Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti completely devastated by earthquake

In the January 13, 2009 article "Quake-stunned Haitians pile bodies by fallen homes," Associated Press writer Jonathan M. Katz reports that the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has been completely devastated by an earthquake.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capital Wednesday after a powerful earthquake crushed thousands of structures, from schools and shacks to the National Palace and the U.N. peacekeeping headquarters. Untold numbers were still trapped.

It seemed clear that the death toll from Tuesday afternoon's magnitude-7.0 quake would run into the thousands. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince was among the dead, and the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission was missing.

International Red Cross spokesman Paul Conneally said a third of Haiti's 9 million people may need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge. The United Nations said the capital's main airport was "fully operational" and open to relief flights.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the capital of 2 million people as women covered in dust clawed out of debris, wailing. Stunned people wandered the streets holding hands. Thousands gathered in public squares to sing hymns.

People pulled bodies from collapsed homes, covering them with sheets by the side of the road. Passers-by lifted the sheets to see if loved ones were underneath. Outside a crumbled building, the bodies of five children and three adults lay in a pile.

The prominent died along with the poor: the body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, 63, was found in the ruins of his office, said the Rev. Pierre Le Beller of the Saint Jacques Missionary Center in Landivisiau, France. He told The Associated Press by telephone that fellow missionaries in Haiti had told him they found Miot's body.

The United States and other nations — from Iceland to Venezuela — said they would start sending in aid workers and rescue teams. The international Red Cross and other aid groups announced plans for major relief operations in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Many will have to help their own staff as well as stricken Haitians. Taiwan said its embassy was destroyed and the ambassador hospitalized. Spain said its embassy was badly damaged.

"Haiti has moved to center of the world's thoughts and the world's compassion," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Tens of thousands of people lost their homes as buildings that were flimsy and dangerous even under normal conditions collapsed. Nobody offered an estimate of the dead, but the numbers were clearly enormous.

"The hospitals cannot handle all these victims," said Dr. Louis-Gerard Gilles. "Haiti needs to pray. We all need to pray together."

An American aid worker was trapped for about 10 hours under the rubble of her mission house before she was rescued by her husband, who told CBS' "Early Show" that he drove 100 miles (160 kilometers) to Port-au-Prince to find her. Frank Thorp said he dug for more than an hour to free his wife, Jillian, and a co-worker, from under about a foot of concrete.

An estimated 40,000-45,000 Americans live in Haiti, and the U.S. Embassy had no confirmed reports of deaths among its citizens. All but one American employed by the embassy have been accounted for, State Department officials said.

Even relatively wealthy neighborhoods were devastated.

An AP videographer saw a wrecked hospital where people screamed for help in Petionville, a hillside district that is home to many diplomats and wealthy Haitians as well as the poor.

At a destroyed four-story apartment building, a girl of about 16 stood atop a car, trying to see inside while several men pulled at a foot sticking from rubble. She said her family was inside.

"A school near here collapsed totally," Petionville resident Ken Michel said after surveying the damage. "We don't know if there were any children inside." He said many seemingly sturdy homes nearby were split apart.

The U.N.'s 9,000 peacekeepers in Haiti, many of whom are from Brazil, were distracted from aid efforts by their own tragedy: Many spent the night hunting for survivors in the ruins of their headquarters.

"It would appear that everyone who was in the building, including my friend Hedi Annabi, the United Nations' secretary-general's special envoy, and everyone with him and around him, are dead," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on RTL radio.

But U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy would not confirm that Annabi was dead, saying he was among more than 100 people missing in its wrecked headquarters. He said only about 10 people had been pulled out, many of them badly injured. Fewer than five bodies had been removed, he said.

Brazil's army said at least four of its peacekeepers were killed and five injured, while Jordan's official news agency said three of its peacekeepers were killed and 33 injured. A state newspaper in China said eight Chinese peacekeepers were known dead and 10 were missing — although officials later said the information was not confirmed.

