Wide Gap Persists Between Rich and Poor Nations : Economics: The World Bank ‘atlas’ shows a vast disparity and a correlation between literacy and growth.


While listing a few signs of hope, the World Bank on Saturday reported the persistence of enormous gaps in economic well-being between rich countries and poor.

On average, a Luxembourger’s share of his tiny European country’s gross national product--the value of all the goods and services produced during the year--was $39,850 in 1994. The United States had a per capita GNP of $25,860.

But Burundi, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Sierra Leone--all in Africa--had averages of $150 or less. In Mozambique, the per capita GNP was only $80, the lowest in the world.


The statistics were released in the annual “atlas” of the World Bank, an independent agency of the United Nations that tries to foster economic development in poor nations by providing loans with easy terms.

Putting the statistics in the best light, World Bank Chief Economist Michael Bruno noted that almost 100 countries had experienced economic growth over the past decade. But that masked the fact that the per capita GNP of 68 countries had actually declined during the past 10 years.

The average per person GNP worldwide was $4,600. But, reflecting wide economic disparities, only three countries--Mexico, Uruguay and St. Kitts and Nevis--actually had a per capita GNP close to the average, between $4,000 and $5,000. Most countries were much richer or much poorer.

Places that had per capita GNPs of more than $20,000 in 1994 included Luxembourg, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, the United States, Germany, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Hong Kong. But there were 64 countries that had per capita GNPs of only $725 or less.

The World Bank atlas made clear the correlation between social problems and economic strength. The statistics demonstrated, for example, that the poor have little or no education and die at an earlier age than wealthy people.

Twenty-three countries have illiteracy rates of 60% or more. The average per capita GNP of these countries is low--only $310 a year. Five countries, in fact, have an illiteracy rate of more than 75%: Burkina Faso (82%), Sierra Leone (79%), Benin (77%), Guinea (76%) and Somalia (76%), all in Africa.

Life expectancy is also linked to wealth, according to the atlas. The 36 countries that had a life expectancy of less than 55 years had a per capita GNP of $280 a year. But the 37 countries with a life expectancy of 75 years or more had a per capita GNP of $23,810 a year. During the past two decades, life expectancy in poorer countries remained the same, while it rose by six years in richer countries, the World Bank reported.


In his introduction to the atlas, Bruno underscored the high growth rates of several countries in the developing world: Chile (6.2% during the past 10 years) and Uruguay (3%) in Latin America; Botswana (6.6%), Namibia (3.4%) and Uganda (3%) in Africa; and a number of countries led by Thailand (8.2%) and China (6.9%) in Asia.

“Many of these Latin American and Asian countries also have high levels of literacy,” Bruno wrote, “reflecting the link between basic education and growth.”

Bruno noted a dramatic improvement in infant mortality rates. When the first World Bank atlas was published in 1970, Bruno said, there were 96 infant deaths for every 1,000 births worldwide. That figure has been almost halved, to 55 per 1,000.