Statement at the Launch of the 2013 Human Development Report in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Apr 30, 2013

Bismillah – he Rahman – ur Rahim,

Your Excellency, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran,

Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Representatives of the Media,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to you all.  And thank you for supporting – through your presence – this joint launch of UNDP’s Human Development Report for 2013.

Having arrived to take up my post only one month ago, I am honoured to have this opportunity to engage with so many colleagues from the government and the international community.

Our event this morning will not only launch the report in Iran, it will also allow us to shine a light on some of the accomplishments which have taken place in this country during the past three decades – which is the period covered by parts of the report.

My address today will therefore contain three essential messages:

1.     One.  There are profound – and positive – lessons we can learn from the Rise of the South in the past two decades.

2.     Two.  Some of these lessons can be found right here in Iran, and are best practices worthy of replication elsewhere in the world.

3.     Three.  The Government and people of Iran can continue to count upon the United Nations to work with – and to support – both development and humanitarian work in your country.


This year, our report – the 22nd in a series which started back in 1990 – is titled “The Rise of the South”. 

The storyline is both timely and accurate.  For the first time in recent history, the South – as a whole – has become a driver of global economic growth and societal change. 

During the past two decades, important structural shifts have taken place in the global economic balance of power.  The signs are all around us.  Here are some examples from the Report.

·        According to UNDP projections, by the year 2020, the combined economic output of three key emerging economies alone – those of Brazil, China and India – will surpass that of the the following countries combined – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.

·        Example.  The South is increasingly interconnected.  The rapid spread of technology allows more people to communicate across borders.  People now have much more power to influence decisions which will affect their lives.

·        Example.  The South has now accumulated substantial capital reserves  It now holds around two-thirds of the world’s $10.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves.

Our challenge must be to understand what is driving this dramatic acceleration of economic and human development. 

What lessons can we learn?

Certainly one key lesson – repeated in many previous Human Development Reports – is that economic growth does not automatically translate into human development.  Human development comes as a result of deliberate policy and action by governments which show a commitment to long-term human development.  Governments do this by investing mainly in four areas.

#1 – FOCUS ON REDUCING POVERTY:  The first is to take action that makes citizens less poor.  The State can do this by investing in people’s health, their nutrition, their education and their skills.  Such public investment enables more informed choices.  Choices enhance people’s capabilities.  Choices provide opportunities – for trade, for market access, for jobs, for innovation.  The result?  People become less poor.

#2 – PROMOTE SOCIAL INCLUSION:  Second, the report indicates that countries with less inequality do better in human development.  A powerful policy instrument to promote equity is education.  The Report shows that targeted investment in girls’ education – in particular – have a significant impact on human development.  This enables better health choices, for example, and reduces child mortality and improves child nutrition.  The lessons are these:  Keep girls in school.  Empower women.  Keep children who are born – alive.

#3 – TAKE CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT:  Third, we need to take care of our environment and move faster on this – both at the global and local levels.  Climate change – in particular – with all its faster feedback mechanisms – has the potential to halt and then reverse human development – especially the gains made by the poor in the South.

#4 – PROMOTE ACCOUNTABILITY:  Fourth, Governments need to promote equity and accountability.  Young people who are educated and inter-connected are now demanding greater accountability.  Our Report shows that participation and inclusion are essential for stability and social cohesion.  Giving people a voice tends to make both the State and private actors more accountable.
So, in summary, and looking to the future, the Report concludes that if global human development is to continue rising, we need to ensure that people have more choices, that there is more equity – more inclusion – and that the environment is not degraded.


I would now like to turn to what the report says about Iran.

The Human Development Index – or HDI – is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development. 

These are:

·        long and healthy life,

·        access to knowledge, and

·        a decent standard of living.

Iran’s HDI value – for the year 2012 – is 0.742.  This puts the country in the “high human development” category.  UNDP uses four HDR categories: very high, high, medium and low. 

Iran’s current position is 76 out of 187 countries. 

Here are some of those countries and their HDI rankings.

However, what is really important – and what should be commended – is Iran’s progress in human development when measured over the past 32 years.

Here is one way of seeing this. 

Let’s compare Iran’s HDI progress with that of two large countries in South Asia for the same period.  This is the result onscreen.

