Monday, October 5, 2009

define "most livable"

The UN has released its Human Development Index today, ranking countries by liveability according to a complex equation. Naturally, the Scandinavian countries rule, with Norway being #1 and Iceland being #3. Since 1990, the top spot has been occupied by Japan, Canada, Iceland or Norway every year. This year's list is based on 2007 data, so the financial crisis which disproportionately leveled Iceland's economy isn't factored in. Check out the full list here.

Several countries are missing from the UNDP's list, including Iraq and Zimbabwe. I suppose it's difficult to calculate the economic well-being of a country when it has multi-million percent inflation per annum, as Zimbabwe suffered in the past couple of years. (See the absurd banknote pictured above.) Other countries' profiles on this list have been overtaken by events. For example, Georgia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all had sizable improvements in their HDI index, but all took a serious humanitarian turn for the worse in the past year.

All told though, it's hard to gauge how accurately this index fits real life. Conflict, for example, doesn't seem to be factored in as much as it ought to be. Is it really worse to live in Niger, with low-level insurgencies scattered about, than it is to live in Afghanistan, which has been in a state of open war for most of the past 30 years? Or Democratic Republic of Congo, which has hosted the deadliest war in the world since 1996?

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