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(506) 2223-1327           Published Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, in Vol. 11, No. 218       Email us
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A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew  Kasper
A day of contrasts

Flower vendors had a big day Wednesday as Costa Ricans honored their dead at cemeteries. The subdued remembrance was nothing like the celebration that typified the Día de los Muertos in México and at a Mexican celebration here, where skulls and skeletons were legion.

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A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald

Quakes Wednesday do not mean the big one is due
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Experts say they do not believe that the earthquake at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya Wednesday was an indication of a much larger event that has been long expected.

The earthquake actually was a series of four, said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The first took place at 1:01 and was measured between 5 and 5.4 magnitude by various monitoring agencies.

Eight minutes later there was a quake of about 2.4 magnitude in approximately the same place. Then at 1:11 another quake took place, and that was measured at 2.7 magnitude.

The epicenter moved north from about 38 kilometers south of Paquera on the Nicoya peninsula to 33 kilometers south and then 28 kilometers south. That is about 23.5 miles to a bit more than 17 miles.

Then at 1:23 p.m. a fourth quake took place. This was estimated at a 3.2 magnitude, said the observatory, which is affiliated with Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

The initial quake was felt lightly in the Central Valley and more strongly at sites bordering the gulf. The observatory said that the only significant damage was to a home in Cóbano on the peninsula where cracks appeared in a wall.

Juan Segura, observatory director, said in a news release that the location was in the same area as a March 25, 1990, quake. That one caused considerable damage in central Costa Rica and was estimated at a magnitude of 7.0, according to the observatory.  There are thousands of tiny earthquakes in that area, according to measuring devices, but few are felt, said the observatory.

Costa Rica is one of the most earthquake-prone and volcanically active countries in the world, according to the University of California at Santa Cruz, which has studied the area extensively. Just off the west coast is the Middle America Trench, where a section of the sea floor called the Cocos Plate dives beneath Central America, generating powerful earthquakes and feeding a string of active volcanoes, said researchers. This type of boundary between two converging plates of the earth's crust is called a subduction zone ― and such zones are notorious for generating the most powerful and destructive earthquakes.

Scientists have been trying to prepare Nicoya residents for what they believe is an inevitable major earthquake, In fact, the Red Sismológica Nacional at the Universidad de Costa Rica held a general meeting for Nicoya residents a year ago to alert them.
Nicoya peninsula
Map shows the direction of tectonic plates with
 the Mid-Atlantic trench just offshore. Green
 dots are epicenters of past earthquakes.

According to Cal Poly Pomona University earth scientist Jeff Marshall, the peninsula is unique because it is one of the few land masses along the Pacific Rim located directly above the seismogenic zone of what he calls a subduction megathrust. He is one of the researchers who has been studying the peninsula in detail for years.

The area even is the location of university summer programs in earthquakes.

The reasoning behind the earthquake prediction is that major quakes in the 7.0 magnitude range have taken place in 1853, 1900 and 1950. In addition to the 7.0 quake in 1990, another took place in 1992 north of the peninsula in Nicaragua. Experts expect the new epicenter to be somewhere between these two points and the magnitude to be in the 7.6 to 7.8 range.

Both Marshall and the observatory's Marino Protti expect the western beaches of the peninsula to jerk up perhaps as much as two meters or a bit more than 6.5 feet.  Land on the east shore of the peninsula is expected to subside. That is what happened in the 1950 quake, Marshall noted in a 2008 book chapter.

Scientists say there are plenty of substandard buildings on the Nicoya peninsula and that the quake would cause considerable damage in the Central Valley. The April 12, 1991, earthquake in Limón province also caused major damage in the Central Valley. That was a 7.5 magnitude quake that killed 53 persons.

Local television stations are edgy and already have their emergency plans set. When a moderate quake takes place in the Nicoya area, news teams from San José rush by helicopters to the area to videotape the damage. Several times viewers have been treated to footage of normal street scenes in Cóbano because there was no significant damage.

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Nicaraguans vote Sunday
with Ortega likely winner

By Zack McDonald
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Nicaraguan elections for president, vice-president, national assembly deputies and members of the Central American Parliament are Sunday. Current President Daniel Ortega is running for another term. His principal opponents are radio broadcaster Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente and former president Arnoldo Aleman of the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista.

Mendel Goldstein, European Union representative in Nicaragua, said that the pre-election atmosphere in Nicaragua was one of “calm and tranquility.” His colleague Luis Yañez, head of the EU election observer mission, said that the focus of the mission would be on the voting for members of the national assembly given that the polls do not show a close election for Ortega. The polling firm CID-Gallup released a poll taken between Oct. 10 and 17 which showed Ortega with 48 percent preference among those who intended to vote. Gadea followed with 30 percent while Aleman received only 11 percent support.

