Introduction: What Is Development?

According to the World Bank, as many as half of the world’s six billion inhabitants live on the equivalent of less than $2 per day, and about one-fourth of the world lives on the equivalent of less than $1.25 per day (Chen & Ravallion, 2008). Meanwhile, people in the 20 richest countries earn, on average, 39 times more than people living in the poorest 20 states (Milanovic, 2007).

At the same time, the extent of world poverty has declined significantly during recent years. For example, the World Bank estimates that from 1981-2005 the percentage of people living on less than $1 per day was halved, decreasing from 52 percent to 26 percent during this period (Chen & Ravallion, 2008).

These contrasting trends highlight both the problems and the progress associated with the process of “development.” On one hand, development has resulted in serious inequities between states, whereby large numbers of the world’s inhabitants are mired in poverty, especially in Africa, while inhabitants of the world’s richest countries live in both relative and absolute luxury. And yet, due to development trends, populations in poor countries are becoming wealthier over time—a process linked to globalization because countries in the developing world can raise their standards of living by integrating with highly developed states.

The term “development” in international parlance therefore encompasses the need and the means by which to provide better lives for people in poor countries. It includes not only economic growth, although that is crucial, but also human development—providing for health, nutrition, education, and a clean environment.

The following Issue in Depth  is designed to help you:

  • understand why some countries are developed and other are not;
  • describe the problems development is designed to solve;
  • familiarize yourself with the institutions that are active in development;
  • explain the main strategies for fostering development;
  • and, report on the facts and figures of the Millennium Development Goals, the international community’s new effort to promote development.

Next: The Divide Between Developed and Developing Countries