United Nations names Australia as the second best place in the world to live

The United Nations has named oil-rich Norway as the country with the best quality of life, followed by Australia and New Zealand, while Asia has made the biggest strides in recent decades.

However, the UN's annual A-to-Z of global wealth, poverty, health and education highlighted that it is becoming ever more difficult to break into the rich club of nations.

Norway - with its 81 years of life expectancy and average annual income of $US59,000 ($59,000) - has topped the Human Development Index (HDI) for all but two years since 2001.

It doesn't come in first place in any individual category - average income in Liechtenstein, for example, is a wallet-busting $US81,011 and Japan's life expectancy is 83.6 years - but Norway's all-round performance gives it superiority in the 20th annual rankings on the UN Development Program (UNDP).

Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Ireland, in order, also made the top five.

Zimbabwe came in last among the 169 nations ranked, behind Mozambique, Burundi, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In stark contrast to the leaders, in Zimbabwe life expectancy is just 47 and per capita income $US176.

DR Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the only countries in which the HDI value fell below 1970 levels.

"These countries offer lessons on the devastating impact of conflict, the AIDS epidemic and economic and political mismanagement," UNDP chief and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clarke said yesterday.


The study aims to give a broader assessment of quality of life than just income - by including, health, education, gender equality and political freedom - and its lead writer, Jeni Klugman, said most of the world had seen "dramatic progress" since 1970.

Average life expectancy rose from 59 to 70 years, primary school enrollment grew from 55 to 70 per cent, and per capita incomes doubled to more than $US10,000. Many of the poorest countries achieved some of the greatest gains, she said.

"Overall they are healthier, more educated and wealthier and [have] more power to appoint and hold their leaders accountable than ever before," Klugman said.

"But some countries have suffered serious setbacks, particularly in health - sometimes erasing the gains of several decades."

The nations that have risen most in the rankings in recent decades include "growth miracles" such as China, which has risen eight places in the past five years to 89th, Indonesia and South Korea.

East Asia and the Pacific had by far the strongest overall performance of any region over the past 40 years - twice the average worldwide progress.

China, the second highest index achiever since 1970, has been successful mainly because of income rather than health or education, the report said.

China's per capita income increased 21-fold over four decades, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. Yet China was not among Asia's top performers in school enrollment and life expectancy.

Klugman highlighted that "economic growth alone does not automatically bring improvements in health and education".

Nepal surprisingly emerged as one of the most improved nations since 1970, despite its longstanding civil war.

A child born today in Nepal can expect to live 25 years longer than a child born in 1970.

In six sub-Saharan African countries and three in the former Soviet Union, life expectancy is now below 1970 levels - mainly because of the HIV epidemic and tougher conditions in former communist nations.

And even though incomes have grown dramatically, poor nations are not making the same economic strides as they are in health and education.

"On average, rich countries have grown faster than poor ones over the past 40 years.

"The divide between developed and developing countries persists: a small subset of countries has remained at the top of the world income distribution and only a handful of countries that started out poor have joined that high income group," the report concluded.