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French Version

Arab report calls for more balanced development to ensure growth

Respect for human rights and freedoms, complete empowerment of Arab women and consolidation of knowledge through IT and latest technologies are vital for Arab countries to uplift their social and economic development.

Respect for human rights and freedoms, complete empowerment of Arab women and consolidation of knowledge through IT and latest technologies are vital for Arab countries to uplift their social and economic development. The Arab Human Development (AHD) Report for 2002, released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development early this month, stresses the importance of these elements for a brighter future.

Human development involves a wide range of issues and drawing on a large number of choices. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan once said, "good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development."

Statistics show almost all the Arab nations do not have the ability or resources to induce proper development. The Arab Gulf states, however, are classified as 'high-income' countries for having oil abundance. On the other hand, this shows the remaining Arab nations suffer inequality in income distribution and individual consumption levels.

Despite this, Arab economists agree regional countries have acquired what it takes to attain adequate living standards for all. They stress, meanwhile, the need first of all to achieve real economic integration and deepen inter-Arab trade to overcome dependency and vulnerability. Arab economies also require cost-efficient mechanisms to make globalization work for their own interests. The long-awaited Arab Free Trade Area is a step in the right direction, but its implementation is the only way for Arab economies to flourish in the swelling global economy.

Dr Rima Khalaf, regional director of UNDP's Arab States Bureau, seems more optimistic. She believes Arab nations can transcend their problems by pushing forward their economic transformation in global trade. It would help in developing economies to grow steadily in view of their small-sized markets and increased leverage.

"The realization of human development in the Arab world requires transcending current shortcomings and transforming them into their opposites," Khalaf wrote in her foreword to the AHD report.

"The transcendence of current Arab shortcomings requires building Arab productive capabilities in the face of the rentier nature of Arab economies and societies."

The per capita economic growth rates in the Arab world increased by a mere 0.5 percent in the last 20 years, while the total GDP in the region increased to around $660 billion. Impressive maybe, but this is far less than Spain's Gross Domestic Product which is $770 billion.

Fostering partnerships throughout the region is an important objective for the UNDP-Arab States Bureau. "The deeply-rooted shortcomings in the Arab institutional structure are an obstacle to building human development," said Khalaf, adding social and economic deficits constitute weighty constraints on human capability to grow and develop.

One in every two Arab women can neither read or write because of the social restrictions in some of the Arab nations, the report surveyed. "In some other countries with elected national assemblies, women are still denied the right to vote or hold office," the report stated. While the report recognized Arab women made considerable progress over the last few decades, there is still a long way to go.

Economic and social development in any Arab country can only happen if a real coalition was created among all economic sectors and real economic equality between the sexes is found.

Almost all of the Arab countries show rapid growth in female education. But even so, these countries have been unwilling to empower women in their productive economic sectors.

"Great goals require great acts, no society can achieve the desired state of well being and human development, or compete in a globalizing world if half of its nation [women] remain marginalized and disempowered," Khalaf, a former Jordanian planning minister, said.

Former Jordanian senator Leila Sharaf noted modern and developed states are these which provide social coexistence to ensure equal opportunities to all citizens. Eight Arab countries have neither signed or ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Jordan and Egypt made important strides in that regard concerning recent amendments to their Constitutions.

Across the region, with the growing importance of the private sector, people's access to knowledge has put them in a stronger position compared with the state, the report mentioned. Economic pressures, added the report, forced many Arab governments to cut their subsidies, social security aid and other inducements gradually.

Vitalising IT-related fields in Arab countries, notably through education and training, will certainly help their nations to bridge the informational gap with their counterparts in the well-developed countries.

The report tackled of many economic fields of action which women can easily be empowered in. These include giving priority to women entrepreneurs, increasing women political participation, and ensuring the use of Information and Communication Technology by/for women.

"Higher education [for both sexes] is an area when development brings many advantages," it added. "The region could also maximize its research and technological development by enabling different centers to specialize in areas of comparative advantage."

The report concludes with a fact: Any society is only as free as its media. It argues the action to improve governance in Arab nations focus on reforming institutions and activating the voice of their people. All told, the report concluded by saying "bold thinking holds the key to realizing grand visions for the future."

The dignity and the freedom of Arab nations demand their countries join together to provide sufficient human services and deepen Arab political, economic and social cooperation in the coming years.

Beirut 05-08-2002
The Star redaction
The Star

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