Much of the National Palace pancaked on itself, but Haiti's ambassador to Mexico, Robert Manuel, said President Rene Preval and his wife survived.

The quake struck at 4:53 p.m., centered 10 miles (15 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of only 5 miles (8 kilometers), the U.S. Geological Survey said. USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake since 1770 in what is now Haiti.

Most Haitians are desperately poor, and after years of political instability the country has no real construction standards. In November 2008, following the collapse of a school in Petionville, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated about 60 percent of buildings were shoddily built and unsafe normally.

The quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and in eastern Cuba, but no major damage was reported in either place.

With electricity out in many places and phone service erratic, it was nearly impossible for Haitian or foreign officials to get full details of the devastation.

"Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken," said Henry Bahn, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official in Port-au-Prince. "The sky is just gray with dust."

President Barack Obama offered prayers for the people of Haiti and said the U.S. stood ready to help. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said a disaster response team would fly in Wednesday.

Edwidge Danticat, an award-winning Haitian-American author was unable to contact relatives in Haiti. She sat with family and friends at her home in Miami, looking for news on the Internet and watching TV news reports.

"You want to go there, but you just have to wait," she said. "Life is already so fragile in Haiti, and to have this on such a massive scale, it's unimaginable how the country will be able to recover from this."


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fewer free countries in 2009: Freedom House

In the January 12, 2010 Reuters article "Fewer free countries in 2009: Freedom House," Daniel Trotta reports:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Civil freedoms around the world lost ground for the fourth straight year in 2009 with Iraq improving, Afghanistan falling back and China acting as if it were under siege by its own citizens, Freedom House said on Tuesday.

Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen moved into "not free" category, raising the total to 47 from 42 in 2008. The number of electoral democracies fell from 119 to 116, the lowest since 1995.

Eighty-nine countries were designated "free" and 58 "partly free" in the report issued by the U.S.-based advocate for democracy and human rights.

The four-year deterioration marked the longest decline since Freedom House began its annual survey in 1972.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, saw political rights deteriorate in the face of rapidly worsening security and the "increased marginalization of the parliament and other political institutions," the report said.

The report cited also "growing paranoia of even the largest and most headstrong" of the world's authoritarian powers.

"No country can compete in this respect with China, which -- despite its waxing economic and military prowess -- behaves as if it were under siege by its own citizens," the report said.

China's growing economic influence abroad helped repressive countries by providing investment free of the conditions often imposed by the West, the report's lead researcher said.

"As long as China can get strategic minerals or some kind of economic gain, they will invest in those countries," said Arch Puddington, director of research for Freedom House.

"It's a problem, especially in Africa. Some of these authoritarian countries have an option -- they don't have to carry out reforms that the United States or Europe might be demanding," he said.

While Asia was cited as a region of modest improvements, the report cited diminished freedom in Afghanistan, where a "deeply flawed presidential poll exacerbated an already unstable security situation and exposed the prevalence of corruption within the government."

Iraq, by contrast, showed improvement as the rest of the Middle East and North Africa region "suffered a number of significant setbacks."

"Iraq's political rights rating improved in light of provincial elections, which were generally regarded as fair and competitive, and due to the government's enhanced autonomy as the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops got under way," the report said.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The World's Friendliest Countries

In the December 1, 2009 Forbes article "World's Friendliest Countries," Rebecca Ruiz reports on a survey of 3,100 expatriates that ranks countries by friendliness.
The Middle East has long had a reputation for being one of the world's perennial trouble spots. But for expatriates, the tiny Persian Gulf county Bahrain ranks as one of the most welcoming places to work.

That's the surprising result of a new survey of 3,100 expatriates conducted by HSBC Bank. Bahrain ranked first in one key measure of how easy it is for expatriates to set up a new life for their families. It received high marks from expats who like the country's easy access to modern health care, decent and affordable housing, and network of social groups that expatriates can join.

