World's poor struggle for the basics: UN report says few have a decent quality of life, writes Peter Pringle

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IS the United States one country or three? This is the provocative headline atop a new United Nations report on human development which says the black population of the US gains so little from the benefits of US society and the economy that, if measured as a separate country, it would rank 30 places behind the white population on the global 'Human Development Index'. The US Hispanic population would be in 35th place, below the Bahamas, South Korea and Estonia. The report calls for governments to adopt new policies to make sure development benefits people, not governments.

The index is based on income and quality of life, a factor that measures life expectancy, literacy, ability to take part in society's institutions and real purchasing power. Britain ranks 10th after Japan, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, US, Australia, France and the Netherlands.

The report is the fourth annual exercise by economists for the UN Development Programme. It says that despite the worldwide trend to more democracy, 90 per cent of the world's population have no control over institutions affecting their lives.

'Many of today's struggles are more than struggles for access to political power,' says William Draper, UNDP's administrator. 'They are . . . for access to the ordinary opportunities of life - land, water, work, living space and basic social services'.

Poor people, women, immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities in many countries have little access to legal systems, unions, government bodies and institutions which would enable them to raise their living standards. 'Exclusion rather than inclusion is the prevailing reality,' said Mahbub ul-Haq, ex-Pakistani finance minister and the report's architect.

The report notes that the quality of life is still better for men, with women under-represented in political institutions and earning power.

The factors used mean that income levels do not always equate with human development. For example, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Uruguay have a human development ranking way ahead of their per capita income rank. Other countries such as Algeria, Angola, Gabon, Guinea, Namibia, saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates have the reverse. Barbados, Hong Kong and Cyprus are the highest- ranked developing countries.

The report says the gap between rich and poor is still widening across the globe. It calls for a restructuring of foreign aid from governments and institutions such as the World Bank to increase contributions to health, education and other human development programmes.

----------------------------------------------------------------- HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX ----------------------------------------------------------------- Overall Top developing top-ranked nations countries (overall ranking) ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1. Japan 1. Barbados (20) 2. Canada 2. Hong Kong (24) 3. Norway 3. Cyprus (27) 4. Switzerland 4. Uruguay (30) 5. Sweden 5. Trinidad and Tobago (31) 6. United States 6. Bahamas (32) 7. Australia 7. S Korea (33) 8. France 8. Chile (36) 9. Netherlands 9. Costa Rica (42) 10. Britain 10. Singapore (43) 11. Iceland 11. Brunei (44) 12. Germany 12. Argentina (46) 13. Denmark 13. Venezuela (50) 14. Finland 14. Dominica (51) 15. Austria 15. Kuwait (52) 16. Belgium 16. Mexico (53) 17. New Zealand 17. Qatar (55) 18. Luxembourg 18. Mauritius (56) 19. Israel 19. Malaysia (57) 20. Bahrain (58) 21. Grenada (59) 22. Antigua and Barbuda (60) -----------------------------------------------------------------