The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) places each country’s life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living under the microscope. Every year since 1993 the organisation has used the resultant Human Development Index (HDI) to gauge development around the world.
“Fifth place is a very good result for Sweden. If you look at the top five on the list it was more or less a photo finish,” said Claes Johansson from the UNPD.
“What one needs to focus on is the bottom five,” he added.
This year’s Human Development Report asserts that the gap between rich and poor is widening. And Claes Johansson is most concerned about sub-Saharan Africa, where all of the list’s bottom five countries are located.
Life expectancy in the region is, at 46 years, even lower than it was thirty years ago.
Growing water and sanitation problems, combined with HIV and AIDS, have proved debilitating for countries like Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sierra Leone and, in last place, Niger.
“The HDI for these countries has been at a practical standstill since the early 1990s,” said Johansson.
As in previous years, Norway is top of the bunch. Its inhabitants are 40 times richer and live almost twice as long as the average citizen of Niger.
Lowest in terms of life expectancy, at just over 31 years, is Swaziland. A newborn baby in Japan on the other hand can expect to live beyond the age of 82.
Another Nordic country, Iceland, held on to its second spot. Finland meanwhile climbed two places to 11th, while Denmark dropped one spot to 15th.
Australia and Ireland came in third and fourth positions respectively. Canada fell back one place to finish just behind Sweden, whereas the USA clambered up from 10th to 8th.
The United Kingdom tumbled out of the top fifteen and is now 18th, while New Zealand just made the top twenty.