Conflicts could occur in the legislative vote, Yañez said. Ortega's Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional and its allies want to get enough of a majority to amend the constitution, he added.

Jose Gabriel, another leader of the EU mission, said that the mission will pay particular attention to the actual voting, the vote count, the transmission of results, and the verification of the presence of poll watchers at the voting places. Gabriel said that the mission found disturbing the refusal to accredit national observer groups such as the Instituto para el Desarrollo y la Democracia. The EU mission, on election day, will have 90 observers from 28 countries in Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department released a communiqué about apparent irregularities which the statement said included the failure up until this moment to accredit certain reliable local organizations as observers.

The United States has, in the past paid Etica y Transparencia and the Instituto para el Desarrollo y la Democracia to observe elections in Nicaragua. The former has not applied for accreditation this year, but the latter last week still held hopes of accreditation.

There have been small flare-ups of violence, most particularly last week in the northern town of Murra but recently in other places as well, where citizens, usually members of the PLI Alliance, have rallied in front of their local electoral council offices and been disbursed by police.

Our reader's opinion
Scouts here discriminate
on religious grounds

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The article in today's A.M. Costa Rica about the new postage stamps honoring Scouts and Guides in Costa Rica piqued my curiosity about how scouting in Costa Rica compares to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and the Girl Scouts of America (GSA).   In the U.S. these two different, private organizations have radically differing policies regarding inclusion and discrimination, regarding membership (children) and leadership (adults.)

The Girl Scouts is open to all girls, regardless of race, religion, disability and sexual orientation and other categories.   The Boy Scouts, however, excludes anyone who is homosexual, a non-theist (including Unitarian Universalists) and has recently begun to discriminate against boys with certain disabilities.

I don't know what the "Asociación de Guías y Scouts de Costa Rica" policies are on these matters, but if their oath is any indication (as found on the following Web page, translated into English, they discriminate against non-theists, at least. 

Scouting should promote good civic behavior, service to others, integrity, camaraderie, and be a place of support for young people.   One's religious beliefs or lack thereof should not be an obstacle to full and equal participation in scouting.  Therefore while the image of scouting as depicted on the stamps shows a happy cozy campfire scene, people should know that behind the scenes unfortunately often lies a deeply, and unfairly discriminatory organization.
Glen Love
Dominical, Costa Rica
Philadelphia, Pensylvania

Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 218

Mexicans here put their traditional celebration on display
By Shahrazad Encinias Vela
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Hundreds came together to celebrate the only night dedicated to the deceased, Dia de Los Muertos, at the Instituto Mexico in Los Yoses, Wednesday.

The center and the Mexican Embassy hosted a night filled with Mexican customs for this much-awaited day. The event included decorations and gastronomy. Pan de muerto, sugar skulls, papel picado, marigold flowers, ofrendas, niches and altares are recognized symbols of Dia de los Muertos, not to mention Mexican traditional dishes such as tortas, flautas, posole, and enchiladas.

The corridor to the patio was an altar to Mexican folk hero, the comedian/actor Cantinflas. He died in 1993. At the entrance there was a movie of the respected artist projected on a screen. The walls of the walkway sported colorful papel picado and framed pictures of Cantinflas from famous scenes of his movies.

The Cantinflas exhibit ended with an altar in his memory, a giant framed headshot and a table filled with his favorite things, also known as ofrendas to the dead. His remembrance did not  end because the room opened up into a patio where visitors enjoyed Mexico's traditional food, drinks, candy and day of the dead specialties.

One room was filled with traditional Dia de los Muertos decorations. The first half of the room showcased framed pictures of the same holiday in Mexico, a glass case shaped as a cross with a miniature cemetery (very “Nightmare Before Christmas”), life-size paper skeletons embellished in custom clothes, sombrero and braided hair.

In the other half of the room lights were turned off, and the only illumination came from candles on stage. There lay on the floor a giant cross made out of flowers that resembled a grave outlined in white candles. At the top of the cross were three long steps. Every step displayed
flower cross
A.M. Costa Rica/Zach McDonald
A flower cross resembles a gravesite

certain festivities with dressed-up skeletons in make-up, flowers, booze, fruit and pan de muerto.

