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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK UN says democracy is at risk

The report calls global inequality “grotesque”

Rising inequality and corruption around the world are putting the recent spread of democracy in many countries at risk, the UN says in a new report.

Of 81 countries that have moved toward democracy in the past 20 years, the report says, only 47 are still considered full democracies with the necessary checks and balances on power.

The warning comes with the UN’s 12th annual Human Development Report, which ranks 173 countries for their quality of life, using indicators such as life expectancy and income per person.

Norway again ranks first, followed by Sweden, Canada, Belgium, Australia and the United States – but the bottom of the chart is dominated by African countries.

Sierra Leone is last, and the bottom 24 countries are all in Africa.

The poor performance went hand-in-hand with a relapse in many places to authoritarian rule or conflict, especially in sub-Saharan African, where the report says that one in four countries saw the military intervene in politics.

“Around the world, there is a growing sense that democracy has not delivered development such as more jobs, schools, health care for ordinary people,” said Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, the UN report’s chief author.


But the report argues that moving toward democracy actually makes for more stable societies – rebutting an argument made by China, Pakistan and other countries that a slower shift to democracy is necessary to maintain order.

“The desire for stability often leads to the notion that non-democratic regimes hold out the prospect of greater public order and faster economic development,” the report’s author said.

“History and academic research provide no evidence that authoritarian regimes are better at promoting economic and social progress.”

In addition, democratic countries are far less likely to go to war against each other, the report says.

HDI rank 2002 LifeEXp InfantMort/1000 GDP$percapita AdultLit% 1 Norway 78.5 4 29,918 99%* 2 Sweden 79.7 3 24,277 99%* 3 Canada 78.8 6 27,840 99%* 4 Belgium 78.4 6 27,178 99%* 5 Australia 78.9 6 25,693 99%* 6 United States 77 7 34,142 99%* 7 Iceland 79.2 4 29,581 99%* 8 Netherlands 78.1 5 25,657 99%* 9 Japan 81 4 26,755 99%* 10 Finland 77.6 4 24,996 99%*