize that the country would not solve its political challenges that led to the present situation so fast. Therefore, the longer the situation persists, the lower the country will continue to appear at the bottom without minimal protects to rise fast.

HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zimbabwe is among the highest in the world. Consequently, it fairy reflects the steep decline of life expectancy from over 60s to now 47 years. However, the country is making significant steps to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS (currently at 14.6 percent). Although the rate is still, it will eventually have an effect on life expectancy in the country. The worst rate of HIV/AIDS in the country seems to decline. In this regard, one may wonder if the HDI accounts for such changes when formulating life expectancy of Zimbabwe or any country for that matter. It may also question Ravallion’s view of 154 years for the country to move to the level of the DRC.

Between the year 2008 and 2009, Zimbabwe had to close schools because of the economic conditions then with notable hyperinflation noted in millions percentage. Today, however, enrolment has increased steadily. Nevertheless, these schools still function under hard economic conditions. It is possible that the HDI analysis did not account for these developments when it computed the country’s schooling scores.

Zimbabwe also experienced the worst hyperinflation of its currency during economic turmoil. Consequently, it adopted the US dollar as the official legal tender. This intervention arrested the decline and improved the economy. However, unemployment is still rampant estimated at about 90 percent with extremely low monthly income relative to the cost of living. However, during economic hardship, individuals tend to turn to other means of generating incomes. Thus, the economy becomes less formal and, therefore, difficult to measure. In this context, the HDI could have failed to notice unique economy of Zimbabwe during the hardship.


The three aspects of the HDI, namely life expectancy, schooling and income have been important in providing a basis for measuring human development. While the HDI is the overall index for assessing human development, and it provides general comparison for countries, it still may not adequately accounts for other aspects of human development.

In the case of Zimbabwe, several variables seem to influence human development in a way that the HDI may not sufficiently capture. Despite these shortfalls in measures, Zimbabwe’s situation is relatively very low. The situation of Zimbabwe helps to demonstrate that HDI may not be the best measure for human development, but can provide a broader comparison for countries. Perhaps the greatest shortfall of the Index is its failure to account for countries’ prospects. Thus, it is difficult to measure a country’s ‘quality of life’ based on these three defined factors.

In addition, scores for various countries could differ significantly in a give region of a country. That is, social and economic infrastructures are not evenly distributed. Some these variables may only capture long-term changes but fail to account for short-term developments while the economic welfare may be poorly represented in the national wealth. In addition, other variables such as access to clean drinking water, pollution and even wars could affect economic welfare, but they are not accounted for in the Index (Pettinger, 2013).

Another factor not explored by the HDI is the equality factor. It is believed that a revised HDI should account for the issue of inequality among the public. The introduction of inequality variable could influence governments of countries like Zimbabwe and others to address the issue. At the same time, civil society could use the result to push for a more balanced world through equitable distribution of resources. Thus, if Zimbabwe can manage to address inequality, perhaps it will move up the Index. In fact, countries such as Brazil have experienced declines because of increased inequality. The major issue is that the developers must carefully consider is what variables for inequality to be included in the Index. They must improve on it over time to reflect only feasible issues. Moreover, the Index should extend to account for other issues of human development such as gender inequality, widespread poverty, hunger and climate development among others. Most interestingly, a country such as Bhutan no longer considers the GDP as a component of national development, but rather focuses on National Happiness to reflect development. It would be interesting to see how the HDI represents it.

As Frances Woolley points out, the objective of the Human Development Report (through notable changes in education in Canada) is to shift policymakers’ points of view from narrowly defined GDP and economic growth to a more general concept of human well-being (Woolley, 2013). The Report has been able to encourage public discourse and create awareness of what factors constitute a good life and the basic issues of economic development. Overall, the Human Development Report has been able to achieve its objectives notwithstanding its limitations.


Glennie, J. (2010). Human development index: Equality matters if we are to reduce poverty. The Guardian. Web.

HDRO Outreach. (2015). What is Human Development? Web.

Pettinger, T. (2013). The Human Development Index. Web.

Ravallion, M. (2011). How can Zimbabwe avoid having the world’s worst Human Development Index? Web.

United Nations Development Programme. (2010). Human Development Report. New York: Oxford University Press.

Woolley, F. (2013). Sorry, but Canada was never the No. 1 place to live. The Globe and Mail. Web.

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