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Greater divide between rich and poor

Inequality between rich and poor is becoming more extreme according to the latest Human Development Report from the United Nations. A fifth of the world’s population accounts for 86 per cent of consumption.

More than one billion people do not meet basic consumption requirements and, of the 4.4 billion people in the developing world, three- fifths lack basic sanitation, one-third do not have safe drinking water, one-quarter have inadequate housing and one-fifth are undernourished.

The population of Europe and North America spends US$37 billion a year on cosmetics, perfume and pet food. This is enough to provide basic education, water and sanitation to all those deprived of these services at present and still leave cash to spare.

Human Development Index for 1995: based on life expectancy, educational attainment and income.

A child born in New York will consume, pollute and waste more in a lifetime than 50 children born in the developing world.

“Abundance of consumption is not crime,” said James Gustave Speth of the United Nations Development Programme, “but it is scandalous that the poor are unable to consume enough to meet even their basic needs.”

“Consumption can contribute much to human development — but to deliver its potential it must be shared, strengthening, socially responsible and sustainable,” said Richard Jolly, coordinator of the report.

The report points out that fossil fuel combustion has risen by a factor of five since 1950, and that the wealthiest twenty per cent of the world’s population now consumes more than half the annual total. The poorest fifth contributes just three per cent of annual carbon dioxide emissions, yet these people are amongst the most vulnerable to climate change.

Further information

Human Development Report Office, 336 East 45th Street, Uganda House, New York, NY 10017, USA. Fax: 1-212-9063677. Email: Web:

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