07/22/2009, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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Economic and political fragility, women and refugees are today’s challenges for Arab nations

A report by the United Nations highlights the problems faced by Arab countries in their development. Lower oil prices have shown the limits of an economy based on oil exports. The region is home to almost half of the world’s refuge population. Violence against women is made worse by patriarchal values and in countries where male superiority is enshrined into law.
 

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A UN report found that 7.5 million refugees, almost half of the world’s refugee population, are in Arab countries. In addition the place of women in society, unemployment, weak institutions and uncertain economic development because of lower oil prices are some of the major issues Arab governments have to face today.

In a 288-page report titled "Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries," the United Nations looked at development in Arab countries from a number of perspectives, starting with the economy.

The drop in oil prices has hit many Arab countries, creating insecurity concerning their development and standards of living.

For a number of years, oil accounted for 70 per cent of Arab countries’ exports; however Arab government failed to invest in infrastructure, agriculture or manufacturing during the same period little. Instead they chose imports, confident they could continue doing so thanks to high oil prices.

In fact fluctuating oil prices have had a direct impact on national budgets; for example, yesterday crude oil was trading for US$ 63.29 a barrel against 147 in the summer of last year.

At present unemployment levels in Arab countries average around 14.4 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent worldwide.

Child malnutrition stands at about 12 per cent, twice as much as in South-East Asia.

“It is not only a question of politics or good governance,” said Adel Abdellatif, deputy director of the UN Development Programme’s office of Arab nations. “It is how the government manages the economy. That has to be reformed.”

In addition to their economic fragility Arab countries are also politically and socially weak which makes them vulnerable to outside factors.

With regards to the status of women the report recommends Arab countries adopt legislation that meets the standards of international conventions.

Although violence against women takes place around the world, the problem is particularly intense in societies ruled by patriarchal values, where crimes of honour exist and where male superiority is guaranteed by law. This is the case of many Arab nations.

Violence against Arab women is inflicted “on wives and sisters, daughters and mothers,” said Munira Fakhro, a scholar on the report’s advisory board.

Moreover, the average number of live births per woman in the Arab region is 3.6 compared to a global average of 2.6.

“With this growth rate, the region is expected to have nearly 385 million people by 2015, up from approximately 330 million currently,” the report said.

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