UNDP human development initiatives in the Arab World

22 Sep 2009


Photo: Dominique Marr
Students at Damascus University
UNDP directed US$579 million in human development aid to the Arab region in 2008, an increase of 21 percent from the year before in a region that is experiencing a number of conflict and post-conflict recovery situations. Indeed, the bulk of the funds, 70 percent, went toward programmes in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Palestine supporting the rehabilitation of socio-economic infrastructure and the creation of temporary employment for the millions of people who suffered devastating losses as a result of violent conflict.

Earlier this year, UNDP’s Arab Human Development Report 2009 identified human insecurity stemming from political conflict,  poverty,  lack of freedoms, the heightening effects of climate change and barriers to women empowerment as significant challenges to human development in the region. Conflicts have triggered widespread migration within and between a number of countries.  Refugees account for at least 10 percent of the population in Lebanon and Jordan while one out of 10 people are internally displaced in Iraq and Somalia. As a result, a number of UNDP’s initiatives targeted the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons and refugees.

UNDP also initiated a number of significant governance programmes  in support of rule of law, voter registration and anti-corruption work in the region as Arab citizens increasingly call for more regular and freer election and more efficient services from public institutions. A large part of UNDP’s programmatic work addressed the systematic discrimination against women. For example, in Morocco, UNDP supported five model tribunals in major cities that are ensuring that a new, progressive family code is actually being implemented by training judges to understand and apply the new law. In Jordan, UNDP took the lead in sensitizing members of parliament on human rights conventions, with a particular focus on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Meanwhile, a UNDP rule-of-law project in Egypt is organizing training for media, police officers, parliamentary staff and judges on the elections systems, international standards for transparent election and voter registration. The effects of climate change in the Arab region, especially in terms of a rising scarcity of water, are becoming a major source of insecurity and economic unease. UNDP worked in 15 countries to help governments make environment and energy concerns an integral part of national and local development plans. In Morocco, for example, UNDP has successfully undertaken a project to promote environmental sustainable pastoralism in over one million hectares. In Jordan, UNDP assisted the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in developing a joint programme on increasing national and local capacity to deal with the direct and indirect effects of climate change on water availability and quality in the Zarqa River Basin.

Meanwhile, though the effects of the food, finance and fuel crises of the past two years has been felt rather unevenly throughout the region, the global economic and financial crisis has prompted several governments to slow down on major development plans as oil prices drop and inflation rises. A drop in remittances is having a significant effect on lower income countries as well, and the initial impact of the crisis in the Arab region threatens to roll back recent economic and human development achievements. This made UNDP’s significant contributions in the areas of poverty and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that much more crucial.