Development means the growth of a certain factor or factors. Geographers are interested id differences in levels of development and rates of growth between places across the world and a continent or country (regional). However, it is extremely difficult to find an acceptable and accurate method of measuring the levels of development, which is why the many indicators are separated into three categories- economic, social and demographic factors. Most people understand development in economic terms.
The two most common economic measures of development are Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP). GDP is a measure of the value of all goods and services produced in a country by its population expressed in terms of money. Therefore it is not suitable for measuring national income or wealth. GNP is a measure of all goods and services produced by a country’s population both within its own country and abroad. GDP provides the best comparative statistic available and it acts as a quick and easy guide to a country’s level of wealth. For some countries though GNP records a truer picture of total national income; examples include those MEDCs that derive a substantial income from overseas investments, and those LEDCs that have large numbers of their nationals working abroad.
Employment structure and energy consumption can be viewed also, as reliable indicators of economic development. The energy consumption per capita is a measure of the use of commercial energy, which is itself an indicator of industrial development. Labour force data is also attained for each sector of the economy, which indicates the degree of economic development, and the GDP from each of these sectors will measure the reliance of the economy on the various sectors and can be related to the various stages of growth.
Although economic development to people living in a Western society tends to mean a growth in wealth other criteria have also been suggested. Social and demographic measures are used to indicate imbalances between countries. Those related to health and education, are prominent because they are fundamental in indicating levels of welfare and opportunity for individuals. Some give a direct measure of the healthcare available to people, such as population per doctor, whereas life expectancy indicates levels of health care in a more general way. However, even the best single indicator is an inadequate measure of a general well being or progress within a country. Therefore, a composite index- one derived from a combination of factors is more appropriate.
International agencies such as the UN prefer to use an index composed of several different measures. Using a combination of measures reduces the disadvantages of individual indicators and increases reliability. In 1990, the UN replaced GNP as the measure of development with the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a social welfare index measuring the adult literacy rate, life expectancy rate and the real GDP per person- that is, what an income will actually buy in a country. By including the GDP and by taking economic as well as social and demographic factors into account the HDI is different from many other indexes allowing a more accurate and impartial measure of development.
To what extent are health and education valid as measures of development? Health and education are social measures of development. Those measures related to health and education are prominent because they are fundamental in indicating levels of welfare and opportunity for individuals. The available healthcare of a country or region is usually obtained by firstly calculating the percentage of people who have access to safe water, including treated surface water and uncontaminated underground sources.
Secondly, the infant mortality rate is found by calculating the annual number of deaths of infants under one year of age per thousand live births and the life expectancy at birth by calculating the number of years a newly born infant can expect to live. Some give a direct measure of the healthcare available to people, such as population per doctor, and population per hospital bed whereas, life expectancy indicates levels of healthcare in a more general way.
The critical importance of access to safe water in disease prevention and primary healthcare cannot be over emphasised. Repeated bouts of diarrhoea kill infants and weaken adults, while water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid can cause death, particularly in the vulnerable members of society such as the very young and the elderly. I believe that the quality of healthcare is a valuable measure of development as access to safe water is taken for granted in MEDCs, as also is its availability through the tap in homes. In LEDCs collecting water may involve much time and effort each day without any guarantee that supplies will be clean to drink.
This shows clearly the differences in levels of development between MEDCs and LEDCs. One of the lowest percentages is in Ethiopia where in the late 1990s it was estimated only 25% of the population had access to clean water highlighting the country’s low level of development. Reliable data about the percentages of people with access to safe water are difficult to obtain in many LEDCs though as all areas will differ. Therefore it is a valuable measure but we cannot always rely on it to be entirely accurate.
Education rates and facilities are also important measures of development. The adult literacy rate is the most common indicator and is obtained by calculating the percentage of people aged 15 or over that can, with understanding both read and write a short, simple statement on their everyday life, The adult literacy rate is extremely valuable as it gives a good overall picture of a country’s education provision. It tells a lot about the effectiveness of a country’s education system and the proportion of children who are able to participate in it. In MEDCs, where state provided primary and secondary education is taken for granted as right for all, literacy rates are between 99 and 100 per cent. In Sub-Saharan Africa on the other hand, the picture is very different; adult literacy rates rarely reach 50 per cent and this general figure hides the major gender bias against the education of females. Without literacy, opportunities for development are very limited.
Education also has influences upon the skills of a workforce. An educated workforce is amore aware of the business, entrepreneurial skills that will help them at their job. This is why the NICs differ from LEDCs, as many of the people living in NICs are being educated and trained in their professions, which is allowing the country to develop. Also, when people are educated on farming, there health may improve as people realise a more nutritious diet will improve their lifestyle therefore the two factors are likely to be linked.
However, I do not believe that health and education alone are useful indicators of development; other factors have to be taken into account. A composite index which is one derived from a combination of indicators, providing a balanced picture of economic wealth and social well being, is far more comprehensive and informative than looking at any single indicator. For example social factors, such as health and education are often related to economic factors. The more wealthy and therefore economically developed a country is, the greater its calorie intake (better diet); the lower its infant mortality rate, the longer its life expectancy, the fewer of its population per doctor and the higher its adult literacy rate.
Using a combination of measures reduces the disadvantages of individual indicators and increases reliability. The Human Development Index is calculated using three variables; life expectancy, educational attainment (adult literacy rate and combined educational enrolment) and GDP per head. Therefore by including GDP countries can be easily compared. The advantages of this index are that it can be used to rank countries, it is easily understood and it gives a score between 0 and 1. By calculating indices every year, a country can tell whether it is making progress or not, and by how much, therefore a much more significant measure development. In conclusion, I believe that health and education are extremely useful measures of development especially when used with other indicators such as GDP and other economic measures.