Posted by: r.m. | December 22, 2009

Development Challenges for the Arab Region

So, I spent this past weekend in Cairo. I was one of the main authors of the two-volume report, entitled “Development Challenges for the Arab Region.”  Sunday, we presented our findings and our recommendations to the League of Arab States at the 29th meeting of the Arab Social Affairs Ministers Council.

The report is quite strong – -both about the poverty and food (in)security in the Arab world and the concrete policy changes — “a new social order” we called it — that is needed.  The media response has been quite good.  Here is a sampling:

New York Times (from Reuters): UNDP Calls on Wealthy Arab States to Help Neighbors

CAIRO (Reuters) – Oil-rich Arab states should devote more money to creating jobs and boosting food security among their poorer Arab neighbors to help the region meet development goals by 2015, a U.N. report issued on Sunday said.

Though rich in labor and fertile land, much of the Arab world is plagued by malnutrition, joblessness and a big gap between rich and poor, said the report, published by the United Nations Development ProgrammeProgrammed (UNDP).

Without more help from Gulf Arab countries, nations such as Yemen, Sudan and Somalia risk missing goals set for the U.N. Millennium Campaign, which aims to halve extreme poverty and boost life expectancy by 2015, it added.

“The development paralysis experienced by LDCs (least developed countries) in the Arab region can be turned around,” the report said. “However, such a transformation requires a developmental compact between the Arab LDCs and their more fortunate brothers.”

In most Arab countries more than half of unemployed people are young, making the region’s jobless rates among young people the highest in the world, the report said.

The region needs to create 51 million new jobs by 2020 merely to keep unemployment from rising above its current levels, it added.

The two-volume report, entitled “Development Challenges for the Arab Region,” called on oil-rich Gulf Arab countries to employ more migrant workers from neighboring states such as Yemen and to invest more in sectors that create jobs throughout the region.

In spite of progress toward self-sufficiency in grain production in Sudan and Syria, malnutrition is still rampant among Arab states and has seen little improvement since 1990, the report said.

Poverty rates have not declined in the Arab world in nearly two decades, it said, adding that nearly 140 million Arabs continue to live under the upper poverty line.

Another news agency wrote:

About 40 percent of the population in Arab countries-around 140 million people-live below the poverty line, according to a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Arab League. There has been “no reduction in poverty rates over the last 20 years,” it said.

What recommendations did the report make?

Well, with regards to food security, here is the essence of our recommendations

* Relying on the market mechanism alone has not – and will not – solve the root causes of the Arab food insecurity problem

Short term interventions re: food relief

  • Establish a regional food security monitoring system
  • Create an Arab Fund Security Fund
  • Expand direct food assistance and increase livelihood support
  • Ensure humanitarian actors have safe access to crisis areas
  • Campaign to ensure that humanitarian needs are met in Gaza {here – I paused and spoke about (a) how the situation in Gaza has worsened so that now 75% of the population is food insecure; and (b) how the siege on Gaza has intensified so that now there is a wall to be built underground – a steel wall that would destroy the one primary lifeline for the people in Gaza: the tunnels.}

Policy recommendations for marco-economics

  • Increase spending in agriculture (example: Yemen spends ~ 2.8% of its governmental budget on agriculture, and the situation isn’t much better in Syria, Egypt, or Morocco)
  • Establish a joint Arab fund to finance solutions – both short-term and long-term
  • Protect the local farmer through pro-active monetary policy measures

Policy recommendations for agriculture

  • Satisfy fairness in property rights through:
    • Progressive taxation on land so that large land owners would sell their lands
    • Women’s entitlements to ensure that women have full ownership over resources
  • Research: set up a system of generating information
  • Give incentives for agricultural investment
  • Require commercial banks to diversity lending to rural areas