Canada, which ranked first in a similar survey last year, fell to second place on HSBC's integration score, which measures how easily foreigners and their families can settle into a new country. Australia, Thailand and Malaysia rounded out the top five. Foreign workers in these countries found it easy to make local friends and said they enjoyed a higher quality of life than in their native countries.

Behind the Numbers

HSBC's Expat Explorer survey was conducted between February and April 2009. Survey respondents were from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere and lived in more than two dozen countries and on four continents. They ranked their new homes based on 23 factors, including food, entertainment, health care, commute and education. Of those measures, HSBC selected eight to create its so-called "integration score," a snapshot of which countries are most welcoming to expats.

It is possible that Bahrain's first-place finish is a fluke. Only 31 expats working in Bahrain participated in the survey, vs. more than 450 respondents from the United Kingdom. Bahrain ranked as the best country to join local community groups and coordinate health care. Respondents found it less easy to make local friends and learn the languages (Arabic, Farsi and Urdu), but the country ranked in the top five when it came to finding a home, setting up finances, and finding good schools.

The United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom received some of the poorest scores on the integration scale. Expats in the Emirates reported finding it difficult to join local community groups; only 39% of respondents made local friends compared to 76% of respondents living in other countries. Foreign workers in England complained about the challenges of finding affordable housing.

Suzanne Garber, COO of the Americas Region for International SOS, a firm that provides medical and logistical assistance to overseas employees, says surveys like these give potential expats an overarching view of living in various countries.

But she says that family life is the leading indicator of whether or not an expat assignment will be successful. Many overseas stints end prematurely because an employee's family feels disconnected from the new country and has trouble handling basic tasks like refilling prescriptions, driving around town or dealing with the local police.

"The concerns are pretty much the same no matter where you are," says Garber. "You have to make sure the family's life is stable and secure."

Click here to see full list.

Rank - Country - Making Friends - Making Local Friends - Joining Community Groups - Organizing School For My Children - Organizing My Finances - Organizing My Health Care - Finding Somewhere To Live - Setting Up Utilities
1 Bahrain 5 20 1 5 3 1 2 4
2 Canada 11 2 3 6 7 8 5 2
3 Australia 10 6 9 7 1 7 11 5
4 Thailand 1 16 18 4 11 2 1 9
5 Malaysia 4 14 19 1 3 3 4 13
6 South Africa 6 2 8 3 14 6 3 14
7 Hong Kong 3 17 12 17 2 5 8 3
8 Singapore 7 18 24 13 6 4 13 1
9 Spain 12 8 13 18 10 9 7 8
10 United States 15 7 4 12 20 24 10 7


The Expat Explorer survey was commissioned by HSBC Bank International and conducted by the research company FreshMinds. More than 3,100 expatriates were surveyed between February and April 2009.The respondents were asked to rate 23 factors related to their quality of life, including food, entertainment, transportation, health care, finances, education and their ability to make friends. Each criterion is equally weighted to arrive at a score. The overall ranking is based on the average score for a country across the criteria. Eight measures were also selected to comprise the integration score: organizing school for my children; organizing my finances; organizing my health care; finding somewhere to live; making friends; making local friends; setting up utilities; and joining local community groups. The integration score was used to determine the friendliest countries.

Study: Australians Have the World's Biggest Homes

In the December 1, 2009 Reuters article "Study: Australians Have the World's Biggest Homes," Belinda Goldsmith reports that "Australia has overtaken the United States, the heartland of the McMansion, to boast the world's largest homes, according to a report by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia."
Research commissioned by the bank's broking arm, CommSec, shows the Australian house has grown on average by 10 percent in the past decade to 214.6 square meters (2,310 sq ft) -- nearly three times the size of the average British house.

By contrast, the average size of new homes started in the United States in the September quarter was 201.5 square meter (2,169 sq ft), down from 212 square meter (2,282 sq ft), with the average U.S. home shrinking for the first time in a decade due to the recession.

