City's Quality of Life Is Called Miserable

Moscow's quality of life for expatriates is one of Europe's most miserable, while personal safety is the worst on the continent, according to a study released Tuesday.

The 2008 Quality of Living Survey, published by consulting firm Mercer to help big companies and governments with international assignments, ranks Moscow a low No. 166 out of 215 cities worldwide in terms of overall quality of life.

Using New York as a benchmark with an index of 100, Moscow gets just 55.5 points and is sandwiched between Nicaragua's capital, Managua, and the Libyan port of Tripoli.

Moscow fares only slightly worse than St. Petersburg, which won the country's best spot at No. 162, and Kiev, which ranked 161.

The rankings are based on 39 determinants, including the political and social environment, health care, schooling, public services, consumer goods and housing.

Top of the list is Swiss financial hub Zurich, which scores 108, followed by Vienna and Geneva, which tied for second.

The cities with the lowest quality of life are mainly in Africa, with Sudan's capital, Khartoum, at 212, Congo's Brazzaville at 213 and the Central African Republic's Bangui at 214. At rock bottom, though, is Baghdad.

Moscow's performance was particularly poor in terms of personal safety for expatriates, published as a separate ranking based on a mix of internal stability, crime, effectiveness of law enforcement and relationships with other countries.

Here, the capital scored only 37.7 out of New York's 100, giving it the rank of 196, the lowest in Europe. Luxembourg came out top, followed by Bern and Geneva.

To improve, Moscow would have to address both internal stability issues and environmental factors like air pollution, said Slagin Parakatil, a senior researcher at Mercer who is responsible for the study. Mercer lists Moscow as the world's 14th-dirtiest city, worse than New Delhi but slightly better than what it called the ecological disaster zones of Mexico City and Baku.

"Sending an expat to Moscow would require to add quite a hardship allowance to compensate for that," Parakatil said by telephone from Geneva.

The report says overall quality of life is worse than Moscow in two other Russian cities, Novosibirsk and Kazan, and two cities elsewhere in Europe, Minsk and Albania's capital, Tirana.

Moscow comparative advantages, Parakatil said, were its size and international outlook. "It definitely scores high when it comes to entertainment, including opera and theater," he said. "It is also fairly cosmopolitan and offers a large variety of food [in restaurants]."

Parakatil said costs were not included in the quality of life survey. "We are looking at the availability [of goods and services] and at their quality, not at their cost," he said.

Mercer has for the past two years ranked Moscow as the world's most expensive city for expatriates. The firm's annual cost-of-living survey will probably be published at the end of this month, Parakatil said. He would not comment on the likelihood of Moscow retaining its top position.

He said cultural issues like language skills did not enter the report's equation because otherwise the findings would become subjective. As an example, he explained that it might be just as difficult to find English speakers in Tokyo as for a Japanese person to find a Japanese speaker in Spain.

A Moscow City Hall official said that while he could not comment on the report before he had studied it, there had been instances of bias and errors in past reports. "We carefully monitor such ratings because we want Moscow to be an attractive city in every sense … and because we believe that it is a modern civilized city," said Alexander Pogorelov of the city's international relations department.

As an example, he cited a tourism survey published by a London newspaper that gave Moscow a low ranking because it apparently lacked a single United Nations World Heritage site. "But the Kremlin, Red Square and the Novodevichy Convent are listed," he said.