Policy recommendations for water and technology

  • Invest in improving water availability, yield, and distribution for all uses
  • Adopt policies to secure production of – at least  – a minimum of  cereal consumption
  • Reform water governance and agricultural technologies
  • Support traditional water control systems
  • Redistributive water-access reform
  • Protect local varieties
  • Increase research and development budget (example: the R&D budget of all the Arab countries over the past 20 years is less than the annual R&D budget of one of the international agricultural companies)
With regards to climate change, our recommendations stressed the need to: “Develop and adopt regional and national mitigation and adaptation strategies” – and here, I emphasized the need for mitigation more than adaptation.
Finally, in case it hadn’t been clear enough, I stressed again the need to question the alleged efficiency of the market system in producing socially optimal outcomes. The market system does not reflect scarcity of resources, Has led to increased concentration of resources in fewer and larger commercial firms, and has increased the risk of supply shocks. The direct consequence is that the rural poor will have less resources while having lesser and poorer food. The problem cannot be the solution: The market driven process that resulted in this impasse is not capable of getting us out of it.
Therefore, we need a new social order. We

  • We need Public action and public investment to guarantee the right to food by providing the conditions where all can participate as equals
  • We Need a new social order that:
    • Respects nature
    • Respects the needs of future generations
    • Embraces the currently disenfranchised millions
Furthermore, Food handouts – despite their urgency – are insufficient to deal with the depth, severity, and likely long-term nature of the food crisis


And, so, what was the response from the Arab Ministers?
Not one spoke of the recommendations for a social change, for a shift in market policy.  Not one spoke of the primary issues that were raised.
A few spoke of Gaza – and spoke of the need to break the siege. The Libyan minister said it was shameful that there were protests over a soccer game and not over Gaza.  (He also spoke against the “zionification of Arab lands.” And he said that there are two challenges that need to be highlighted: (1) Arab riches belong to all Arabs, and thus we have a challenge of ownership and control over Arab resources; (2) The Zionist occupation, which has taken the most fertile land and dispossessed the most educated of our people.) The Sudanese minister spoke of the need for a resolution from the League of Arab States condemning all sanctions, all sieges.  — However, the LAS has already issued resolutions against the sanctions (I think) — and the result? Egypt continues to impose the siege.  Damn — a wall, a damn wall, between Arab lands, to further suffocate and terrorize a beleaguered population! — All the while, by the way, the Egyptian minister said nothing.
The main issue amongst the Ministers though was the source of the information from the reports. Well, our primary source was their own numbers – the national, governmental numbers.
(A good point was raised by the Jordanian minister who said that education and human capacity should be included within the Human Development Report.  She said that typically economics drives social capacity, and perhaps it is time for it be reversed.)
I took notes of what each Minister said – so tonight I can update this blog with their direct statements.
On a side note, I did meet the Lebanese Social Minister — from the Kataeb party — who was the head of this session. He told me, with glee, how happy he was to see a Lebanese on the panel, and how beautiful the “Lebanese language” is. Yes, language. Both he and his assistant said Lebanese language.
sigh
want more ?
{On a positive note, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of female ministers: from Bahrain, Jordan, UAE, Syria, Palestine, Sudan}


Responses

  1. So why were you surprised to hear a term such as the “Lebanese Language” again? I did not understand that part? What’s wrong with the Lebanese Language. It is beautiful in my opinion too! Please don’t say it’s an Arabic dialect like some ignorant people do!

  2. I did not know that you were part of this Dr. Rania! that’s a nice surprise. I am also positively surprised by the solutions this report offers to reduce the poverty by giving concrete solutions on how to manage water technology africulture and all the rest. But I was wondering is this really possible to apply? 51 million new jobs to be created sounds like a huge number!!

  3. I did not know that you were part of this Dr. Rania! that’s a nice surprise. I am also positively surprised by the solutions this report offers to reduce the poverty by giving concrete solutions on how to manage water technology, agriculture and all the rest. But I was wondering is this really possible to apply? 51 million new jobs to be created sounds like a huge number!!
    (sorry for the mistakes in the previous post)


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