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on Nov. 2, and is highly regarded and celebrated in Mexico in honor of loved ones. Other countries celebrate this day a little different. In Guatemala, people go to the cemetery and clean up the graves and eat fiambre, a special salad. This plate is only eaten once a year on Nov. 2. In Costa Rica, the celebration is more religious. Costa Ricans attend church, and some go to the cemetery, but it is not very common to see a celebration like in Mexican culture.

A special day for remembrance at the nation's cemeteries
By Andrew Rulseh Kasper
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For those paying respects to the gravestones of loved ones Wednesday, the Día de los Santos Difuntos, their visits were marked by joyful memories of the deceased but also painful reminders of their loss.

Vilma Isabel Solano Amores sat with her grandchild at the Cementerio de Obreros and stared at the stacked tombs of her mother and her son, reminiscing. Her son died three years ago when he was 17, following kidney failure. She carried a picture of him in her blouse, close to her heart.

“I feel happy because I'm here with them,” Ms. Solano said. “But sad, too, because they are gone.”

Outside the cemetery, vendors lined the sidewalks selling flowers for the tombs. Families and friends of the dead bought different floral arrangements and bouquets, using them to decorate the elaborate headstones and as tributes to souls of the departed.

“This is a special day,” said one flower vendor, Miguel Guerrero. He said it was his first year selling flowers outside the cemetery walls, a long-standing tradition of the country. Although in many other places, like Mexico, cemetery goers bring gifts ranging from candles and food to alcohol, Guerrero said flowers were the perfect gift to beautify the sacred ground, each one special in its own right.

One man who only wanted to be identified as Felipe, stood by the tomb of his parents and individually planted ginger plants into a pot atop the grave. He said he preferred them to roses because they last longer.

And just as Costa Rica and places across the globe adopted El Día de los Muertos from the Mexican culture, so to did Felipe's parents, who were immigrants from China, adopt the local traditions and pass them along to their son. He said he comes every year now to their graves.

Costa Ricans also call the day that of the deceased saints.

Another big part of the Costa Rican tradition is reciting
Woman mourning son
A.M. Costa Rica/Andrew Rulseh Kasper
Vilma Isabel Solano Amores holds her grandson and a photo of her dead son.

personalized prayers for the dead. Felipe said he likes to focus on everything his parents taught him, especially to treat others with respect.

But it wasn't only the visitors at the graveyard. The cemetery also was the site of a Mass in the morning and in the evening. Workers were busy days in advance preparing for the day with washings and fresh coats of paint for the tombs and tidying up of the grounds, said one security guard at the cemetery, Guillermo Calvo.

He said the ornate cemetery was also lucky to come away without damages from vandals on Halloween night. He said the increased security kept them away although other cemeteries were not so lucky.

A smashed tomb could easily jar any person hoping to pay homage to relatives or acquaintances.

“In Costa Rica, it's a day they have to respect,” Calvo said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 218

Bridge over the Río Abangares is reduced to one lane while workmen reenforce the bridge deck in anticipation of concrete.

bridge work
Consejo Nacional de Vialidad photo

Key bridge on Interamericana Norte will be closed for one day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad will close the Interamericana Norte bridge over the Río Abangares Monday night through Tuesday while new concrete has a chance to set.

The bridge is one of those being renovated on the international highway.

Road officials said that vibrations of traffic nearby would be enough to compromise the concrete. Even now heavy vehicles are being routed through Cañas, Tilarán and La Fortuna.
The road has been reduced to one lane. Officials said they expected the bridge work to be finished by the end of December. Part of the job is to install walkways for pedestrians.

The closing will be from 8 p.m. Monday until 8 p.m. Tuesday, said officials. Scheduled bus passengers will be met with a second vehicle on the opposite side of the 101.5-meter (333-foot) bridge, the agency said.

Specifically the job is to pour concrete in the center of the bridge to join two lanes of concrete that already are there.

Hemispheric health group takes aim at salt over consumption
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A number of countries in the Americas have launched efforts to reduce salt consumption in their populations, and experts say that expanding these efforts to other countries could save tens of thousands of lives over the next decade.

Health officials in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Suriname, Uruguay, and the United States have undertaken efforts ranging from mass media and educational campaigns to collaboration with food makers to improve nutrition labels and reformulate their products to contain less salt.

Government representatives and scientific experts on salt reduction from throughout the Americas met at the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, D.C., last week to discuss these efforts and to urge other countries to follow suit.

“Salt reduction is one of the most cost-effective public health measures available,” said Norm Campbell, professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, Canada, and chairman of an expert group on salt and health. “If other countries join these efforts, we can save tens of thousands of lives over the next 10 years.”

