A widespread lack of basic elements of human security, such as access to clean water, freedom from hunger, democracy and a robust rule of law, is denying citizens of Arab countries the ability to fulfil their potential, according to a United Nations-sponsored report released today.
The annual Arab Human Development Report noted that human security – which it called a pre-requisite for human development – is being undermined by the region’s unjust political, social, and economic systems, a scramble for power and resources among fragmented social groups and, in some cases, the impact of external military intrusion.
“The tendency is to think of security only in military or state security terms,” said Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, Director of the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Arab States.
But Ms. Al Alim Alsoswa said that the ability of some 330 million people in the Arab world to lead stable lives and achieve their potential is not only threatened by conflict and civil unrest, but “also by environmental degradation, discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and hunger.”
She stressed that only if these sources of insecurity are addressed “will the people of the Arab region be able to make progress in human development.”
The report, which draws on contributions from more than 100 Arab scholars, identifies a series of measures to improve human security, including: guarantees on universal basic rights and freedoms, especially for women; better protection for the environment; tackling poverty and hunger; expanding access to affordable health services; and ending occupation and military interventions, which cause human suffering and erase decades of economic development.
UNDP noted that the report highlighted that in six Arab countries, “there is an outright ban on the formation of political parties, while restrictions on political activities and civic organizations in other countries often amount to de facto prohibition.”
“National security measures such as the declaration of emergency law often serve as a pretext to suspend basic rights, exempt rulers from constitutional limitations, and afford security agencies sweeping powers,” it added.
Pointing to the poverty and hunger despite the comparative affluence in the region, the report said that one in five people live on less than $2 per day, below the internationally recognized poverty line, but stated that a more accurate estimate would be that 20 per cent of Arabs live in poverty.
Large segments of the population in low-income countries face basic deprivation, reflected in inadequate access to safe water and a high incidence of underweight children, with the number of undernourished people in the region rising from almost 20 million in 1990-1992 to 25.5 million in 2002-2004.
Since 2002 Arab Human Development Reports (AHDRs) have targeted decision-makers and opinion leaders in governments and civil societies, helping build consensus around regional and national development priorities, identifying disadvantaged populations and religious groups and suggesting policies, strategies and opportunities for investment to benefit them.
As instruments for measuring human progress and triggering action for change, the AHDRs feed into and draw upon the data and analysis of the global Human Development Reports, which promote regional partnerships for influencing change and region-specific approaches to human rights, poverty, education, economic reform, HIV/AIDS, and globalization.
The global HDR was first launched in 1990 and the Human Development Index has become a globally-recognized measure which ranks countries using indicators such as life-expectancy, levels of education and standards of living as its guide.