Human Development of the Arab World.


By Ghassan Karam

The Human Development Index for the year 2010 was released by the UNDP on the 4th of November. This is a grand issue. It reintroduces to the public both Mahbub Al Haq and Amartya Sen whose ideas and enthusiasm for a multidimensional development index resulted in the HDI in 1990. Ever since then this measure has continued to grow and evolve into the very informative data set that it has become. During the past twenty years this measure has become so popular and common that it is hard to find a textbook of economic development that does not teach it in lieu of the rather simplistic approach that used to rank countries by the level of income per capita.

It is especially noteworthy that the last iteration of the all successful HDI has introduced a number of improvements on the older methodology. It has become quite simple to rank countries by their non-income HDI is one is so inclined and to even rank them by an Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index. The newest edition has also introduced a Multifaceted Measure of Poverty that incorporates many of the seminal ideas of Mr. Sen, a Noble laureate in Economics.

So how did the Arab group of countries fare? Not so good. The Arab states as a group were below the world average in every single category. Life expectancy at birth averaged 69.1 years for the Arab states when it was at 69.3 for the world while the mean years of education for the world was 7.4 years compared to only 5.7 years for the typical Arab citizen. Even the per capita income measured on a PPP basis was only $7861 compared to a global average of $10,631.

A close examination of the individual Arab states’ individual statistics is quite revealing and at times even surprising. It might be easy to explain the good performance of the top ranked two Arab states;  UAE (32) and Qatar (38); as a byproduct of their high per capita income but that would not be the case for Bahrain whose income per person is less than 10% above that of Saudi Arabia but yet Bahrain outranked its larger neighbor by 16 (Bahrain 39, Saudi Arabia 55). Then there is Libya whose performance among the Arab countries would rank it close to the top of the heap on a Non income basis. The performance of Jordan is even more compelling in the group of Arab countries. Although its per capita income was a modest $5956 which is below that of Algeria ,Egypt and not that much above that of Syria, yet it outranked each of them (Jordan (82), Algeria (84), Egypt(101), Syria(111)).

The conclusion of the relative performance of countries during 2010 is rather revealing. The Arab world is still mired in inefficiencies and poor human capital. It is apparent that high income is helpful but is not sufficient. Many other countries all throughout the world had managed to outperform us by a wide margin despite their lack of a natural endowment similar to oil.  Is it a stretch to conclude our authoritarian political systems are our major impediment to change and to modernity? When would we wake up from our slumber and demand our individual human rights to self expression personal freedom and responsible government?

The following is the ranking of the Arab countries as per the 2010 HDI report: Please note that Lebanon, Iraq, Palestinian Authority and Somalia are not ranked due to lack of data. My personal estimate is that Lebanon would have been around 70 since its data resembles that of Iran.

………………………………………….Life Expectancy      Mean Years     Personal Income      Non Income

Rank      Country               Index           at Birth                    Education          (PPP)                         HDI Index

32           UAE                      0.815               77.7                        9.2                    58006                       0.774

38           Qatar                   0.803               76.0                        7.3                    79426                       0.737

39           Bahrain               0.801                76.0                       9.4                    26664                        0.809

47           Kuwait                0.771                 77.9                       6.1                    55719                        0.714

53           Libya                    0.755                74.5                       7.3                    17068                        0.775

55           Saudi Arabia       0.752                73.3                      7.8                     24726                        0.742

81           Tunisia                0.683                 74.3                      6.5                       7979                         0.729

82           Jordan                 0.682                 73.1                      8.6                      5956                         0.755

84           Algeria                 0.677                72.9                      7.2                       8320                         0.716

101         Egypt                   0.620                 70.5                     6.5                       5889                         0.657

111         Syria                     0.589                74.6                      4.9                      4760                          0.627

114        Morocco               0.567               71.8                       4.4                      4628                          0.594

133        Yemen                   0.439               63.9                       2.5                      2387                          0.453

154        Sudan                    0.379                58.9                      2.9                       2051                          0.373

Av. Arab States            0.588               69.1                      5.7                     7861                           0.610

WORLD                             o.624               69.3                      7.4                    10631                         0.663


15           Israel                 0.872               81.2                     11.9                  27831                         0.916