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Canada Ranks First for Sixth Consecutive Year

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Canada, for the sixth consecutive year, ranks first among places to live, while Norway treats women better than any other country, according to the 1999 U.N. Human Development Report, released Monday.

This year’s survey, like its predecessors, ranks 174 nations according to how people live, factoring in health care, life expectancy, education and income.

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

At the other end of the scale, the 10 least developed countries in human terms are, from the bottom up, Sierra Leone, Niger, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Mali and the Central African Republic.

The most widespread discrepancy was between the sexes, with inequality existing in all countries.

Canada slips to fourth place on this list, and the United States is in eighth place on the “gender empowerment” index. This measures how many women are in parliament or government, how many have professional or technical jobs, and how much they earn, based on per capita income.

The 20 top countries here are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Germany, Finland, Iceland, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, the Bahamas, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Britain, Belgium, Portugal, South Africa and Ireland.

The survey shows that high income is not always a necessary condition for creating opportunities for women. South Africa and Costa Rica, for example, outrank France, which is in 36th place. Israel outperforms Japan.

The Bahamas, the Czech Republic and Slovenia also offer better conditions for women than their income would suggest, illustrating that equality “can be achieved across a range of cultures,” the report said.

Despite major improvements in life expectancy and literacy among men and women over the past decade, poverty is pervasive in Benin, Nepal and Niger, among others.

Pockets of deprivation also exist within rich nations. For example, Denmark’s average life expectancy is 76 years, but 13 percent of the population does not reach the age of 60.

In Ireland, 23 percent of the people are functionally illiterate, and in the United States, nearly 20 percent of the population has an income below the national poverty line.

Britain, Ireland and the United States show higher poverty levels than other industrialized countries.

The report said 16 countries suffered major reversals in health care, largely because of the impact of AIDS in southern and eastern Africa and economic stagnation in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.