Human Development Crisis in the Arab World

Arab governments must rethink their priorities and course of action

Published on Global, by Ramzy Baroud, November 4, 2009.

When the first Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) was published in 2002, a star glistened in a vast, gloomy sky. The fact that a UN-sponsored report, authored by independent Arab scholars would receive so much attention in Arab media, was in itself a promising start. The fact that such terminology as human security, personal security, economic security, etc – as highlighted in the report – would even compete with the largely ceremonial news bulletins’ headlines in many Arab countries was in itself an achievement. But then, the star quickly faded, the terms became clichés, and the report, published seven times since then, became a haunting reminder of how bad things really are in the Arab World.

Those who wish to discredit Arab countries, individually or as a collective, now find in these reports plenty of reasons to fuel their constant diatribes; those who genuinely care and wish for things to improve are either silent or muted.  

The last report, sponsored, like the rest, by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was published in July 2009. It was the grimmest …

… UNDP had recently launched “The Arab Knowledge Report 2009”, jointly with the United Arab Emirates-based Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum Foundation. Another depressing read, nonetheless. Governments were criticized for paying lip service to ‘reform’, yet “widening the gap between word and deed.” It concluded that Arab countries are far from being knowledge based societies. Numbers and more numbers told the story: Finland spends $1000 per person on scientific research, while less than $10 are spent annually in the Arab world. More, the number of published books averages one for every 491 British citizens, while in the Arab world it’s one for every 19,150. But that should not be much of a surprise considering that one-third of older Arab citizens are illiterate, two-thirds of whom are women. Meanwhile, more than seven million children, who should be in school, are not. Illiteracy stands at 30 percent in the Arab world …

… Alas, some Arab governments, spend twice, if not three times more on their military budget than invest in education. And keeping in mind that nearly one out of every five Arab citizens lives below the poverty threshold of two-dollars a day, the tragedy is suddenly augmented.

Arab governments must rethink and reconsider their current priorities and course of action. They must think and act individually, but collectively as well, before the crisis turns into a catastrophe, as will surely be the case if nothing is done. (full text).

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