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Study urges political, social change for Arabs

Area's literacy, life expectancy up; income, productivity lag

Study urges political, social change for Arabs

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Arab countries trail much of the world in economic growth and need to make changes in political and social institutions, but gains have been made in areas such as education and health, according to a U.N.-commissioned study.

Called the Arab Human Development Report 2002 and released Tuesday, the study compiled data over the last year and a half for the U.N. Development Program. It details achievement and stagnation in 22 Arab countries since the 1970s.

"The report was written by Arabs for Arabs," said Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, the U.N. Development Program's assistant administrator and director of the regional bureau for Arab states.

"It's intended to provide an accurate diagnosis of the problems facing the region in order to help find solutions."

Read the complete United Nations Development Programme's Arab Human Development Report.  (PDF format)
In the realm of the plight of Arab women, the United Nations report offers a comparison to conditions in other major regions of the world  and recommendations for improvement.

Hunaidi said the report concludes that Arab countries "need to embark on rebuilding their societies" on the basis of:

  • "Full respect for human rights and human freedoms as the cornerstones of good governance, leading to human development";
  • "The complete empowerment of Arab women, taking advantage of all opportunities to build their capabilities and to enable them to exercise those capabilities to the full";
  • "The consolidation of knowledge acquisition and its effective utilization. As a key driver of progress, knowledge must be brought to bear efficiently and productively in all aspects of society, with the goal of enhancing human well-being across the region."
  • The study lists several positive developments.

    Life expectancy in the Arab world has increased by 15 years, literacy for adults has doubled, women's literacy has tripled, and mortality rates of children under 5 have dropped by two-thirds, the study said.

    The study said the "incidence of dire poverty" is lower than in any region in the developing world.

    "Daily caloric intake and access to safe water are higher," said Mark Malloch Brown, the U.N. agency administrator, in a foreword.

    "Overall, it shows that Arab states have made substantial progress in human development over the past three decades," Brown said.

    But the report also said growth in per capita income is lower than in any region except for sub-Saharan Africa. It said labor productivity has been low and is declining. Productivity was one-third that of North America in 1960 and was 19 percent of the North American level three decades later.

    "It clearly outlines the challenges for Arab states in terms of strengthening personal freedoms and boosting broad-based citizen participation in political and economic affairs."
    — Mark Malloch Brown
    United Nations

    The study said the Arab world needs improvements in economic, social and political institutions. It calls for the promotion of good governance by providing more opportunities and freedom and by liberating women and others in need.

    "It underlines how far the Arab states still need to go in order to join the global information society and economy as full partners and to tackle the human and economic scourge of joblessness, which afflicts Arab countries as a group more seriously than any other developing region," Brown said.

    "And it clearly outlines the challenges for Arab states in terms of strengthening personal freedoms and boosting broad-based citizen participation in political and economic affairs."




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