A UN human development report reveals the extent of unemployment, among other problems, which plague young people in many Arab states
Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | December 15, 2016
The UN has produced its first analysis of the socio-economic indicators in the Arab region since the 2011 uprisings. The results are not all heartening. The report titled ‘Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) 2016: Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality’ that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published on November 29 is the sixth AHDR since 2002. The project had however stalled for the past seven years since it was hard to get reliable estimates from the conflict-ridden region.
It is the first time that the report focuses on the Arab youth and uses surveys like the Gallup Poll on how young Arabs perceive their current situation and their understanding of radicalisation. Also, for the first time, it focuses on gender issues and the question of migration and conflicts. “This is about human development – the expansion of opportunities for people and in this report expansion of opportunities for young people and girls,” says Adel Abdellatif, UNDP’s regional programme division chief for the Arab region who oversees the publication of the flagship ADHR. “You should be familiar with this because Amartya Sen is the brain behind the concept of expanding the choices. It’s not about how governments feel, it is more about how people feel,” he adds.
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The report measures the human development index (HDI) in the Arab states, analysing human well-being in three areas: living a long and healthy life, being educated and knowledgeable, and enjoying a decent standard of living.
Although all Arab countries (despite variations within the region) have increased their levels of achievement in terms of their education and health between 1980 and 2010, income levels have fallen behind in comparison.
The region is experiencing a so-called youthful “demographic momentum” that – the report predicts – will last for at least the next two decades. Never before has the region had such a large share of youth – 60 percent of its population has not yet reached the age of 30. Youth of ages 15-29 make up around 30 percent of the population, or some 105 million people and another third are below the age of 30.
Despite such a large young population, the youth are not equipped for the labour market, particularly young women who are excluded from the formal economy. Additionally, around 40 percent of all school-age children in the region are being deprived of education because of ongoing conflicts.
Unemployment here is highest among the world regions, reaching almost 30 percent and the situation is set to worsen by 2019. By 2020, the region needs to create about 60 million more jobs.
The average rate of youth participation in the workforce is about 24 percent falling to less than 18 percent among young women, making it the lowest global regional average.
The recent crises in the region have vastly exacerbated the socio-economic situation and a large number of young people are swept into the frontlines of wars that they had no role in starting or for that matter even participating in. The loss of human lives is not only in the battlefields but also among civilians – the report estimates that for every person directly killed through armed violence, between three and 15 others are indirectly killed by medical complications, malnutrition and diseases.
This will only worsen in future, the analysis predicts. The number of people living in countries vulnerable to conflict in the Arab region is expected to rise to over 350 million in 2020 from 250 million in 2010 and will double by 2050. By 2050, three of the four people will live in high conflict risk (16 or more years of conflict in 1946–2013) countries.
Although the region hosts only five percent of the world’s population, it saw 45 percent of the global terrorist attacks in 2014, up from 17.6 percent between 1948 and 2014. It also had 68.5 percent of battle related deaths in 2014, which is a 40 percent increase in deaths from 1989.
The situation essentially adds up to this: a growing number of young people are living in increasingly volatile situation with increasingly narrow social and economic opportunities unless the governments pitch in with aggressive rectifying interventions.
“The wave of uprisings that have swept across the Arab region since 2011 has shown us that we can no longer treat young people in the Arab region as passive dependents or a generation-in-waiting,” said Sophie de Caen, acting director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States in UNDP, in a press statement.
Religion is a “strong factor” in the current political turmoil in the Arab states with the power vacuum created in many countries worsening the situation and allowing extremist groups to become more violent.
According to a Gallup Poll report, 98 percent of Egyptian youth, 90 percent of Iraqis, 98 percent young Palestinians and 99 percent Yemenis identified themselves as religious in 2014.
Frustrated youth may prefer more violent methods if they believe that existing mechanisms for participation and accountability are useless. The region has one of the lowest levels of political participation by the youth of about 13 percent while a median of only nine percent of youth across Arab countries volunteer with a civic organisation in any given month. Another important indicator of the lack of trust in political processes in the region is that while youth participation in public protests exceeded 18 percent (compared with 10.8 percent in middle-income countries), the youth voting rates were the lowest globally at 68.3 percent (compared to 87.4 percent in middle-income countries).
“Young people who join such movements and support them come from different social and economic strata, but most of them have presumably experienced the failure of the development model in the region and espouse violence in the belief that they lack better options or perhaps in response to hardships or injustices they or those close to them have suffered, such as poverty, exclusion, or repression, or even out of a desire to belong to a group that responds to their needs and ambitions,” the report states.
As is true for other parts of the world, the focus on the real economic, political and social challenges that the Arab region faces is being diverted over polarising issues of identity.
The report “demonstrates that the dominant focus in the region is the traditional concept of security, which is restricted to the security of the state and is less concerned with the security of the people and of society”.
“The events of 2011 and their ramifications are the outcome of public policies over many decades that gradually led to the exclusion of large sectors of the population from economic, political and social life”, depriving many people of appropriate health care, good education, and healthy participation in public processes, the report concludes.
(The article appears in the 16-31, 2016 issue of Governance Now)
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