By Gregory Bonnell

TORONTO (CP) - Canadians are among the richest two per cent of the global population who control more than half of the world's wealth, a United Nations study released Tuesday has found.

In contrast, more than half of the planet's population shares just one per cent of the global wealth, a situation in dire need of attention, says study co-author Jim Davies. "Assets are important to living standards and welfare throughout the world," said Davies, a professor of economics at the University of Western Ontario in London.

"Building up wealth in the form of your house, (for example), is very important, but that's very difficult to do in a lot of countries."

North American, European and select Asian-Pacific countries represent some 90 per cent of the world's wealth, leaving only "a little bit left over for Africa" and the rest of the world, said Davies.

"The study clearly indicates that there's a need for financial development and accompanying changes . . . to help people build up their wealth and assets in those countries," he said.

The World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University, the UN agency that undertook the study, said it's the first time that household wealth - rather than just income - has been measured in a global study.

The study's authors determined wealth by calculating financial assets and debts, land, buildings and other tangible property.

"What we found is the inequality in the distribution of household wealth, or assets, is very high - in fact it's significantly higher than inequality in the distribution of income," said Davies.

"Of course, this is a concern."

The United States ranked first among the world's wealthiest nations with one-quarter of the world's wealth. Japan stood at 9.8 per cent, China had 8.7, the United Kingdom 4.7, and Germany 4.6 to round out the top five.

Canada, with a 1.7 per cent share of the world's wealth, ranked 11th.

"Canada is certainly among some of the wealthiest countries in the world," said Davies.

In fact, 2.5 per cent of Canadians found themselves in the top one per cent of the world's wealthiest people. In the U.S., that number rises to 36.8 per cent.

In contrast, Bangladesh had just 0.2 per cent of the world's wealthiest people.

That disparity must be addressed not only by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but also the developing nations themselves, said Zafar Adeel, director of the UN University's international network on water, environment and health.

"There's a lot that countries can do for themselves," said Adeel.
"In Pakistan, there has been significant improvement in access to mortgage loans, car loans, etc. That can make a significant difference."
Consumer confidence in financial institutions is key to building wealth in the developing world, said Davies.
"If you hit a recession, or a drought, your income disappears, but if you have assets, savings and so on, you're in a much better position," he said.
"Still, there are many countries in the world where you can't depend on the bank on the corner - maybe it's not going to be there next year."

Copyright 2006 Canadian Press