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By Culturekiosque Staff

PARIS, 6 OCTOBER 2009 — "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens," quoth Bahá'u'lláh, the prophet founder of the Bahá'í­ Faith. But the effects of man - in its patchwork of borders and pastiche of governments and social programs - are never made so clear as by the Human Development Report (HDR), prepared and released annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Each year, as part of the HDR, countries are ranked according to the Human Development Index (HDI), and the disparities of life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and GDP per capita - depending on where one is fortunate or misfortunate to have been born - are brought into stark, perhaps brutal focus.

Despite progress in many areas over the last 25 years, the inequities in people's well-being in rich and poor countries continue to be unacceptably wide, according to the 2009 Human Development Index (HDI), calculated for 182 countries and territories, the most extensive coverage ever.

"Despite significant improvements over time, progress has been uneven," says the Report's lead author Jeni Klugman. "Many countries have experienced setbacks over recent decades, in the face of economic downturns, conflict-related crises and the HIV and AIDS epidemic. And this was even before the impact of the current global financial crisis was felt." (The most recent internationally comparable data is for 2007.)

The top five ranked countries in the HDI are, in order, Norway, Australia, Iceland, Canada and Ireland. At the other end of the spectrum are Mali, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and, at the very bottom of the list, Niger.

A child born in Niger can expect to live just over 50 years, 30 years fewer than a child born in Norway. Furthermore, the differences in per capita income are huge - for the equivalent of every U.S. dollar earned per person in Niger, a Norwegian earns $85.

Five countries rose three or more places, compared with 2006: China, Colombia, France, Peru and Venezuela - largely driven by increases in incomes and life expectancy and, in the cases of China, Colombia and Venezuela, also due to improvements in education.

This year's HDI introduces a new top country category: Very High Human Development. It shows that people living in countries in the higher human development categories can expect to be better educated, to live longer and to earn more.

The complete ranking for 2009 follows.

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