UNITED NATIONS — A new report by over 100 independent intellectuals and scholars from Arab countries blames political, economic, social and environmental problems for undermining the lives and freedom of Arabs — coupled with the region's vulnerability to outside intervention.
According to the Arab Human Development Report 2009 released Tuesday, what's missing in the Arab world is "human security — the kind of material and moral foundation that secures lives, livelihoods and an acceptable quality of life for the majority."
"Human security is a prerequisite for human development, and its widespread absence in Arab countries has held back their progress," the report said. "In the Arab region, human insecurity — pervasive, often intense and with consequences affecting large numbers of people — inhibits human development."
The intellectuals and scholars said that seven years after the first Arab Human Development Report was published, they wanted to address a critical question: "Why have obstacles to human development in the region proved so stubborn?"
The 208-page report, sponsored by the U.N. Development Program, said the answer lies in the fragility of the region's structures to address the needs of its people and identifies seven threats to human security:
_Environmental stresses including water shortages and increasing desertification that could spark potential conflicts;
_A lack of representative government coupled with human rights violations and sweeping powers for security agencies;
_No security for many people outside the mainstream including abused and subordinated women, trafficking victims, child soldiers, refugees and the internally displaced;
_Economies overly dependent on oil that are unable to cope with a growing population and an unemployment rate among young people nearly double the world rate;
_Rising hunger and malnutrition;
_ Inefficient health systems and health risks from new infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS;
_ Threats to life and peace for millions of people as a result of the Palestinian occupation, the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, and conflicts in Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere.
According to U.N. estimates, Arab countries will be home to some 395 million people by 2015 compared to about 317 million in 2007 and 150 million in 1980. Young people are the fastest growing segment, with some 60 percent of the population under 25 years old "making this one of the most youthful regions in the world," the report said.
A major challenge in the coming years will be finding about 51 million new jobs by 2020, most to absorb young people "who will otherwise face an empty future," it said.
According to the report, the economies of Arab nations are very vulnerable.
World Bank data shows that during the 24-year period between 1980 and 2004, "real GDP per capita grew by a mere 6.4 percent," it said.
"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," it said.
Arab nations must move from a dependence on oil, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the region's exports, to a more diversified, knowledge-based economy that provides employment opportunities, the report said.
It also called for major efforts to strengthen the rule of law.
"All Arab justice systems suffer in one form or another from blows to their independence that stem from executive domination of both the legislative and judicial branches," the report said.
"Across the Arab region, six countries continue to prohibit the formation of political parties. In many other cases, varying degrees of repression and restrictions on the establishment and functioning of political parties, particularly opposition parties, effectively amount to their prohibition," it said.
The report also calls for enacting and enforcing laws to protect the environment, changing laws and attitudes that discriminate against women, stepping up efforts to end hunger, and expanding access to affordable, quality health care.
"The tendency is to think of security only in military or state security terms," said Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States. "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."
"Only if these sources of insecurity are addressed in a holistic manner will the people of the Arab region be able to make progress in human development," she said in a statement.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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