September 25, 2010 / 4:11 PM / 9 years ago

Poor, violent Arab nations seen missing U.N. goals

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Arab nations have made strides in boosting health and education but efforts to meet U.N. anti-poverty goals by 2015 are undermined by conflict, unemployment and insufficient aid, the United Nations says.

World leaders gathered at the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York this week to assess how far the world has come toward meeting a 2015 deadline for eight anti-poverty goals.

While the United Nations says the global economic crisis has in some cases derailed efforts to meet the Millennium Development goals, the Arab world faces its own challenges.

An assessment last month from the United Nations and the Arab League found the Arab world’s poorest nations, such as Yemen, and those mired in violent conflict, like Sudan, Iraq, Somalia and the Palestinian territories, were unlikely to meet the goals, which address poverty reduction, child mortality, disease and more.

The picture is mixed for middle-income Arab countries such as Jordan and nations in North Africa, while affluent oil-rich nations in the Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are expected to meet most of the eight goals.

While Arab nations are expected to halve the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day as laid out in the U.N. goals, poverty and hunger are believed to have risen in many Arab countries since 2005 in step with fuel and food prices.

“The Arab region as a whole has not experienced significant progress in reducing income poverty,” The U.N. Development Program found.

The problem is most acute in those countries gripped by instability and violence, which can not only deter investment and spending but derail longer-term progress in health, education and even environmental protection.

“The Occupied Palestinian Territory, Yemen, Sudan and Iraq carry the largest shares of the out-of-school population for the region, with over 25 per cent in Yemen and Iraq alone in 2007,” the U.N. report found. In Yemen, for example, only about 60 percent of adults are literate.


Khalid Abu-Ismail, a UNDP poverty expert based in Cairo, said a chronic problem for the Arab countries was epidemic unemployment, the world’s highest.

The picture may be improving in places like Morocco and Tunisia, but across the region joblessness is especially high for young people — about 30 percent in 2006.

Even in economies where growth has been better, often fueled by energy or extractive industries, job creation has been lacking. There is a notable dearth of sophisticated jobs matching the region’s relatively high education levels, the kind that do more to reduce poverty across the economy.

“There are not enough quality jobs,” Abu-Ismail said.

Foreign assistance to the region has also declined, Abu-Ismail said. Excluding Iraq, which has gotten significant U.S. aid since the 2003 invasion, overseas development aid is now lower in real terms than it was in the 1990s.

“There needs to be more of a match between overseas development assistance to the region and development realities on the ground,” he said.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

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