In Europe, Denmark has the biggest homes, which takes into account houses and flats, with an average floor area of 137 square meter, followed by Greece at 126 square meter, and the Netherlands at 115.5 square meter.

Homes in Britain are the smallest in Europe at 76 square meter. But according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistic issued by CommSec, while Australian houses are getting bigger, so are the families.

The number of people in each household has risen to 2.56 from 2.51, the first such rise in at least 100 years.

"It makes sense. Population is rising, as is the cost of housing and the cost of moving house, so we are making greater use of what we've got," CommSec's Craig James said in a statement widely reported in the Australian media.

"Children are living at home longer with parents and more people are opting for shared accommodation ... Generation Y is already baulking at the cost of housing, choosing to stay at home longer with parents."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index

Click on the map above to enlarge it.

In the November 17, 2009 Fast Company article "Infographic of the Day: The 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index," Cliff Kuang says "Transparency International releases the 2009 edition of its signature study of international corruption--this time with infographics. How does the U.S. fare? Not great, actually." He goes on to explain:
Transparency International has just released its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, the preeminent, annual study of governmental corruption levels around the world.

This time, they've added a nice little interactive map--not much too it, besides the fact that mousing over the country gives you the numeric value. But it does give you a great indication of what countries do well, relative to their neighbors and what countries are basically sinkholes of graft and fraud. For example, Uraguay and Botswanna do far better than the countries around them--no wonder that Botswanna in particular is a prime example of economic development that works.

The CPI is a survey of surveys, which combines indexes found in 13 feeder studies with the expertise of academics who follow these issues. (Experts are polled on questions like how well a country's courts work, and the effectiveness of its watch dog agencies.)

If you're new to the study, the most surprising thing will be how poorly the U.S. does, relative to its first world peers. We're basically just a shade above some pretty dicey governments. The reasons are complex, but you can point to the influence of lobbying on our lawmaking and the ongoing controversy over how we've prosecuted the war on terror, among other things.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Want prosperity? Index ranks Finland as place to be

In the October 27, 2009 Reuters article "Want prosperity? Index ranks Finland as place to be," Miral Fahmy and Ron Popeski summarize the findings of a 2009 report on global prosperity.
SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) – For those who value their freedom of expression as much as health, wealth, and prosperity, then Finland is the place to be, with an index ranking the Nordic nation the best in the world.

The 2009 Legatum Prosperity Index, published on Tuesday and compiled by the Legatum Institute, an independent policy, advocacy and advisory organization, ranked 104 countries which are home to 90 percent of the world's population.

The index is based on a definition of prosperity that combines economic growth with the level of personal freedoms and democracy in a country as well as measures of happiness and quality of life.

With the exception of Switzerland, which came in at number 2, Nordic countries dominated the top 5 slots, with Sweden in third place followed by Denmark and Norway.

The top 10 were all also Western nations, with Australia (6th place) and Canada (7th place) both beating the United States, ranked 9th. Britain came in at number 12.

In Asia, Japan was the region's highest ranked country at number 16, followed by Hong Kong (18th place) and Singapore (23rd place) and Taiwan (24th place).

Dr. William Inboden, senior vice president of the Legatum Institute, said the lower rankings for Asian nations were largely due to their weak scores for democracy and personal freedoms.

"Many Asian nations have good economic fundamentals, but the Index tells us that true prosperity requires more than just money," Inboden said in a statement.

"Democratic institutions and personal freedom measures are letting some Asian nations down. Furthermore, countries which have low levels of economic stability, such as Cambodia, finish even further down in the overall rankings."

Cambodia came in the 93rd slot while China, with its tight political controls, came in 75th despite booming economic growth.

And the world's least prosperous country? According to the Legatum Index, it is Zimbabwe, with Sudan and Yemen close runners-up.