Researchers in Canada have estimated that reducing sodium intake by 10 percent each year in 18 Latin American countries could prevent 593,000 cardiovascular events and save some 54,000 lives. Cost-effectiveness studies have shown that reducing salt consumption at the population level can cut the prevalence of related chronic diseases at a cost of between 4 and 32 U.S. cents per person per year.

Although salt is essential to the human body, over consumption can cause high blood pressure or hypertension, a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease. In the Americas, from one-fifth to one-third of all adults have high blood pressure, and among people over age 80, the proportion is over 90 percent.

In most countries of the Americas, average salt consumption is significantly higher than the internationally recommended limit of less than 5 grams of salt per day. Brazilians consume 11 grams a day on average, for example, while Argentines consume 12 grams, Canadians consume 7.7 grams, and people in the United States consume 8.7 grams per person per day, said the Pan American Health Organization.

The problem is not just salt added to food during cooking or at the table. In most countries of the Americas, the largest amount of dietary salt comes from ready-made meals and prepared foods including bread, processed meats, breakfast cereals, and snack foods, the health organization said.

“Most people are unaware of where most of the salt they consume comes from and how damaging it can be to their health,” said James Hospedales, senior adviser to the organization on prevention and control of chronic diseases. “Raising awareness and changing behavior are important, but populationwide policies and action are key if we are going to make the healthy choice the easy choice for people to make.”

In Argentina and Chile, health authorities have worked successfully with both large and small bakeries to reduce the sodium content of bread, one of the main sources of dietary salt in both countries. In Brazil, major food makers’ associations have agreed to reduce the salt content in industrially
processed salt
'. . . the largest amount of dietary salt comes from ready-made meals and prepared foods . . . .'

 produced bread and buns by 10 percent per year until 2014.

Other efforts currently under way to reduce salt consumption in the Americas include:

* Advocacy and engagement with industry to encourage the adoption of voluntary targets for reducing salt in food products including meats, soups and instant noodles, breakfast cereals, baby food, cake mixes, and snack foods.

* Mass media and educational campaigns on the importance of consuming less salt.

* Inclusion of sodium on nutritional labels and as part of
national dietary recommendations.

* Inclusion of salt sessions in public health meetings and conferences.

* Monitoring of sodium content in foods and levels of consumption in the population.

* Coordination with iodine supplementation programs to prevent reduced consumption of iodine due to sodium reduction.

At the meeting, members of the Pan American Health Organization expert group called on food makers to set schedules for a gradual and sustained reduction in the salt content of existing food products as well as restaurant and ready-made meals and to make all new food products low in salt.

Persuading food makers to voluntarily adopt such recommendations has proven easier when advocates can cite similar action already undertaken in other countries. However, if such efforts fail, mandatory regulation is justified, the experts said.

“Food makers would much rather take voluntary action than face regulation,” said Hospedales. “However, the possibility of regulatory changes is a strong motivator and should remain on the table.”

A similar Pan American Health Organization expert group in 2007 called for the elimination of trans fatty acids from industrially processed foods throughout the Americas.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 218

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Brazil's ex-president leaves
hospital after treatment

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has left a Sao Paulo hospital after completing his first round of chemotherapy for throat cancer.

Doctors at Sirio-Libanes hospital said Tuesday that the former president, who is commonly referred to as Lula, completed the session without complications.  Da Silva is to have a total of three chemotherapy sessions in three-week intervals.  In the coming weeks, he also is expected to undergo radiation treatment.

A former smoker, Da Silva was diagnosed with a tumor on his larynx late last week after complaining of throat pain.  Doctors say the cancer was detected at an intermediate stage but expressed hope it could be treated without surgery, which could make him lose his voice.  His prognosis is described as very good.

The former president said in a recorded message that he will win the battle against the disease.

The 66-year-old Da Silva served two terms as Brazil's president.  He left office Jan. 1 with 87-percent approval ratings.  The former president is not allowed to seek a third consecutive term but remains active in Brazilian politics.

Earlier this year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez underwent four rounds of chemotherapy after a malignant tumor was removed from his abdomen.  The Venezuelan leader has not disclosed the kind of cancer that was treated.

Haitian tent cities show
wide variation in services

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

More than half of Haitians who were made homeless by the 2010 earthquake have left their temporary quarters.  But 600,000 of them are still living in tent cities, in and around the capital, Port au Prince.  Living conditions are deplorable with no running water or electricity, but they aren't all the same.

Nicole Norgilus lives here with her son Jefferson.  She waits outside her tent all day for someone to buy charcoal from her for cooking.  After three hours of waiting, one customer arrives.

