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U.N. Program Rates Russia 'High' in Human Development Values

Copenhagen, July 17 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Development Program (UNDP) says that Russia has suffered a calamitous decline in human development, but so far continues to rank among the nations of the world that are "high" in human development values such as life expectancy, literacy, and per capita productivity.

In its 1996 annual report published today in Copenhagen, the UNDP says Russia ranks 57th in human development among 147 nations the program surveyed.

By international standards, the Soviet Union had achieved impressive advances in human development, the report says. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's growth and human development have plummeted. Deep recession and hyperinflation sharply increased poverty, unemployment and income inequity. Life expectancy and mortality have dropped.

In the late 1980s, only about 10 percent of the Russians lived below the poverty line, set at half the average income. Since 1991, the official poverty line has been lowered. However, the percentage of those recognized poor has more than tripled.

From 1991 - 1994, average real wages dropped by more than a third and agricultural wages by more than half. The working poor have been hit the hardest:. In 1990 the minimum wage was 23 percent of the average wage. In 1995, it was 6 percent. The report says that actual wages, as opposed to officially announced wages, are even lower in today's Russia.

Officially, unemployment in Russia is less than 3 percent. In reality, says the UNDP, about one in five workers is out of a job. Many unemployed, on involuntary unpaid leave, are recorded as employed.

The 1996 Human Development Report terms as "catastrophic" a decline in life expectancy in Russia By early 1995 the average life span of a Russian man was 57.3 years and of a Russian woman, 70. Comparable1990 numbers were 64 and 74 respectively. No other industrial country has experienced such a decline and no other country has a 13-year gender gap in life expectancy, the report says.

The UNDP says that the Russian education system has all but collapsed. There has been a sharp drop in teachers' salaries and student enrollment.

The report suggest that Russia's human development decline has been unnecessarily steep. It concludes that Russia should seek to establish a more egalitarian distribution of human capital through greater investment in, among other things, education and health care.