The Arab region is comprised of 22 countries in Northern Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. The region has a population of about 350 million people, more than 50% of which are under the age of 25. With isolated exceptions, the region’s principle language is Arabic.
The region faces various socio-political, gender, economic and environmental challenges.
Socially, the Arab region is facing a period of transition. The Arab Spring brought to surface the growing tension between authoritarian regimes and their citizens. Weak social, political and administrative accountability mechanisms and politically-oriented socioeconomic planning models have resulted in the neglect of large parts of the population. These nations face the challenge of forming new, accountable governments that reflect popular aspirations.
Gender inequality across the region is prevalent. Maternal mortality rates are high when compared to other regions with similar incomes. Statistics show that only 25% of Arab women participate in the labor force, half the average for developing nations. Because of the male-centric culture in many Arab societies, many women experience limited roles outside the home.
Human and income poverty reflect the convergence of social, economic and political exclusion. While 50% of the Arab population is rural, agriculture, the primary occupation in rural settings, accounts for only 15% of the Arab GDP. High unemployment rates prevail.
While Arab countries have made significant progress on several development fronts over the past 40 years, such as improving life expectancy and school enrolment, the region could have been more effective in translating its considerable wealth and potential into commensurate development gains.
In response to regional food insecurity, the Arab states can combine their financial, technical and environmental assets. The solution will involve resource management and organization. Sudan for example, is a country that could be used to grow large amounts of food because of its wealth in water and land resources. Policymakers have discussed the possibility of establishing a regional funding mechanism for this purpose.
The success of the current wave of political transition in the region is contingent upon a greater role for civil society, in the larger sense, in charting a new, more inclusive developmental course based on mutual accountability between the State and its citizens. UNDP has established a regional program for bolstering civil society entities to enable them to act as champions for social justice and to complement local efforts initiated by Country Offices in that respect.