Some Arab states have made significant strides in human development over the past 40 years, but challenges such as public empowerment and official accountability remain, a new U.N. report said.
Arab states make up five of the ten "top movers" in the Human Development Index (HDI) -- countries that have "made the greatest progress relative to their starting points on the HDI over the past 40 years," said a U.N. briefing on Arab states in the 2010 Human Development Report, which was released Thursday.
Oman made the most improvement since 1970, out of the 135 countries ranked, while Saudi Arabia was fifth, Tunisia seventh, Algeria ninth and Morocco 10th, a statement on the report said.
"The high-achieving Arab countries can attribute their success largely to impressive long-term improvements in health and education," rather than oil and gas earnings, the report's main author, Jeni Klugman, said in the statement.
However, "while people in the Arab states have made great advances on several fronts, serious challenges remain in the areas of public empowerment and official accountability," said the U.N. Information Centre in Bahrain, in a briefing on Arab states mentioned in the report.
"Few Arab states have experienced in-depth democratization," it said, and though some states have multiparty systems, they "do not always equate to competitive multiparty democracy."
But, the briefing said, advances in other areas are still significant -- life expectancy in the Arab world, for instance, has risen from 51 years in 1970 to 69 years in 2010, and overall education enrollment has almost doubled to 64 percent in that period.
However, increases in benefits, especially education, are not equally distributed across societies, noted the briefing, which also highlighted the issue of gender inequality in Arab states, especially in labor force and political participation, and reproductive health.
Conflict in the region has probably hindered development: "From 1990 to 2008, the Arab states region suffered on average 2.05 years of conflict compared to the non-Arab states world average of 0.8 years," it said.