Switzerland lies on top of the wealth tree

All that glitters is not gold for everyone in Switzerland, despite its wealth Keystone

The World Bank has reported that Switzerland is the richest country in the world, with a per capita wealth of $648,241 (SFr816,913).

This content was published on September 13, 2005 - 18:17

At the other end of the scale, sub-Saharan African countries are the poorest, with Ethiopia having only a per capita wealth of $1,965.

The study, Where is the Wealth of Nations?, was launched in New York on Tuesday on the eve of the 2005 United Nations World Summit.

In it the authors have used new methodology to offer estimates of total wealth, including for example the money value of natural resources and human skills and capabilities, which show that many of the poorest countries in the world are not on a sustainable path.

The publication offers a ranking of countries according to wealth, with tables highlighting the ten wealthiest and ten poorest countries.

Switzerland heads the list of the top-ten performers, the other nine being European countries, the United States and Japan. Sub-Saharan Africa dominates the bottom-ten list.

Not sustainable

"If a household is running down its bank account from month to month, or having to sell assets such as vehicles or livestock in order to keep food on the table, then we could conclude that this household is not sustainable," explained the main author, Kirk Hamilton.

"The same applies to nations as a whole – if their net saving rate is negative then this is a signal that national wealth is being run down and the development path is not sustainable," he added.

But a companion booklet - Ensuring Environmental Sustainability – highlights that there are important exceptions.

Mauritania has improved is development prospects through better management of its fishery resources, while Botswana has successfully used diamond resources to finance the schooling, health care and infrastructure which have supported its high rate of growth.

Wealthy Switzerland?

Although the report puts Switzerland at the top of the wealth parade, it says nothing about how the wealth is divided in the country.

For example, the Swiss Workers' Aid charity estimated earlier this year that 850,000 people were living below the poverty line, with 535,000 of these in "working poor" households.

The worst affected are said to be large families, single parents, the poorly educated and self-employed.

A government report last November said more than seven per cent of the workforce in Switzerland were unable to get by on their salaries in 2003.

This amounted to at least 231,000 workers aged 20-59.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Richest countries, according to World Bank estimates
Switzerland: $648,241 or SFr816,913 wealth per capita
Denmark: $575,138
Sweden: $513,424
United States:
Germany: 496,447

Poorest countries:
Ethiopia: $1,965
Burundi: $2,859
Niger: $3,695
Nepal: $3,802
Guinea-Bissau: $3,974

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