Norway back on top as world’s best place to live

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Norway has regained its spot as the best country in the world in which to live, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It beat out 181 other countries ranked in terms of residents’ life expectancy, literacy, access to education and gross national product per capita.

Norwegians almost make a sport out of complaining, and local media is full of critical stories and small scandals every day. The UNDP’s annual Human Development Report nonetheless claims that they’re very well off indeed, suggesting that Norwegians can acknowledge that they’ve built up a well-functioning country over the years that once again has been recognized internationally.

Norway has ranked at the top of the list several times over the past decade. It’s a social welfare state that, since the discovery of North Sea oil in 1969, continues to benefit greatly from its offshore oil revenues.

Last week came word, for example, that Norway has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe, at just 2.7 percent. It is widely viewed as having coped well with the global financial crisis that took hold at the end of last year and voters rewarded its left-center coalition government with re-election last month.

This year’s list, released Monday, is based, however, on figures from 2007, before the financial crisis set in. That suggests Norway may retain its top spot in coming years, since many other countries have suffered far more than Norway in both 2008 and 2009.

Iceland, for example, ranks third on the UNDP’s new list but it has been battered by the global financial crisis and many residents have felt compelled to leave the country to find work. Ireland, ranked fifth on the list, also has seen its economy deteriorate in the past year.

Australia ranked second on the list, with Canada in fourth place.

At the opposite end of the scale was war-torn Afghanistan and several countries in Africa including Niger, where residents have an expected life span of just 50 years, 30 less than in Norway. For every US dollar earned in Niger, 85 are earned in Norway.

The Human Development Report notes that disparities in people’s well-being remain “unacceptably wide,” despite progress over the past 25 years. Jeni Klugman, lead author of the report, noted that many countries have experienced setbacks because of economic downturn, conflict-related crises and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, “and this was even before the impact of the current global financial crisis was felt.”

Nearly half the population in the world’s 24 poorest countries are illiterate. The world’s wealthiest persons, meanwhile, live in Liechtenstein, where gross national product per citizen benefits from the tiny population’s plethora of banks and other financial services firms.