According to UNDP calculations, between the years 1980 and 2012, Iran’s HDI value increased by 67 per cent – or at an average annual increase of about 1.6 per cent.

Let me put these numbers into context. 

During the same period, for other countries in the High Human Development group (the group containing Iran), the average annual gain was only about half of what Iran managed – 0.73 per cent.  For all countries on the planet, the average gain was even less – only 0.69 per cent. 

This means that Iran’s annual growth in its HDI was over double the global average.  This would seem to imply that – from a human development standpoint – during the period 1980-2012, Iran’s policy interventions were both significant and appropriate to produce improvements in human development. 

In fact, the Report also says that Iran achieved the second highest reduction in HDI shortfall – among developing countries – during the 22 year period between 1990 and 2012.  Only one country was able to do better.  That country is the Republic of Korea.  

Now what do all these numbers actually mean for the average citizen?  Please take a look at the following images.  They tell the story of Iran’s progress. 

As I mentioned, the first component of the HDI is “a long and health life”.  UNDP measures this in terms of life expectancy at birth.  During the period from 1980, Iran increased this measure from 51 years to 73 years.

The second component is “access to knowledge”.  Here we look at the expected years of schooling starting in 1980.  The graph shows an increase from 8.7 to 14.4 years – an impressive achievement.

The third component is “a decent standard of living”.  Here again the increase has been considerable.  Having attained the status of a Middle Income Country, Iran is now playing its own part in the “Rise of the South”.

When I was reading the report, I was also struck by the following facts:

·        In Iran, for every 100,000 live births, only 21 women die from pregnancy-related causes.   The group average for other “high HDI” countries is 47.

·        In Iran, the adolescent fertility rate is 25 births per 1000 live births.  The group average is 50.

This is not to say that there are no remaining development needs in the country.  Unemployment combined with inflation are persistent challenges.  The Report also points to areas to be addressed in terms of gender equity.

But on the whole, and – again from a human development standpoint – the Report sends a clear signal.  For the period, 1980-2012, Iran’s policy interventions – and actions – have produced significant improvements in its human development index. 

The Report also sends a broader signal at the global level.  And it is this.  As the world becomes increasingly interconnected – through trade, migration, information and communications – we need more co-ordinated action – we need greater co-operation – both within the South – and between the South and the North.  


This brings me to my last point.  In terms of building bridges and networks which can span borders, the United Nations can help build an even closer partnership to enable Iran to draw the best out of what we as an organization can offer.  

For most of the period reviewed by the Report, the UN’s agencies, funds and programmes have been right here – on the ground – working with – and in – Iran, to support its people.

Our world – and our region – currently face many human development and humanitarian challenges.  Among these, I believe that the most critical are:

  •  natural disasters,
  • poverty,
  • population and displacement,
  • public health problems,
  • resource scarcity,
  • drug trafficking and abuse, and
  • the challenge of climate change.

These challenges need a response where the best knowledge is made available – where the best practices are used – and where countries cooperate across borders. 

The UN in Iran can promote such cooperation.  Guided by the Millennium Development Goals, the UN in Iran can play a greater role to bring together the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and other countries in order to collectively solve these problems – problems which affect our region and our world.

Although the UN’s work in Iran is divided mainly between “development” and “humanitarian” objectives, the framework for our development cooperation resides in our UN Development Assistance Framework – or UNDAF.

Since joining the UN Iran team in the past month, I have learnt from colleagues in New York that the Iran UNDAF has been recognized as a model in terms of its development and ownership by the Government.  It was developed through a process of intense consultations – led by the Government – and with participation from various parts of the government and society.

Our UNDAF provides strategic vision for our work.  It is based on principles which include national ownership of the process and approaches which are culturally-sensitive.

The Government and the UN have agreed to jointly tackle the following challenges: (a) poverty reduction; (b) health; (c) the environment; (d) disaster risk reduction and (e) drug control.

On behalf of the Secretary-General, I commit the UN to pursue these goals to the best of our ability.

In time, I would like to see that the UN comes to play an even more constructive role in helping to promote the goals of the UN Charter – as contained in its Preamble. 

The UN is here to help. 

Thank you – and Khoda Hafez.

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