Poverty tops challenges facing Arab world, says UNDP report

Safaa Abdoun
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Combating poverty is one of six major challenges facing Arab countries, which are lagging behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 as originally planned, according to the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) latest report.

“The rate of progress towards achieving the MDGs in Arab countries does not live up to the aspirations of Arab peoples to witness a necessary development boost, said Mona Hammam, deputy regional director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States.

The report, “Development Challenges in the Arab States: A Human Development Approach, is a collaborative effort between the League of Arab States, the UNDP, and a number of Arab experts.

In addition to poverty reduction, the report also highlights institutional reform, job creation, the promotion and financing of pro-poor growth, the reform of educational systems, economic diversification, and increased food security and self-sufficiency within existing environmental constraints as major challenges facing the Arab world.

“Dealing with these challenges requires the adoption of comprehensive development model based on the human development approach which considers freedoms as the basis for development, says the report.

“The Arab Economic and Social Summit in Kuwait expressed a broad consensus among Arab leaders on the importance of improving the rates of development and meeting its challenges as an essential condition to achieving social and economic security for the Arab region, which is no less important than meeting the challenges facing its national security, said Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, in his introduction to the report.

“The summit adopted two important resolutions based on the analyses and findings of the report . The first called on Arab states to adopt specific programs to reduce poverty with specific projected targets over the next four years, while the second called for establishing a regional program to monitor progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the Arab States, he added.

The report was launched on Dec. 20 as part of the 29th session of the Council of Arab Ministers of Development and Social Affairs. It is divided into two parts, the first discusses the challenges of social and economic development from the perspective of comprehensive development methodologies and the second examines the challenge of food security in detail.

The first part shows that the development record of Arab countries over the past three decades has been a mixture of both successes and failures. There are two main successes; for the majority the states human deprivation has declined significantly and human development indicators have shown significant improvement for the region as a whole. And secondly, there is still a relatively low-to-medium level of income poverty and income inequality.

On the other hand, the development failures outlined in the report exceed successes. Failures include the low and erratic economic growth, the highest unemployment rates worldwide, failure to improve the education system, and major setbacks in the state of food security and agriculture.

In addition, one of the development failures stated in the report is “the fact that Arab less-developed countries (LDCs) are still lagging far behind on poverty and MDGs and it is doubtful that any of them will be able to achieve these goals by 2015.

“The report provides ample data and serious analyses that delineate a specific and practical course of action towards the achievement of Arab development, Hammam said.

“Today, as we enter the last five-year stretch to the set deadline for achieving the MDGs, what is needed is a political will that prioritizes development as an urgent need, which requires a business unusual approach, focusing on existing development gaps of priority and on urgent and decisive action to address them, she added.

In the food security section, the report pointed out that the main problem facing Egypt in that regard is that the annual growth rate of food production is far below that for food consumption.

Whether Egyptian agriculture, given current land and water resources, would be able to face this growing demand for food depends on the ability of the Egyptian government to halt the growing encroachment of urbanization on traditional agricultural land.

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