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AIDS is wreaking devastating toll on human development - UN report

AIDS is wreaking devastating toll on human development - UN report

Mark Malloch Brown of the UNDP
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is having a catastrophic impact on human development in sub-Saharan Africa, reducing life expectancy and living standards in many countries and reversing the effects of any gains made in other fields, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says today.

Launching the Human Development Report 2004, its flagship annual report, the UNDP says the inhabitants of at least 46 countries are poorer than they were a decade ago. Almost half of these nations are in Africa.

The biggest reason for the deterioration is HIV/AIDS. In eight countries - Angola, the Central African Republic (CAR), Lesotho, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe - life expectancy has fallen to below 40 years.

UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown says the disease is undermining every aspect of societies, from private family life to economic production.

"The AIDS crisis cripples States at all levels, because the disease attacks people in their most productive years. It tears apart the foundations of everything from public administration and health care to family structures," he says.

The Report includes the Human Development Index (HDI), which measures life expectancy, adult literacy, school enrolment rates and gross domestic product (GDP) per person to build a broad picture of daily living standards in each country.

This year it measures 175 UN Member States, as well as Hong Kong and the occupied Palestinian territories. The UNDP - which is using statistics from 2002 - does not have enough accurate or recent data to measure 16 States, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Liberia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Somalia.

Norway tops the global rankings again this year: its inhabitants have a life expectancy of 79 years, a school enrolment ratio of 98 per cent, a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $36,000. Sweden, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, the United States, Japan and Ireland complete the top 10. In all, 55 nations are classed as having high human development.

But the countries at the bottom of the HDI rankings, classed as having low human development and dominated by sub-Saharan Africa, are slipping further behind. Sierra Leone is in last place for the seventh consecutive year as it attempts to recover from a brutal and long-running civil war.

The other members of the bottom 10 are Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Ethiopia, the CAR and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The world's newest nation, Timor-Leste, is also the worst-off in Asia, ranking 158th of the 177 countries and territories measured.

The Report also contains indices of human poverty and gender equality and economic inequality to help international policy-makers better target their programmes.

Mr. Malloch Brown says the Report is useful in helping to determine what progress countries are making towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight targets set by world leaders at a UN summit in 2000 that aim to cut in half extreme poverty and hunger, bring educational parity to boys and girls and improve the plight of slum dwellers, all by 2015.