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MEXICO AND 16 OTHER NATIONS RISK DISINTEGRATION, U.N. TOLD

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Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria and 14 other nations are in danger of social disintegration, a report to the United Nations warned Wednesday.

"We need to know beforehand which are the potential Somalias because we want to rush in there to help. It is too late once Somalias have exploded," said Mahbub ul Haq, who led a team of independent scholars that prepared the report for the U.N. Development Program.The report said Mexico, Egypt and Nigeria have worrisomely large disparities between regions in terms of income and education and added that Algeria's continuing political unrest also puts it in danger.

It identified 13 other countries as also being in states of crisis: Afghanistan, Angola, Burma, Burundi, Georgia, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Tajikistan and Zaire.

The fifth annual report ranked 173 countries on a Human Development Index by combining life expectancy, educational level and basic purchasing power.

Canada ranks first, followed by Switzerland, Japan, Sweden, Norway, France, Australia, the United States, the Netherlands and Britain. The 10 countries at the bottom are Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Gambia, Mali, Chad, Niger, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Guinea.

The index shows Malaysia and Botswana have made the most progress since 1960, followed by South Korea, Tunisia, Thailand, Syria, Turkey, China, Portugal and Iran.

The report also assesses indicators of "human security" to help pinpoint potential trouble spots: food scarcity, high unemployment and declining wages, human rights violations, ethnic violence, widening regional disparities and an overemphasis on military spending.

"Regional disparities are a particularly strong indicator because it's not poverty alone that explains disintegration. If poor people are concentrated in a region, then they get organized, like Chiapas in Mexico," ul Haq, a former finance minister in Pakistan, said at a recent briefing.

The team found that the southern Mexican state was at the bottom of every graph in an analysis of human development in Mexico and other countries. That assessment was issued seven months before a January uprising in Chiapas led to at least 145 deaths. The rebels said Tuesday that they were considering a government peace offer.

The poorest region in the world is the state of Borno in eastern Nigeria where life expectancy is 40 years and only 12 percent of the people are literate.