August 26, 2005

Norway tops 2005 U.N. ranking as best place to live

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway will top a 2005 U.N. ranking as the
best country to live in for the fifth year in a row, the head
of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) said on Friday.

Rich from North Sea oil and with a generous welfare state,
Norway has led the world ranking since it ousted Canada from
top spot in 2001. The annual list ranks countries by an index
combining wealth, education and life expectancy.

"The (2005) report comes out on September 7 and yes, Norway
is ranked as number 1 on the human development index," UNDP
administrator Kemal Dervis told a news conference in Oslo of
the forthcoming report.

He gave no other details of the ranking. Last year, Norway
was followed by Sweden, Australia and Canada at the top, while
Sierra Leone was the last of 177 countries listed.

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, whose center-right
government is trailing a "Red-Green" opposition alliance led by
the Labour Party ahead of a September 12 poll, welcomed the
findings but said he doubted it would have an impact on the

"It's very pleasing to learn that we are top for the fifth
year in a row," he told Reuters.

"This doesn't mean that everything here is perfect. We have
many unsolved problems in our welfare state," he said.

He said Norway had a special responsibility to combat
poverty in countries toward the bottom of the UNDP list. Norway
says its annual aid donations of one percent of gross national
income are the highest rate in the world.


Dervis, on his first foreign trip since taking over as head
of the UNDP this month, also said the ranking was a reward for
years of work by successive governments in Norway, the world's
third biggest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

"This is an achievement of the Norwegian people over a very
long time. It cannot be interpreted as belonging to one
government," he said.

Bondevik has often grumbled in the past that it is a
paradox to be lagging in the polls when UNDP surveys have
placed Norway top every year since he came to office in 2001.

The economy is set to expand by 3.75 percent this year,
interest rates are at near record lows at 2.0 percent, annual
inflation is at a negligible 1.1 percent and unemployment among
the lowest in the world at 3.7 percent.

But opinion polls in Norway show many people believe that
tax cuts have favored the rich and want more investment in
education, hospitals and care for the elderly.

Norwegians generally reckon that their economic upturn is
fueled by high oil prices -- a bonanza out of any government's
control. A fund saving Norway's oil wealth for future
generations is worth $180 billion, or $39,000 for each citizen.