Illyria / September 4, 1995
By Larry Luxner
NEW YORK -- Albania, frequently described as Europe's poorest country, may no longer warrant that dubious distinction.
The United Nations Development Program, in an annual and sometimes controversial study that compares the quality of life among the UN's 174 member nations, now ranks Albania 82nd in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income. That's not too bad, considering Albania scored better than Romania, Paraguay, Jamaica, Peru, South Africa, the Dominican Republic and 86 other countries in the UNDP's 1995 Human Development Index, released Aug. 17.
On a scale of 0 to 1, Albania measured 0.739 -- just ahead of North Korea, with 0.733, and only six notches down from much wealthier Saudi Arabia, with 0.762. Macedonia, which wasn't a United Nations member in 1992 -- when much of the data for the book was collected -- isn't even mentioned in the worldwide rankings. And eight former Soviet republics and satellites which are mentioned -- Turkmenistan, Kyrgyztan, Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Romania, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan -- rank lower on the quality-of-life index than does Albania.
The 230-page report, prepared by a team of eminent economists and development professionals under the guidance of Mahbub ul Haq, Pakistan's former minister of finance and planning, contains a wealth of information and trivia. Among the "factoids" gleaned from this exhaustive work are the following: Albania has one doctor for every 730 people, nine TV sets per 100 inhabitants and five daily newspapers per 100. Its 1993 unemploy-ment rate was 9.3% (a suspiciously low figure, given the large numbers of jobless young men seen hanging out at every main square in Albania) and the country's 1992 inflation rate was 226%.
According to the study, Albania spends 4% of its Gross National Product on health, and 2.3% of its GNP -- about $10 a head -- on defense. In 1985, incidentally, Albanian military expenditures came to $189 million, though one wonders how the UN got those figures in the last year of Enver Hoxha's Marxist dictatorship.
The country's labor force, which is 48% of its population, is divided into agriculture (56%), industry (19%) and services (25%). In 1992, Albania received $150 million in remittances from abroad.
While the majority of its citizens still live in the countryside, according to the UNDP report, Albania's urban population jumped from 31% in 1960 to 36% in 1992, and should rise to 40% by 2000. In that year, the country's total population will be 3.6 million, a 0.9% increase from today. Only 6% of all Albanians are aged 65 years or older. And unlike most other European nations, no data was available on the percentage of Albanian women who use contraceptives.
Turning to education, 66% of all young Albanians aged six through 23 were enrolled in school, with 83.9% of elementary school-aged pupils enrolled, 91.4% of secondary school-aged children and 16.6% of college-aged youths.
Coal production constituted 3.6% of Albania's national energy reserves, natural gas another 6.2% and crude oil 8.7%. Of Albania's total land area, 38.2% is covered by forest and woodland and 25.4% by farmland; fully 61.2% of that land is irrigated. Specific information on environmental degredation was unavailable, though internal renewable water resources came to 3,000 cubic meters per year in 1992; per capita annual fresh water withdrawals amounted to 94 cubic meters in 1980-89, or 1% of total water resources.
Despite the difficult economic conditions, Albanians rarely took their own lives. According to UNDP statistics, there were only two suicides per 100,000 males, one per 100,000 females during 1989-93 -- far less than the U.S. suicide rate of 20 males per 100,000 or the world's most suicidal country, Finland, with 45 male suicides per 100,000.
Perhaps the most interesting fact of all is that Albania is not listed in the UNDP report as one of the world's 127 developing countries, but as one of its 47 "industrialized" countries -- along with the United States, most Western European nations and all 15 former Soviet republics.
Although one of the report's main themes this year was gender inequality and female empowerment, little data was produced on how Albania fares in this category compared to other countries.
Last week, Hillary Rodham Clinton commended the UNDP for the work, calling it "a valuable study which draws much-needed attention to the social, economic and political conditions of women around the world."
"For participants at the upcoming Fourth World Conference on Women," said Mrs. Clinton, "the report serves as a timely reminder that women everywhere deserve the opportunity to become full participants and decision-makers in their own lives as well as in the destinies of their countries."
Incidentally, the country with the best Human Development Index was Canada, with a score of 0.950. The United States and Japan tied for second place, with scores of 0.937 each. Scraping the bottom of the list was Niger, which scored only 0.207.