GENEVA - The chasm between high- and low-income countries isn’t just an economic divide — it’s cutting at the very fabric of global progress. After two decades of steady momentum, that progress came to a halt in 2020, according to data released by the United Nations Development Programme’s latest Human Development Index, a measurement of life expectancy, education, and income levels across the world.

“Despite our deeply interconnected global societies, we are falling short,” says UNDP chief Achim Steiner in a press release. “This gridlock carries a significant human toll.” Even as the world’s 38 most economically powerful nations reported improved Human Development Index scores, the same cannot be said for 18 of the lowest-income countries. For nations like Afghanistan, the setback amounts to a decade’s worth of progress lost, my colleague Elissa Miolene writes.

The repercussions extend far beyond mere statistics. Entire regions, like Latin America, are still reeling from the pandemic. Despite rich resources and a decent democratic process, Latin America grapples with gaping wealth disparities, a crisis of faith in democracy, and persistent gender inequalities.

“Latin America was the region with the greatest, steepest decline in human development due to the pandemic,” says Michelle Muschett, United Nations assistant secretary-general and director of UNDP’s regional bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean. “At the same time, we’re the region in which the recovery has been one of the greatest.”

UNDP predicts that the gap will continue widening. In 2022, the report found high-income countries reached record-high levels of human development — and in 2023, the agency predicts those figures will elevate further.