Gap Between Rich, Poor Grows: UN

United Nations: (South News): A new report has called for urgent action to raise the living standards of the world's poor after revealing that a billion people have been left out of the consumption boom of the past two decades.

Illustrating the yawning gap between rich and poor, it said the 20 percent of people living in high-income countries consume 86 percent of the world's goods and services. The poorest 20 percent, by contrast, consume just 1.3 percent, the UN gives in a snap shot of the wealth and poverty of nations.

 ``Abundance of consumption is no crime,'' said United Nations Development Program administrator James Gustave Speth. ``But it is scandalous that the poor are unable to consume enough to meet even their most basic needs.''

Highlighting ``gross inequalities,'' the Human Development Report said the amount of money spent on pet food in the United States and Europe each year equals the additional amount needed to provide basic food and health care for all the people in poor countries, with a sizeable amount left over. The $8billion spent on cosmetics in the US would provide clean water for all. The amount spent on icecream in Europe would be enough to ensure reproductive health for all women in developing countries.

North America now spend $37 billion a year on pet food, perfumes and cosmetics. This figure would provide basic education, water and sanitation, basic health and nutrition for all those now deprived of it and still leave $9 billion over, according to the UN figures.The report's main author, Dr Richard Jolly, highlights ``grotesque inequalities and gargantuan excesses''. He finds that :

  • 225 richest people in the world have a combined wealth that is equal to the annual income of the poorest 47per cent. 
  • The three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least-developed countries.
  • Less than 4per cent of the wealth of the 225 richest people would meet the additional cost of basic education, health care, adequate food for all and safe water and sanitation for all. 
  • The world spends $780billion every year on military equipment 

According to the UN, the 225 richest people in the world have a combined wealth of more than $1trillion, equal to the annual income of the poorest 47 per cent of the Earth's population, some 2.5billion people. The three richest people on the planet have assets that exceed the combined GDP of the 48 least developed countries, the 15 richest people have more than the total GDP of sub-Saharan Africa and the 32 richest more than that of South Asia.

Of the 4.4 billion people in developing countries, almost three-fifths lack basic sanitation, one-third have no safe drinking water, one-quarter have inadequate housing, while one-fifth are undernourished and the same proportion have no modern health services.

The UN said that social exclusion was also a problem in the wealthy countries of the West, where 200 million people were not expected to live until the age of 60, 100 million were homeless, and 37 million were unemployed.

Within wealthy countries, there is a large disparity between the consumption patterns and living standards of the richest and poorest.At least 37 million are unemployed, 100 million are homeless and nearly 200 million have a life expectancy of less than 60 years.

The 228-page report examined industrialized nations in a new ``human poverty index'' measuring the extent to which the poor have been left behind. Sweden ranked the best, with less than 7 percent of citizens living in poverty.
The United States, the richest country in the world in terms of income per head, is last in a new UN table of 17 developed countries for poverty. Nearly 16.5 percent of Americans live in poverty despite the country's immense material wealth and generally high per-capita income.  Anglo-Saxon countries fill four of the bottom six places, with Australia in 12th place and New Zealand 13th

Australia, which is listed among the countries with a high level of human development in terms of life expectancy, education and adjusted real income, has the third-largest percentage of the population living below the poverty line in the developed world. 

``Poverty is not just a matter of not having enough income, but also of being robbed of opportunities to participate and contribute to the life of a community,'' said Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, a UNDP official. 

But the report offered this glimmer of hope: Despite alarming setbacks in some countries, every region of the world has made at least some gains in human development over the past 30 years.

Since 1960, infant mortality rates in developing nations have decreased by more than half, child malnutrition has declined by 25 percent and school enrollment has more than doubled, it said. Even so, poverty is making steady inroads even among the wealthiest nations, said researchers who described the number of those barely getting by in industrialized countries as ``shockingly high.''

Produced by an independent team of experts, it is a valuable publication because it looks beyond simple per capita income to such factors as education, life expectancy and participation in society as measures of human progress.

The satatistics indicates the size of the task that must be undertaken before the world becomes a more just, happier and safer place.This year, Canada, for the fifth consecutive year, has topped the human development index; Sierra Leone, where the average life expectancy is 45, has come last among 174 countries. Australia is ranked 15th