Published on Thursday, June 29, 2000 in the Manchester Guardian
Divided World:
Rich Live Longer, Poor Die Younger
UN report highlights growing gap between developed countries and those ravaged by war, poverty and Aids
by Victoria Brittain and Larry Elliott
The mapping of the human genome may hold out the prospect of life expectancy in the west nudging 100 but it comes far too late for countries where poverty, war and HIV/Aids have turned the clock back on development by decades, the UN says in a report published today.

Its annual assessment of progress in 174 states finds that the super-rich are not only getting richer, they are living longer as well.

While the income gap between rich and poor countries continues to widen, the lifespan in some sub-Saharan Africa countries is only half that in the developed world.

The human development report (HDR) says the top 200 billionaires had a combined wealth of $1,135bn last, up by $100bn from the previous year. The total income of the 582m people in all the developing countries barely exceeds 10% of that: $146bn.

In the 30 countries considered to have the highest level of human development, life expectancy at birth is more than 75 years. In sub-Saharan Africa it is 48.9 years, falling to 39.1 years in Malawi and 37.9 years in Sierra Leone.

For the first time since it was launched in 1990, the HDR argues that these are inequalities which the UN classes as human rights violations.

A yawning gap

The report breaks new ground this year with the assertion that human rights must include economic, social and cultural rights, not just political and civil rights. Richard Jolly, the report's main author, says this is the most important of the 11 reports produced so far. "We've taken a major conceptual step."

The report says global inequalities have increased in the 20th century "by orders of magnitude out of proportion to anything experienced before". The gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest countries was about 3 to 1 in 1820, 35 to 1 in 1950, 44 to 1 in 1973, and 72 to 1 in 1992. Dr Jolly estimates that a calculation of a comparable figure today would show an even wider discrepancy.

Between 1990 and 1998, per capita income fell in 50 countries, only one of them in the 29 developed states which make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Some progress

The national disparity between rich and poor is similarly widening in many countries, the report says. In Russia the gulf is dramatic, but even in countries not undergoing great social changes, such as Britain, Sweden and the United States, there gap has been steadily widening for 20 years.

Progress has been made in some areas, it says. Between 1980 and 1999, the proportion of underweight children in developing countries fell from 37% to 27%, and access to safe water has increased from 13% to 71% since 1970.

But while income poverty in countries such as China has fallen dramatically, 1.2bn people - a fifth of the world's population - are living on less than $1 (66p) a day.

In addition, 100m children are estimated to be living or working on the streets and 1.2m women and girls under 18 are trafficked for prostitution each year.

Problems exist in the world's richest countries as well as the poorest, the UN says. In the OECD as a whole, 8m children are undernourished, and in the US 40m people are not covered by health insurance and one in five adults is functionally illiterate.

Britain remains 10th in the UN's human development index, which measures literacy and life expectancy in addition to living standards.

The report calls for bold new approaches to achieving economic and other human rights for all. "Advances in the 21st century will be won by human struggle against divisive values - and against the opposition of entrenched economic and political interests."

The report is upbeat about the surge of change in the human rights climate in many countries, involving many different civil groups, women's groups and media.

This in turn has brought about a new democratic climate far removed from formal election processes with no real participation by ordinary people.

In a special contribution to the report, the Nigerian president, Olesegun Obasanjo, writes of the "evil governance" experienced by his country before its return to civil government.

"The dark years spawned human rights activism . . . the more tyrannical the regime got, the more people became aware of what they were losing by way of freedom of expression and the right to determine how they were to be governed."

These changes, Dr Jolly says, are underpinned by the large number of countries ratifying the various UN conventions on human rights.

The convention on the rights of the child, for instance, has been ratified by every country except two: the US and Somalia.

And countries such as Norway, Belgium, Sweden, Brazil, South Africa and Sri Lanka have adopted special budgets for matters relating to children.

But these steps forward are against the background of some grim realities for children in other areas. For instance, Dr Jolly says, "HIV/Aids is the disaster factor for a dozen or more countries in Africa, pulling down their life expectancy and their ranking in the human development index. Meanwhile life expectancy at the top end is going up".

