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Norway, Sweden, Canada Head Quality of Life Index

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Norway for the second year ranked first and the United States sixth as the best country in which to live, a U.N. report released on Wednesday said.

But in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as well as two dozen African nations people were poorer and died sooner than at the end of the Cold War, according to the U.N. Development Report 2002.

The report’s index attempts to measure broad categories of quality of life such as education, life expectancy, as well as per capita income. It was devised in 1990 by the late Mahbub ul Haq, a Pakistani economist, and has been issued every year since by the U.N. Development Program, one of the world’s largest aid agencies.

Heading the list of 173 nations were: Norway, Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Australia, United States, Iceland, Netherlands, Japan, Finland, Switzerland, France, Britain, Denmark, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Italy.

Those at the bottom, from 154th to 173rd place were: Senegal, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Benin, Guinea, Gambia, Angola, Rwanda, Malawi, Mali, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Burundi, Niger and Sierra Leone.

Despite wealthy countries ranking high on the index, the survey emphasized that per capita income alone was insufficient to improve the lives of ordinary people.

Pakistan and Vietnam, for example, had similar incomes but Vietnam did much more to translate that income into education and health care, the report said.

Russia, in 60th place, and Bulgaria, in 62nd, had high rates of education but lagged far behind in universal goals to reduce infant mortality.

During the 1990s, extreme poverty was cut in half in east Asia and the Pacific. But the number of people with a subsistence living in Africa rose from 242 million to 300 million. Some 20 nations in sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than in 1990 and 23 are poorer than in 1975, the report said.

The survey also measured Millennium Development Goals set by the U.N. General Assembly in 2000. World leaders pledged to halve the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality and start to reverse the AIDS ( news – web sites) epidemic.

The promise was to be translated into targeted foreign aid and on national governments setting priorities, which meant in many cases diverting funds from military hardware.

Some 51 countries, with 40 percent of the world’s people, are on track to achieving universal primary education by 2015 or have done so already.

The report noted that Benin, with a per capita gross domestic product of only $990 a year, was on track to put all its primary school children in school by 2015. Qatar, with nearly 20 times the income, was falling far behind.

Income per head in Egypt was less than a third of that in Hungary but while Egypt was on track to achieve universal primary enrollment, Hungary was slipping behind.

Guatemala had more than seven times the national income of Tanzania but the African nation was giving girls schooling while Guatemala was far behind, the report said.