Development at the crossroads: reflections from the Arab Region

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Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp in the village of Zaatari, Jordan. photo: UNDP

Recent years have seen dramatic changes in the Arab region and two aspects in particular are important for the region’s relationship with issues of development finance. 

First, the expanding role of the region itself as a provider of official development assistance (ODA), with the Arab Gulf countries providing more than $3 billion to countries around the world each year - Saudi Arabia alone provided over $100 billion to almost 90 countries since the 1970s.

While the volume of Arab ODA has attracted attention, important issues for the future will be a growing focus by Arab partners on development effectiveness, alignment with post-2015 priorities like sustainable access to energy and water, and applying social and environmental quality standards to manage risks in recipient countries. 

Furthermore, while most Arab ODA has operated through bilateral cooperation channels and Arab multilateral platforms in the past, there are benefits to connectivity with other Southern donors. The centre of gravity in the global economy is shifting East at speed, and this means shifting lines of development cooperation as well. 

Strategic alliances between Asian and Arab donors could be a powerful force for the common goal of supporting new development solutions in Africa, with both Arab and Asian donors expected to scale up support to Africa in the post-2015 era. New partnerships across these three regions could reconnect age-old routes of trade, cooperation and innovation, forging a ‘new silk road’ of development solutions.

Second, a focus in post-2015 debates on the need for aid to adapt to the drivers of change worldwide, such as the rise of middle-income countries (MICs) and the growing power of social movements both issues of special relevance in the Arab region.

The Arab region has experienced in recent decades some of the world’s fastest progress on development indicators such as health and education. However growing social and economic gaps have accompanied this process. Issues of social exclusion and inequality fuelled the wave of social movements that took shape in 2011. Such movements, in the region as globally, have become a new disruptive force in development, demanding a fundamental rethinking of our approaches.

Development finance into the region must go beyond engaging communities as mere recipients of charity, and civil society must be engaged as an agent of change, with greater transparency, accountability and participation in decision-making by national and international development partners. 

Development institutions should help partners move beyond the linear, autocratic march to economic growth, to a more contextualized approach that engages, rather than side-steps, the social, historical and cultural forces that characterize the state of development in the post-2011 Arab region.


About the author
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Kishan Khoday  is UNDP Practice Leader for Environment & Energy in the Arab Region, based at UNDP's Regional Centre in Cairo.


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