"I remember the way I used to live.  I had a bigger business, better than this," recalled Ms. Norgilus.

She and 2,000 others wound up living in tents.  The charcoal she sells cooks her food.  Outdoor toilets stand across the street next to a public school.  But no tent city children attend school, because of the cost.

Residents say they have no way to move out without government help.

"I don't even pray anymore because I'm so discouraged," added Ms. Norgilus.

A few blocks away, there was a remarkably different tent city.  In this one, the sidewalks are clean.  The children attend school run by GHESKIO, a non-profit medical organization.  A trade school trains residents to build their own houses.   There is security and street lights at night.  Each tent has an address.  They still lack the comforts of home, except for one tent belonging to the president of the residents' committee, Mireille Perk, who is in charge of community activities.

"We have better living.  Like home, like solidarity to each other and autonomy," noted Perk.

With the foundations of a stable community here, many residents appear to be settling in to stay. Jean Pape says that is not the goal of GHESKIO and the tent city. 

"Our next move is to take them back to the slum where they were before," said Pape.

Pape says he's looking for money to do that, one year of rent each or enough to repair each house.  But the money does not seem to be coming any time soon for the 5,000 here.  Or, the 2,000 living with Nicole and Jefferson Norgilus.

China takes action to calm
public comments on Internet

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

China is strengthening its control over the Internet and social media, apparently as a result of the role new technologies have played this year in channeling public discontent around the world.

Asked about Internet censorship in China, a foreign ministry spokeswoman told reporters recently that the government regulates Internet use in China to safeguard the public interest. Efforts also are under way to intensify the state's control over online social media and instant-messaging services to promote what is described as the orderly dissemination of information.

Chinese authorities have acted firmly in the past to try to prevent instant-communications techniques from influencing mass protests, but the rapid growth and quick adoption of such technologies by Chinese political activists is seen as a major challenge to Beijing's efforts.

The Internet is having an impact on what issues are discussed and debated in Chinese society. Analysts say online information circulating rapidly among China's 400 million Internet users has pushed public-interest issues into the national spotlight and influenced coverage decisions by state-controlled media.

Online news reports with video and photographic images deliver a powerful message within seconds around the world.

Beijing is known to employ tens of thousands of Internet censors to keep track of Internet reports and remove those the state finds offensive. Countless other Chinese are paid to post positive comments about the government on Internet message sites. Correspondents in China reports the latter are known as soldiers in the 50-cent army, after the amounts they reputedly are paid for posting pro-government messages.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011, Vol. 11, No. 218

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Latin America news
Norway again is leader
of U.N. development index

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Norway, Australia and the Netherlands lead this year’s newly released Human Development Index rankings, the annual United Nations measure of progress in human well being, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Burundi are at the bottom.

The new index, issued Wednesday by the U.N. Development Programme, combines measures of life expectancy, literacy, school enrollment and gross domestic product per capita. This year a record 187 countries and territories were measured, up from 169 last year.

Norway retained its top position from last year ahead of Australia and then the Netherlands, while the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Sweden comprise the remainder of the top 10 in that order.

But when the index is adjusted for economic inequality, the standings of some countries fall significantly. The United States falls from four to 23, the Republic of Korea from 15 to 32, and Israel from 17 to 25.

In the case of the United States and Israel, their positions are affected by income inequality, although health care is also an influencing factor for the United States, while education gaps between generations are the main reason for Korea's ranking change.

In contrast, other countries’ standings improve after the index has been adjusted for inequality. Sweden jumps from 10 to five, Denmark from 16 to 12, and Slovenia rises from 21 to 14.

“The inequality-adjusted Human Development Index helps us assess better the levels of development for all segments of society, rather than for just the mythical ‘average’ person,” said Milorad Kovacevic, chief statistician for the Human Development Report that accompanies the index.

“We consider health and education distribution to be just as important in this equation as income, and the data show great inequities in many countries.”

The report, Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All, notes income distribution has worsened in most of the world and reveals Latin America has the largest income inequality, although it is more equitable than sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia in life expectancy and schooling.

The report also shows that countries at the bottom of the list still suffer from inadequate incomes, limited schooling opportunities and low expectancy rates due to preventable diseases such as malaria and AIDS.

The report stresses that a lot of the problems encountered by countries with low rankings are worsened by armed conflicts and its devastating consequences. In the Congo, the country with the lowest ranking, more than three million people died from warfare and conflict related illnesses.

Seven countries, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, San Marino, Somalia and Tuvalu, were not included this year because of a lack of data.

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