The Arab region has made remarkable progress towards some Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), though there are notable differences in achievement in the region.
Generally, the Arab states, which include the Mashreq and Maghreb countries, countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), and the least developed countries (LDCs), have made good progress towards some MDGs. For instance, primary school enrolment and literacy have improved, and many states are closing in on gender parity in enrolment in all levels of education – primary, secondary, and tertiary.
At the same time, some states have only had minimal or no progress, especially those experiencing social, political, and economic transitions. Some states lag behind on important targets, especially those pertaining to hunger, food insecurity, lack of access to water, child and maternal mortality, and lack of improved sanitation in rural areas. Regressions caused by political conflicts and volatility in some areas since 2010 have become more apparent via increased poverty.
There’s varied progress on the goals across sub-regions and countries, and within the nations:
- LDCs are unlikely to achieve most of the MDGs due to the lack of financial resources, weak infrastructure, and conflicts – though to a lesser extent.
- GCC states have the most advanced economies, and have achieved many of the MDGs. However, there are some bleak sub-national inequalities and sharp deficits in gender equality. Further, GCC nations are overly reliant on natural resources, which has posed challenges in managing them sustainably.
- The Maghreb and Mashreq sub-regions have varied levels of achievement – somewhat better than LDCs but less advanced than GCC nations.
Achievements in the Arab region and subregions
- Among the Maghreb and Mashreq states, Tunisia, Egypt, and the Syrian Arab Republic have spearheaded the region’s MDG progress. Unfortunately, political instability and security threaten to unravel achievements in the Syrian Arab Republic and, to a lesser extent, in Egypt.
- On average, the Arab region is behind on the MDGs by 9.6, which is better than average delay of all developing regions (13.3 percent).
- The most notable achievements of the region has been its progress towards education targets, especially with regard to gender parity in education, which was already achieved by most Arab nations in 1990. That said, the increase in primary school enrolment is comparable to that of other developing regions in the world.
- Generally, the Arab states have made remarkable gains in extending access to improved sanitation, and are ahead of the set targets.
Challenges in the Arab region
- Gains are shadowed by obtrusive deficits in combating hunger, as the region is about 20 percent below the MDG target of reducing undernourishment and providing access to safe drinking water. Actually, the discrepancy between Arab nations and the developing nations is the highest in the latter indicator.
- With regard to infant, child, and maternal mortality, only Yemen in Arab LDC has recorded a positive score in one the three health indicators: maternal mortality.
- The average MDGI – a ratio of the average MDGs successes and shortfalls that indicates the overall percentage target for a state or region – is positive for five Arab countries, namely: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Tunisia, and the Syrian Arab Republic. This suggests that these 5 states are above set targets.
- Three of these countries are scored very high on the 2010 Human Development Index (HDI) of the global Human Development Report, and featured among the top 10 movers from 1970 – 2010. In other words, Oman, followed by Tunisia, and then Saudi Arabia have seen the greatest improvements in human development relative to their starting point in 1970, and are actually leading developing nations.
- Another group of Arab countries, namely Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria are, on average, slightly below the MDG set targets. Jordan had already achieved 5 of 12 MDG targets by 1990, while both Algeria and Morocco are on track. They actually would have had positive MDGI if Algeria had improved access to water, and Morocco addressed the issue of underweight children.
- The remaining 8 Arab nations can be split into two categories: the first group is 35 – 40 percent away from achieving the MDGI, and include Djibouti, Comoros, Palestine, Yemen, and Mauritania.
- The performance of Palestine is severely affected by bottlenecks in three areas: undernourishment, access to water, and maternal mortality – which are influenced by occupation and blockades.
- The poor MDG performance of the other 4 countries is due to factors hindering performance in majority of LDCs, including fiscal limitations, poverty, and general socioeconomic conditions that pose high hurdles.
- The second group comprises Somalia, Iraq, and the Sudan, which share one obvious factor: they’ve endured longstanding conflict since 1990. Iraq has a higher level of per capita income, plus it was a global model for development achievement 3 decades ago.
Post MDG 2015
One of the critical challenges for Asian nations will be ensuring that any future agenda is owned and driven by national governments, and that it balances social, economic, and environmental priorities. Some countries have also argued that the MDGs distorted their national priorities by favouring certain issues over others. So, in the future, better alignment of global goals with national plans will be critical, since nationally-chosen targets would enjoy a greater degree of legitimacy and political support.