The index combines objective data and subjective responses to surveys. More details can be found on

Monday, October 5, 2009

The World's Best Countries - complete rankings

Human Development Report 2009 - Human Development Index (HDI) rankings

Very High Human Development

1. Norway
2. Australia
3. Iceland
4. Canada
5. Ireland
6. Netherlands
7. Sweden
8. France
9. Switzerland
10. Japan
11. Luxembourg
12. Finland
13. United States
14. Austria
15. Spain
16. Denmark
17. Belgium
18. Italy
19. Liechtenstein
20. New Zealand
21. United Kingdom
22. Germany
23. Singapore
24. Hong Kong, China (SAR)
25. Greece
26. Korea (Republic of)
27. Israel
28. Andorra
29. Slovenia
30. Brunei Darussalam
31. Kuwait
32. Cyprus
33. Qatar
34. Portugal
35. United Arab Emirates
36. Czech Republic
37. Barbados
38. Malta

High Human Development

39. Bahrain
40. Estonia
41. Poland
42. Slovakia
43. Hungary
44. Chile
45. Croatia
46. Lithuania
47. Antigua and Barbuda
48. Latvia
49. Argentina
50. Uruguay
51. Cuba
52. Bahamas
53. Mexico
54. Costa Rica
55. Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
56. Oman
57. Seychelles
58. Venezuela (Bolivarian Rupublic of)
59. Saudi Arabia
60. Panama
61. Bulgaria
62. Saint Kitts and Nevis
63. Romania
64. Trinidad and Tobago
65. Montenegro
66. Malaysia
67. Serbia
68. Belarus
69. Saint Lucia
70. Albania
71. Russian Federation
72. Macedonia (the former Yugoslav Republic of)
73. Dominica
74. Grenada
75. Brazil
76. Bosnia and Herzegovina
77. Colombia
78. Peru
79. Turkey
80. Ecuador
81. Mauritius
82. Kazakhstan
83. Lebanon

Medium Human Development

84. Armenia
85. Ukraine
86. Azerbaijan
87. Thailand
88. Iran (Islamic Republic of)
89. Georgia
90. Dominican Republic
91. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
92. China
93. Belize
94. Samoa
95. Maldives
96. Jordan
97. Suriname
98. Tunisia
99. Tonga
100. Jamaica
101. Paraguay
102. Sri Lanka
103. Gabon
104. Algeria
105. Philippines
106. El Salvador
107. Syrian Arab Republic
108. Fiji
109. Turkmenistan
110. Occupied Palestinian Territories
111. Indonesia
112. Honduras
113. Bolivia
114. Guyana
115. Mongolia
116. Viet Nam
117. Moldova
118. Equatorial Guinea
119. Uzbekistan
120. Kyrgyzstan
121. Cape Verde
122. Guatemala
123. Egypt
124. Nicaragua
125. Botswana
126. Vanuatu
127. Tajikistan
128. Namibia
129. South Africa
130. Morocco
131. São Tomé and Principe
132. Bhutan
133. Lao, People's Dem. Rep.
134. India
135. Solomon Islands
136. Congo
137. Cambodia
138. Myanmar
139. Comoros
140. Yemen
141. Pakistan
142. Swaziland
143. Angola
144. Nepal
145. Madagascar
146. Bangladesh
147. Kenya
148. Papua New Guinea
149. Haiti
150. Sudan
151. Tanzania, U. Rep. of
152. Ghana
153. Cameroon
154. Mauritania
155. Djibouti
156. Lesotho
157. Uganda
158. Nigeria

Low Human Development

159. Togo
160. Malawi
161. Benin
162. Timor-Leste
163. Côte d'Ivoire
164. Zambia
165. Eritrea
166. Senegal
167. Rwanda
168. Gambia
169. Liberia
170. Guinea
171. Ethiopia
172. Mozambique
173. Guinea-Bissau
174. Burundi
175. Chad
176. Congo (Democratic Republic of the)
177. Burkina Faso
178. Mali
179. Central African Republic
180. Sierra Leone
181. Afghanistan
182. Niger

Note: This 2009 HDI represents statistical values for the year 2007.