ESCWA puts forth a new approach to measuring development - ESCWA
Press release

27 Oct 2022

ESCWA puts forth a new approach to measuring development

Report cover

Beirut, 27 October 2022--Measuring development progress and setbacks remains a challenge for policymakers and researchers alike, as available indices and indicators provide an incomplete picture. To remedy this gap, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has issued a report entitled “World Development Challenges Report: Development from a Broader Lens”, introducing a new global development challenges index (DCI) that measures shortfalls in achievements in three areas: quality-adjusted human development, environmental sustainability and good governance.

The report was launched yesterday at the Centre for Development Policy and Research (CDPR) of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

Adapting the Human Development Index (HDI), the DCI makes an important shift from quantitative development achievements to qualitative outcomes, reflecting advances in development thinking over the past three decades. The DCI also considers two key dimensions of sustainable development, namely environmental sustainability and governance. It assesses development challenges and reverses the narrative to foreground countries that are most rather than least challenged, in order to draw attention to most challenged countries in the global discussion on development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The case for integrating new indicators of development is strong,” argued the report’s lead author Khalid Abu-Ismail from ESCWA. “Today, the world faces intensified environmental threats which pose serious barriers to social and economic well-being”. “Moreover, with advances in human capabilities, it has become more important to emphasize agency, which requires good governance, notably the rule of law, enhanced civic political participation, and accountable and efficient institutions,” he added.

The report finds that, despite development gains achieved throughout the world in the past decades, a significant share of the world population still lives in difficult, and in some cases deteriorating, conditions, with more than 70% residing in countries where income inequality has increased. In addition, of the 163 countries assessed with the DCI, 49 face high and 25 very high development challenges, and contrary to usual perceptions, the report argues that even in the richest regions, there is still much to be achieved in terms of development quality.

The report was discussed by professors from the universities of Oxford and London, and by a former director of the Human Development Report Office. They all emphasized that “a broader lens” was indeed indispensable to grasp today’s challenges beyond the quantitative approach, in order to offer solutions to achieve the SDGs.

Among such solutions, the report stresses the need to strengthen environmental and health systems to improve healthy life outcomes; build knowledge-based economies with integrated education and labour market systems; establish strong links between government effectiveness and democratic governance; and prioritize the most challenged countries and ensure human security in conflict-stricken ones.



One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.

- Ms. Maryam Sleiman, Public Information Assistant, +961-81-769-888; email:

- Ms. Rania Harb, Public Information Assistant, +961-70-008-879; email:

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