UN-sponsored report concludes major barriers to security in the Arab world

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a report yesterday (July 21) assessing the security situation in the Arab world. The U.N.-sponsored independently authored report was not shown to the public in advance of its release, and it faults Arab governments for curtailing growth, citing human rights as the main obstacle to development.
UNDP Arab Human Development report 09 cover

 BEIRUT, July 22, 2009 (MENASSAT) — "Human security is a prerequisite for human development, and its widespread absence in Arab countries has held back their progress," the 2009 Arab Human Development Report contends.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-sponsored report, authored by some 90 intellectuals and scholars from several Arab countries, was released yesterday after two years of research, and according to UNDP spokeswoman Mona El-Yassir, does not reflect the opinions of UNDP or the UN agency’s top brass.

In keeping with the intent of the original Arab Human Development Report on human security released in 2002, the 288-page report builds on the idea that “no single composite index of human security would be valid” or reliable if not for opinion surveys at regional and sub-regional levels.

The report defined human security as being "the liberation of human beings from those intense, extensive, prolonged, and comprehensive threats to which their lives and freedom are vulnerable.”

Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States said, "The tendency is to think of security only in military or state security terms. But the security of people themselves is threatened not just by conflict and civil unrest, but also by environmental degradation, discrimination, unemployment, poverty and hunger."

At a UNDP press conference in Beirut on Tuesday, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told reporters and policy-makers, “Putting an end to armed conflicts in Arab states is an essential condition for the security of the Arab human being,” adding that fighting in places like Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and the occupied Palestinian territories prevented attempts at providing lasting security in the region.

Occupation forces in Somalia, Palestinian territories and Iraq were all cited in the ADHR report as being responsible for degrading individual freedom, and destroying the health and livelihoods of the occupied populations.

Among the obvious conclusions in the ADHR report was the litany of human rights abuses in Arab states, particularly where women and the growing youth population were concerned.

“Though violence against women can be found in every country, women in societies with entrenched male dominance, patriarchal kinship patterns, and legalized discrimination — the situation in many Arab countries — are acutely vulnerable,” Munira Fakhro, former Associate Professor at the University of Bahrain and an advisory board member for the AHDR told Arab News.

The Arab world has lower rates of women participating in their countries’ economic activity than in any other part of the world, a 2006 ADHR report stated, and female unemployment rates are still between two and five times higher than those of men in most Arab nations.

The report called on Arab governments to change laws and social mores that discriminate against women, and it touched on the multi-billion dollar human trafficking industry, that implicates Arab states with varying levels of complicity in the process. Much of the human trafficking is of women and children for sexual exploitation and forced labor.

The authors of the report also criticized the lack of plurality in the political processes of many Arab countries as a factor in limiting growth and hampering security.

They list six Arab countries that were under a declared state of emergency in 2008, in which “there is an outright ban on the formation of political parties, while restrictions on political activities and civic organizations in other countries often amount to de facto prohibition.”

These countries include – Algeria (since 1992); Egypt (since 1981); Syria (since 1963); Iraq (since 2004); Sudan (since 2008); the Palestinian territories (since 2007); and the Sudanese region of Darfur (since 2005).

According to the report, “National security measures such as the declaration of emergency law often serve as a pretext to suspend basic rights, exempt rulers from constitutional limitations, and afford security agencies sweeping powers.”

Among the severe environmental issues affecting the regions security were the growing exploitation of natural resources, and the need to address the impending water shortages that will inevitably be highly contested areas of conflict in the future. The continuing desertification of areas was also cited as a major environmental concern that could lead to the displacement of thousands of people in the future.

Poverty was clearly a major concern in the report when compared to the relative affluence in the region, the report said that one in five people live on less than $2 per day, below the internationally recognized poverty line. And the report sated that about 20 per cent of Arabs live in poverty.

Of course, the report states links the poverty in Arab countries with the number of undernourished people in the region, which has risen from nearly 20 million in 1990-1992 to 25.5 million in 2002-2004.

Given the yearlong financial crisis that has also hit the Arab world, the report suggested that Arab nations were extremely vulnerable to economic downturn. It specifically addressed the Arab world’s dependence on oil – accounting for 70 percent of the regions exports.

The ADHR report stated, "The fabled oil wealth of the Arab countries presents a misleading picture of their economic situation, one that masks the structural weaknesses of many Arab economies and the resulting insecurity of countries and citizens alike."

The ADHR report’s target audience are the policy-makers and leaders in civil society and government. Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States Alsoswa told Lebanon’s Daily Star that the report would have a “tremendous impact in the Arab countries and all over the world,” adding, that the issues that needed to be addressed were an internal Arab issue.

“We maintain our steadfast belief that only we Arabs can decide where we want to go and how we might arrive there.”