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#4451: U.N. Ranks Quality of Life (fwd)


U.N. Ranks Quality of Life 
The Associated Press
Jun 29 2000 6:00AM ET     

GENEVA (AP) - Dragged down by the AIDS epidemic and by wars, Africa maintained its monopoly on the bottom places in a quality-of-life rating released Thursday by the United Nations.

Sierra Leone was ranked last in the 174-country Human Development Index that takes into account income, education, life expectancy and health care. The bottom 24 countries were all in sub-Saharan Africa.

Haiti, placed 150th, was the worst-performing nation in the Americas. Of Middle Eastern countries, Yemen was bottom at 148th. In Asia, Bangladesh was 146th.

Canada topped the list for the seventh year running, followed as last year by Norway and the United States.

But the report also said the United States has the highest level of ``human poverty'' - covering life expectancy, illiteracy and unemployment - among industrialized nations, closely followed by Ireland and Britain. Norway and Sweden had the best ratings.

In Britain, the United States and Ireland more than one in five adults are functionally illiterate, defined as unable to read at a fifth-grade level, the report said. More than 17 percent of people in the United States were classified as ``income-poor,'' with less than 50 percent of the median disposable household income.

Of 101 nations tracked since 1975, all but Zambia have improved their score in the index, the U.N. Development Program said. Twenty-two more, mostly in Africa and East Europe, have seen their human development rating diminish since 1990, mostly due to the AIDS epidemic, economic stagnation and conflict.

Indonesia, Egypt and Nepal registered the greatest advances among developing countries since 1975.

The annual U.N. Human Development Report coincides with a special U.N. session in Geneva where governments are trying to agree on a statement of targets to eradicate poverty, aiming to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.

The agency said more respect for human rights and a commitment to genuine democracy are needed for nations to succeed in lifting the 1.2 billion who live in absolute poverty - on less than a dollar a day.

``You can't have human rights without human development and you can't have human development without human rights,'' said Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program. ``They're a virtuous circle.''

The report urged more attention by governments to the impact of World Trade Organization negotiations on human rights.

But it questioned the inclusion of labor standards in future global trade agreements, saying that it ``is far from likely to be a panacea for protecting labor rights.'' The United States and European countries back the idea. Developing nations fiercely oppose it.

Any resulting trade sanctions could be counterproductive for small countries and would be unlikely to root out the worst abuses, the report said.

The 290-page study also said discrimination against minorities is ``the Achilles heel'' of democracies including Canada and India, and noted that not all of the more than 100 multiparty democracies established in the past 20 years are of good quality.

``An election every few years is important but not sufficient to secure the kind of participatory governance which will successfully contribute to human development and the reduction of poverty,'' said Malloch Brown.