Canada Best Place to Live

UN Report

By Evelyn Leopold


UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Canada, for the seventh consecutive year, ranks as the best place to live in the world. But if you are a woman, you are better off in Scandinavia, says the UN Human Development Report 2000, released on Thursday.


Norway is in second place in overall rankings, followed by the United States, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan and Britain. Finland is in 11th place, followed by France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Luxembourg, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand.


At the other end of the scale, the 10 least-developed countries that provide the fewest services to their people, from the bottom up are: war-devastated Sierra Leone, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Chad, Central African Republic and Mali. This year's survey by the UN Development Programme, like its 10 predecessors, ranks 174 nations according to income, health care, life expectancy and educational levels.



In addition to the ratings, the report this year looks at the relationship between human rights and development and proposes policies to promote and respect democracy.


The statistical rankings have gained such exposure in the past decade that the Canadian province of Ontario is using them in its television commercials to attract business, advertising itself as the best place to live in the world.


But the report cautioned Ontario, Canada's richest and most populous province, against complacency. It noted that the provincial government was also using the report to justify its full funding for Roman Catholic schools but not for those of any other religious group. ``Canada's high scores in adult literacy and school and college enrollment do not disprove religious discrimination in access to public education--and in no way waive the need for Ontario to remedy the situation,'' the report said.


But income alone, the report says, did not automatically mean better educational or health services. Guinea, Pakistan and Vietnam, for example, have similar levels of per capita income, but their placing in the index shows otherwise. Guinea ranks 162nd, Pakistan 135th and Vietnam 108th, an indication Hanoi spends more on primary health care to bring down infant mortality rates.


When progress for women is measured, Canada slips into eighth place and the United States ranks 13th in the so-called ''gender empowerment index'' that measures the number of women in parliament, government, professional or technical jobs and their average earnings compared to men.


The 20 top countries in this category are Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, Australia, Austria, United States, Switzerland, Britain, Bahamas, Barbados, Portugal, Spain and Venezuela. No statistics were available for France.


Japan, whose high standard of living and widespread education put it in 9th place in the overall rankings, was 41st on the gender equality index, below that of Costa Rica, in 24th place. Likewise, South Korea, which ranked 31st in the overall index, fell to 63rd in the women's equality standings. Greece showed a similar discrepancy from 25th place overall to 49th place when advancement for women was measured. In Latin America, Chile with an overall ranking of 38th, fell to 51st on the women's equality measurement.


Among the richest nations, the report shows relative prosperity is also accompanied by pockets of poverty. While the United States has the world's highest gross national product, it ranks first in poverty rates among the 18 richest countries. Ireland is in second place and Britain in third. The main reason was the prevalence of functional illiteracy--about one person in five--the report said.


The report said 22 countries in Africa and Eastern Europe experienced major reversals in health care and other social services, largely because of the impact of AIDS in southern and eastern Africa and economic stagnation in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.


Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, a coordinator of the report, said governments should study the index for progress achieved year to year, especially for the most deprived, rather than the absolute rankings. ``Look at the Human Development Index to see where your country stands--and then look again, and again,'' she said.