The cost of war

Botswana, which has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years, has income per capita on a par with Russia and Brazil, but its life expectancy has fallen by around 10 years as a result of the spread of HIV/Aids to more than 25% of the population.

Although the number of conflicts fell during the 90s, the cost to the international community of the seven main wars (not including Kosovo) was $200bn - four times the development aid in any one year.

"Not too surprising then that the volume of development aid went down substantially in the 1990s. The shift of resources away from development may even be contributing to future conflicts - as assistance is withdrawn just when needed to prevent escalation," the UN says.

The United Nations development program's ranking of 174 countries in the 2000 human development index

1. Canada
2. Norway
3. United States
4. Australia
5. Iceland
6. Sweden
7. Belgium
8. Netherlands
9. Japan
10. Britain
11. Finland
12. France
13. Switzerland
14. Germany
15. Denmark
16. Austria
17. Luxembourg
18. Ireland
19. Italy
20. New Zealand
21. Spain
22. Cyprus
23. Israel
24. Singapore
25. Greece
26. Hong Kong
27. Malta
28. Portugal
29. Slovenia
30. Barbados
31. South Korea
32. Brunei
33. Bahamas
34. Czech Republic
35. Argentina
36. Kuwait
37. Antigua and Barbuda
38. Chile
39. Uruguay
40. Slovakia
41. Bahrain
42. Qatar
43. Hungary
44. Poland
45. United Arab Emirates
46. Estonia
47. St Kitts and Nevis
48. Costa Rica
49. Croatia
50. Trinidad and Tobago
51. Dominica
52. Lithuania
53. Seychelles
54. Grenada
55. Mexico
56. Cuba
57. Belarus
58. Belize
59. Panama
60. Bulgaria
61. Malaysia
62. Russia
63. Latvia
64. Romania
65. Venezuela
66. Fiji
67. Suriname
68. Colombia
69. Macedonia
70. Georgia
71. Mauritius
72. Libya
73. Kazakstan
74. Brazil
75. Saudi Arabia
76. Thailand
77. Philippines
78. Ukraine
79. St Vincent and the Grenadines
80. Peru
81. Paraguay
82. Lebanon
83. Jamaica
84. Sri Lanka
85. Turkey
86. Oman
87. Dominican Republic
88. St Lucia
89. Maldives
90. Azerbaijan
91. Ecuador
92. Jordan
93. Armenia
94. Albania
95. Western Samoa
96. Guyana
97. Iran
98. Kyrgyzstan
99. China
100. Turkmenistan
101. Tunisia
102. Moldova
103. South Africa
104. El Salvador
105. Cape Verde
106. Uzbekistan
107. Algeria
108. Vietnam
109. Indonesia
110. Tajikistan
111. Syria
112. Swaziland
113. Honduras
114. Bolivia
115. Namibia
116. Nicaragua
117. Mongolia
118. Vanuatu
119. Egypt
120. Guatemala
121. Solomon Islands
122. Botswana
123. Gabon
124. Morocco
125. Myanmar
126. Iraq
127. Lesotho
128. India
129. Ghana
130. Zimbabwe
131. Equatorial Guinea
132. Sao Tome and Principe
133. Papua New Guinea
134. Cameroon
135. Pakistan
136. Cambodia
137. Comoros
138. Kenya
139. Republic of Congo
140. Laos
141. Madagascar
142. Bhutan
143. Sudan
144. Nepal
145. Togo
146. Bangladesh
147. Mauritania
148. Yemen
149. Djibouti
150. Haiti
151. Nigeria
152. Congo
153. Zambia
154. Ivory Coast
155. Senegal
156. Tanzania
157. Benin
158. Uganda
159. Eritrea
160. Angola
161. Gambia
162. Guinea
163. Malawi
164. Rwanda
165. Mali
166. Central African Republic
167. Chad
168. Mozambique
169. Guinea-Bissau
170. Burundi
171. Ethiopia
172. Burkina Faso
173. Niger
174. Sierra Leone