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Despite gains in Arab world, region still lags behind in human development, UN reports

Despite gains in Arab world, region still lags behind in human development, UN reports

While Arab countries have made gains over the last 30 years in social sectors such as education and health, the region still lags behind others in economic growth and other measures of productivity, according to a new report released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The "Arab Human Development Report," compiled by Arab scholars over the past 18 months for UNDP, details the achievements by the 280 million people in 22 Arab countries since the 1970s.

"The report was written by Arabs for Arabs," Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, said at the report's launch at the Cairo headquarters of the League of Arab States. "It's intended to provide an accurate diagnosis of the problems facing the region in order to help find solutions."

According to the report, life expectancy in the region has increased by 15 years, mortality rates of children under five have fallen by two-thirds, and adult literacy has almost doubled.

Moreover, the region's growth has been "pro-poor," and as a result there is much less abject poverty - defined as an income of less than $1 a day - than in any other developing region in the world.

The study warns, however, that over the past 20 years, growth in per capita income in the Arab world was lower than any other region except sub-Saharan Africa, with an average annual growth rate of 0.5 per cent.

Labour productivity in Arab nations has also been low, and declining, productivity was just one-third that of the North American level in 1960, and had fallen to 19 per cent of the North American level by 1990.

The report says that much still needs to be done to provide people in the region with the political voice, social choices and economic opportunities they need for a better future. It outlines the challenges faced by Arab countries in strengthening personal and institutional freedoms and boosting broad-based citizen participation in political and economic affairs.

The way forward, the report says, involves promoting good governance based on expanding human capabilities, choices, opportunities and freedoms, and empowering women and those most marginalized in society.