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QUALITY OF LIFE

Why are Geneva and Zurich high among world’s ‘most liveable’ cities?

Zurich and Geneva have been ranked once again in the top 10 best cities to live in but not everything is so rosy about life in Switzerland's two big cities.

Why are Geneva and Zurich high among world’s ‘most liveable’ cities?
Photos: Geneva: Image by ChiemSeherin from Pixabay / Zurich: Image by Julian Hacker from Pixabay

Switzerland is the only country in Europe to have two entries in the top 10 in the new Global Liveability Index: Zurich is in the third place and Geneva in the sixth.

The study, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit rates living conditions in 172 cities based on more than 30 factors. These are grouped into five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. 

Both cities score high across all categories, with highest marks given for heath care (100), followed by infrastructure (96.4), and stability (95).

The difference, though minimal, between the two cities, lies in the culture and environment category, were Zurich scored 96.3 and Geneva 94.9.

The lowest score both got, 91.7, is for education, which is surprising, as Zurich’s Federal Polytechnic Institute (ETH) has been named the best university in continental Europe for several years running, including in 2022.

READ MORE: Swiss universities still highly ranked but slip in ratings

The overall result, however, is not exactly a surprise, because the two cities (and sometimes also Basel, Bern, and Lausanne) frequently rank in the Top 10 places to live in the world.

Paradoxically, Switzerland’s two largest cities also routinely take top spots as the most expensive places to live in. For instance, both were ranked among the costliest for international residents in a survey published on June 14th.

So the obvious question is, how can two most expensive cities also be among most ‘liveable’?

At least part of the answer may lie in different criteria used to measure the quality of life versus costs.

The concept of quality of life defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which was also adapted in Switzerland, includes categories such as  health, education, environmental quality, personal security, civic engagement, and work-life balance.

Swiss cities (and Switzerland in general) scores high in all these categories, which explains the overall top rankings.

The cost of living, on the other hand, is determined by calculating prices of goods and services that are essential parts of individual or household spending.

These prices are totalled and averaged, and indexes are created to help compare costs of living in different locations.

As prices for basic necessities such as housing, health insurance, food, and public transportation, are much higher in Switzerland than in most of Europe, the country always ranks among the most expensive in the world.

However, as The Local explained in a recent article, in order to get a more accurate assessment of the cost of living, prices should be looked at in the context of purchasing power parity (PPP) — that is, the financial ability of a person or a household to buy products and services with their wages.

An in depth analysis by a digital employment platform Glassdoor concluded that in Switzerland (along with Denmark, and Germany) the average city-based worker can afford to buy 60 percent or more goods and services with his or her salary than residents of New York.

READ MORE : EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland’s cost of living isn’t as high as you think

And there’s more to the equation…

Most, if not all, participants in the global quality / standard of living indexes are international residents in each surveyed country — people who are typically high earners and have sufficient income to live well. That skews the results somewhat.

For instance, the Quality of Living Ranking conducted annually by asset management firm Mercer, bases its findings on responses by expatriate employees — people who work in high-level, well-paid executive positions — rather than those in lower-level jobs, like in retail or restaurant sector.

 READ MORE: What is the average salary for (almost) every job in Switzerland?
 
 

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ZURICH

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

A deadly virus has swept through Zurich's zoo, killing three Asian elephants in a month. Experts are stumped about the virus and don't know how to stop its spread.

Deadly elephant-killing virus at Zurich Zoo stumps experts

The zoo overlooking Switzerland’s largest city now has only five of the majestic creatures roaming its 11,000-square-metre (118,400-square-foot) elephant enclosure.

Two-year-old bull Umesh was the first to fall victim to the Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) at the end of June, followed just days later by his eight-year-old sister Omysha.

Last Saturday, Ruwani, a five-year-old female from a second matriarchal herd also died.

They succumbed at lightning speed to the herpesvirus, which leaves young Asian elephants with internal bleeding and organ failure.

In captivity, this virus is “the main cause of death for elephants between two and eight years”, zoo curator Pascal Marty told AFP.

The virus has also been known to kill elephants in the wild, he said, but “it’s a bit harder to detect”.

Last goodbye

The herpesvirus lies latent in nearly all elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, but can in some cases suddenly become deadly, killing its victims in a matter of days.

“We still don’t know why it happens and when it happens,” Marty said.

The zoo’s five remaining Asian elephants — all adults — were permitted to spend a few hours gathered around the remains of their young family members and companions.

Marty said it was important to give the animals “enough time (to) say farewell”. “It’s very hard to say whether or not they are sad, because sadness is something human,” he said.

But he stressed that since elephants are highly social animals, it is vital that they have a chance to realise when a member of their herd is no longer alive.

“It is very important for them to have closure to understand this individual is not part of our group anymore.”

Less than a week after the latest death, the giant mammals appear to be going nonchalantly about their daily activities, from swimming in a large pond to searching for food.

They slip their trunks into holes, where a computer programme randomly distributes carrots and dried grass, aiming to make the animals walk and search for food as in the wild. 

Stress 

“It is kind of sad, especially because here in Zurich I think the elephants do have enough space,” said frequent visitor Mauro Muller, 29. Zurich zoo opened its new elephant enclosure in 2014, providing its herds six times more space than they had previously.

But eight years on, the zoo acknowledged it was going through “difficult days”.

“It is particularly frustrating that we are powerless against this virus, despite the best veterinary care through the university animal hospital in Zurich,” zoo director Severin Dressen said in a statement.

There is no vaccine, and while antivirals exist, they are not very efficient and even when elephants are treated quickly, only about a third of them survive.

“The epidemiology of the disease is still not clear,” said Bhaskar Choudhury, a veterinarian and member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Elephant Specialist Group.

“The virus is shed intermittently by adults but with increasing frequency during stress periods, which is thought to be the source of infection for young calves,” he told AFP.

“IUCN is highly concerned with the mortality worldwide in captivity and more so in the wild.”

‘Ambassadors’ 

Asian elephants, which can live up to around 60 years old, are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species, with only about 50,000 left in the wild. Deforestation, urban sprawl and agricultural development have robbed them of their natural habitat, while poaching and the illegal ivory trade also threaten many herds.

“The populations are declining almost everywhere,” Marty said, adding that for conservation reasons, “it is also really important to have good and healthy populations of Asian elephants in Europe”.

Zurich zoo, he said, has one of the world’s most modern elephant enclosures, and is intent on continuing with its mission to breed them.

He described the elephants in the park as “partners” in educating people about the problems wild elephants face. “Elephants here at the zoo have an important role as ambassadors for their own species,” he said.

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