Development challenges outlined in new Arab States report

20 Dec 2009

Report identifies six key challenges topped by: Adoption of pro-poor growth policies, creating 51 million new jobs by 2020, and macroeconomic policies that protect the poor against high prices due to global crises

Cairo - The Arab States need a new development model to reduce poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals, according to the “Development Challenges in the Arab States: A human development approach” report, launched today within the activities of the twenty-ninth session of the Council of Arab Ministers of Development and Social Affairs.

The report highlights six key interrelated challenges facing the region, including: 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. The report stresses that dealing with these challenges requires the adoption of a comprehensive development model based on the human development approach which considers freedoms as the basis for development.

The report is the result of a collaborative effort between the League of Arab States, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and a large group of Arab experts. It was commissioned by the Council of Arab Ministers of Development and Social Affairs in preparation for the Arab Economic and Social Summit, which was held in Kuwait in early 2009. The Report is issued in two parts. The first discusses the challenges of social and economic development from the perspective of comprehensive development methodologies, while the second part examines the challenge of food security in detail.

Introducing the report, His Excellency the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, underlined that "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," He elaborated further that, "the summit adopted two important resolutions based on the analyses and findings of the report we are launching today. The first called on Arab states to adopt specific programmes to reduce poverty with specific projected targets over the next four years, while the second called for establishing a regional programme to monitor progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the Arab States. "

The United Nations will host next September a world summit on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the adoption by world leaders—in an unprecedented international consensus—of the Millennium Declaration, in which the pledged to reduce poverty and hunger by half from the rates recorded in 1990, within the framework of a set of eight specific goals—now well known as the Millennium Goals, which they committed to achieve by 2015.

Mona Hammam, Deputy Regional Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States stressed that "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."

She added: "The report provides ample data and serious analyses that delineate a specific and practical course of action towards the achievement of Arab development. Today, as we enter the last 5-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 "

Limited progress towards reducing income poverty

The report underlines the achievement of acceptable rates of economic growth since 2000 in the region, reflected in the reduction of inequality, which had been previously on the rise. However, it shows that overall poverty rates remain high, reaching up to 40% on average, which means that nearly 140 million Arabs continue to live under the upper poverty line. Moreover, the data indicates that there has been no decrease in the rates of poverty in the Arab region over the past twenty years (compared to 1990 rates). Some countries actually saw an increase in poverty rates. The challenge facing Arab countries is not only to achieve high economic growth rate, which is essential to reduce poverty rapidly, but as well to transform growth in a faster and more effective manner to achieve poverty reduction through the application of effective income redistribute policies.

The highest rates of unemployment among young people globally

The report indicates that the proportion of young people of the total unemployed population is more than 50% for most Arab countries, which makes the unemployment rate among young people in Arab countries the highest in the world. According to estimates by the Arab Labor Organization, the unemployment rate among young people in the Middle East and North Africa was 25.7%, in 2003—the highest in the world, and exceeding the global average rate by 77.8%. The Arab challenge in this domain is to provide 51 million new jobs over the next ten years –i.e. by 2020—to provide sufficient flrxibility in the Arab labor market. It is worth noting that the provision of this number of jobs will not reduce unemployment but will merely contribute to preventing its increase and maintaining it at current levels until 2020.

Elusive food security

The Arab hope for self-sufficiency in food production remains elusive, despite the success of two Arab countries (Syria and Sudan) in achieving self-sufficiency in grain production. The proportion of the population suffering from malnutrition in Arab countries has seen no significant improvement over the rates of 1990. The report underscores the gravity of the situation of malnutrition, particularly in the least developed Arab countries and those that suffer from political and environmental crises, such as in Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. In the context of current global crises in food and fuel, the challenge lies in the fact that Arab countries where the majority of the population is poor are net importers of food. They are also either net importers of fuel, or have limited—and declining—fuel exports. Accordingly, the challenge is for those countries to adopt macroeconomic policies that work to maintain the stability of the economy and limit the impact of soaring prices on poor consumers.

Towards a new social contract in the Arab States

The report calls on Arab states to adopt a new economic approach with two interrelated features:
1. A shift from a growth model based on oil and raw materials, which does not induce development to the model of the developmental state, where the measures of success are the performance of the productive sectors, the reduction of poverty and inequality, and job creation.
2. Ensuring the right to food for all Arab peoples through a social contract that would commit rich Arab countries to support the process of eliminating hunger in the region as a whole, particularly in the least developed countries. This will be undertaken through forging a development alliance where the oil-rich Arab countries help their less developed sister countries to address economic stagnation and begin to implement development plans that promote overall growth and self-sufficiency.

Despite the magnitude of the challenges facing development in Arab countries, the report remains optimistic on its outlook to the future. As the report emphasizes, the Arab region has all the ingredients it needs for development—an abundance of fertile land suitable for agriculture, a wealth of natural, economic resources, substantial financial flows, and a tremendous human capital with a labor force hungry for suitable job opportunities.

Ibrahim ElSouri, Director of Development and Social Policies Department in the League of Arab States sums it up: "With such wealth and with the political will to achieve a higher levels of regional solidarity and cooperation, all Arab countries should not only be able to achieve the minimum level of development which the Millennium Development Goals represent but to surpass it to higher development prospects for the welfare of all Arabs."

Contact Information

Ibrahim ElSouri, Director of Development and Social Policies Department, the League of Arab States,
Tel. (+20) 2-33 35 78 53  -  Fax. (+20) 2-25 76 10 17 – 25 74 03 31  -  email: socialdev.dept@las.int

Khalid Abu-Ismail, Poverty/MDGs and Economic Policy Adviser, Regional Centre in Cairo, UNDP-RBAS
Tel. (+20) 2-27 70 22 54 -  Fax. (+20) 2-25 78 48 47  -  email: Khalid.Abu-Ismail@undp.org  

Noeman AlSayyad, Regional Communications Advisor, Regional Centre in Cairo, UNDP-RBAS
Tel. (+20) 2-27 70 22 42  -  Fax. (+20) 2-25 78 48 47  -  email: noeman.alsayyad@undp.org 

Download the report (.pdf):
Volume I: Development Challenges: Human Development Approach
Volume II: Development Challenges: Food security and Agriculture