For three decades, concerned observers have been making a sustained attack on the profound inequalities of human development around the world. Traditionally, national wealth has been evaluated based on Gross Domestic Product, which measures only economic conditions. It was only after 1990 that the United Nations began to use another index – the Index of Human Development (IHD). This indicator makes it possible to compare the level of development in various countries; 175 of the United Nations’ 191 member nations now use the IHD.


Starting with this index, the UN has launched a series of new projects that aim to improve living conditions in various population groups around the world. They call for establishing parameters for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. These indicators will be used in efforts to promote universal primary education, equality of the sexes, and autonomy for women. They will help in the global struggle to reduce infant mortality and improve standards of maternal health. They will be used in fighting the war against AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Finally, they will be used in efforts to sustain the global environment and establish a worldwide alliance for economic development.


To achieve such goals, standards are being established for comparing extremely different conditions in the 175 countries on the list. The IHD is a very simple index. It only considers three variables: per capita income; access to education, and life expectancy. “Even though the IHD achieves its goals, it is too simple. It is very synthetic and it has many limitations,” says Olinto Nogueira, team coordinator for the João Pinherio Foundation, which is developing the IHD-M in Brazil. This new index, adapted from the IHD, is an indicator of human development in cities. The research is being coordinated in collaboration with the Institute of Advanced Economic Research and the United Nations Development Programme.


Meanwhile, the Mackenzie Presbyterian University, through its Center for Research into the Quality of Life, is developing its own Economic Index of the Quality of Life (EIQL). Starting from a database that takes into account a larger number of factors, this index aims to achieve a deeper analysis of the full range of factors that affect the evolution of human development. “The question isn’t about substituting for an indicator (such as the IHD), but providing a broader evaluation since we are constructing this from a broader database,” explains Roseli da Silva, coordinator of the quality of life research project at Mackenzie.


The big difference between the new index (EIQL) and the IHD is the number of variables taken into account in calculating each index. In addition to such aspects as life expectancy and access to education, the EIQL will consider access to cultural goods and events; the availability of sports and leisure, and various other factors.


“The research for developing the EIQL is moving along. We can now measure not only aspects of health, income, education, housing and demography – but also other factors that have a significant impact on quality of life. Especially if we look at the city of São Paulo, our point of departure,” explains da Silva. The new aspects of this indicator include urban infrastructure; availability of basic public services (public transportation; frequency of traffic delays); public security and justice. Also included are variables associated with the environment, such as visual, noise and water pollution. “That means, we’re using a much more extensive database. The vast range that we want to measure, along with the great scope of these indicators, includes the availability of public events – sports, entertainment and fairs – that even low-income people can access as leisure activities,” adds da Silva.


Nevertheless, da Silva emphasizes, “These variables will have relatively less weight than the core variables involved in generating quality of life indicators. The goal is for people to grasp those dimensions that are not incorporated in other indexes.”


Focus on Local Communities

Initially, the IEQL will be applied only in the municipality of São Paulo, and it will not be possible to develop an overview that compares various Brazilian cities, as IDH-M does.  “The IDH has a special importance as a municipal index. It is the first stage in a plan that we do not claim to have completed. Our initial scope [of IEQL] barely includes the municipality of São Paulo,” says da Silva. Nevertheless, the goal for the new index is to become a nationwide comparative tool.


The first reports using IEQL data are expected at the end of 2004. “The project involves various stages. First we worked on defining the methodology of the new index. That process was already finished by the end of last year. During this academic year, we are working on constructing the database. We are not going to do research to collect any primary data. Instead, we are going to use data that has already been collected. The basic sources are never going to change; we are going to treat them in a different way. Our sources include research projects already completed by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) and National Surveys of Household Samples (PNADS in Portuguese). Our sources will also include census data, which will serve as a data base for drawing up our indicators, and information collected by the SEADE Foundation [an agency collects statistical data in São Paulo],” according to da Silva.


Olinto approves of the Mackenzie initiative, but doubts the new index will substitute for IDH-M, which was created by the João Pinheiro Foundation. In Olinto’s view, in order to make a valid comparison of Brazil’s 5,560 towns and cities, the IDH-M wisely uses only demographic census data. If the IEQL considers factors that depend on local surveys, it will be hard for the new index to wind up being truly national. Olinto explains that there are systematic sources of data that cover every city and town in the country. “It is interesting that people are making other indexes,” he says. “But they are very specific, and it is very hard to generalize for the entire country. Where these indicators are useful is when you’re doing research on specific communities.”


According to Olinto, the most important byproduct of IDH-M data has been new software that draws up maps of Brazil’s human development. The IDH-M uses a base of 2000 census data, and compares it with data from the 1991 census. This software can be downloaded from the Internet from the web sites of the João Pinheiro Foundation, at; or from the web site of the Institute of Advanced Economic Research (IPEA), at The new application can be used to create an overview of each local municipality, looking at 120 different variables. “This is where we want to focus our attention. The UN is developing a new approach to studying society, called Human Development. The IDH is really only one aspect of that research. It is a hook for attracting people. From that starting point, we’ll be able to access more than 120 variables that can be used to develop diagnostic tools and make predictions,” Olinto says.


For example, if you want to study the quality of education in a specific city – without being confined to the raw data of IDH-M – you can access the software and obtain detailed information. “Using the program, we can be more rigorous [about defining each variable]. For example, you can define an ‘illiterate’ as anyone who has less than four years of education—which is ‘functional illiteracy.’ Or you can analyze the percentage of people who have fewer than eight years of education, which is ‘basic illiteracy.’ Even when you do that, you can see the data is very bad,” Olinto says.


“Although Brazil’s IDH ratings improved a great deal during the ’90s, largely because of [improvements in] education, we can see that a lot remains to be done. What happened during the ‘90s involved placing children in school. However, having those children in school is no guarantee that they will remain in school when they are adolescents,” explains Olinto. This is an example of how the new software makes it possible to diagnose problems and outline strategies that can attack the shortcomings of various population sectors.


Olinto emphasizes another interesting factor, known as “Belindia.” Coined in 1974 by the economist Edmar Bacha, “Belindia” addresses Brazil’s unhealthy distribution of income. According to “Belindia,” Brazil consists of two countries – a “Belgium” that is small and rich, and an “India,” which is enormous and poor. In drawing up the IDH-M data, researchers concluded that differences between various towns and cities aren’t what matters most.


“The inequalities in Brazil aren’t between one city and another, but within the cities themselves… The first time we calculated the IDH, when we analyzed the best city in Brazil, it wound up with a lower ranking than Uruguay, the best country in South America at that time. Then we thought: Why not call Brazil ‘Belindia’? Where is the Belgium in Brazil? The differences are within towns and cities. We decided to look into one big city, neighborhood by neighborhood, and calculate the IDH by each neighborhood. The first place we did that was Belo Horizonte, which we divided into neighborhoods with a minimum of 5,000 people. What we found was not Belgium (which ranks sixth worldwide in terms of IDH) but Canada (which ranks eighth.) This contrast shows how perverse the reality of Brazil can be: What really separates a Belgium from an India can be just one street,” Olinto says.