Two in five Arabs live in poverty, according to a recently released UN report [pdf]. The Arab Human Development Report 2009 says that in some Arab countries, more than half of the population lives in hunger and want. In this post we hear from bloggers writing about poverty and development around the Arab world.
Last year Rami Zurayk wrote a post about the poorest area of Lebanon:
Akkar is the poorest district of Lebanon: a recent UNDP report found that 63% of the families are deprived and face serious poverty. Located in the extreme north of the country, Akkar is an agricultural district, with an estimated rural population of 80%, the highest in Lebanon. […] Akkar was under quasi-feudal rule till recent times, and the current social and economic relations are still heavily impregnated with this history. […] This has resulted in tremendous social and economic inequality: Akkar has, according to the UNDP, the highest level of inequality in Lebanon. The Lebanese state bears much responsibility for this situation: public investments in basic infrastructure and services such as health and education but also in agricultural development and small industries have been minimal. Poverty and inequality lead to extremism and to political violence. Major investments are immediately required in the basic sectors, such as health and education, but also in the productive sectors, such as agriculture, in order to help the poor construct sustainable livelihoods.
Poverty does not come to mind when one thinks of the Gulf countries, but in some there are huge differences in living standards amongst citizens. Khalid writes from Bahrain:
ما هو مفهوم الحياة الكريمة التي كفلها الدستور للمواطن ..؟؟!!
What is the meaning of a decent life that is guaranteed to citizens by the constitution?!
Duncan is a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and at the beginning of this year he wrote about his impressions of poverty in the region he is working in:
Different communities and groups of people have different ideas about what it means to be poor. In the United States, the poverty line is something like $18,000 per year, which works out to about $50 a day. Worldwide, a person is considered impoverished if he/she lives on $1 per day or less. Here in my community, the people are mostly somewhere in between those two figures. It’s harder to measure people’s wealth here, as most are self-employed farmers whose product is not sold, but consumed within the house. Some men work outside of the community in bigger cities and have a salary, but not much of that money makes it back here. The main source of income generation is herding sheep and goats and selling them when they get big. […] In my communities, no one (that I’ve seen) is dying of hunger. It may just be bread, but I believe that people can always feed themselves. There are some health problems due to malnutrition, but not severe. Water borne illnesses are a problem, but nothing like other parts of the third world. Living in a mountainous, sparsely populated place means that most water is coming from springs without facing too much threat of contamination. As there is little access (and people don’t take advantage of what is available to them) to health care, infant and maternal health is a problem, but I don’t believe that infant/maternal mortality rates are as high as other places. What I’m trying to say is that life in my community is hard and people are impoverished, but there are other parts of the world where it’s much worse. Getting by on subsistence agriculture and herding doesn’t provide a lot of surplus, but people do have enough to get by.
However, in a post earlier this year, Cabalamuse expressed a more pessimistic view:
While frolicking tourists sunbathe on beaches and dine in swanky resorts, while a few thousand elite Moroccans are living high on the hog, millions of malnourished, destitute, and sallow Moroccans in remote rural areas scratch the dirt for survival and take shelter in dwellings so sparsely furnished and poorly built that they look like caves. In this post-apocalyptic diorama, they sleep swallowed in whatever clothes and blankets they own to avoid freezing to death; they cook in tin cans; their women bleed to death giving birth; their children die of diseases the modern world thought eradicated; their men are despondent; weather permitting, they trek over xeric dirt roads and down jarring mountain slopes for countless hours and miles to reach a paved road. They share this country with us, but they live a different reality. The only sign of a government they see in their regions is a tattered flag whipped by the wind.
For more on poverty in Morocco see this post.
Nevertheless, the development initiatives that are taking place around the region give hope to some. In Egypt, Lozah recently visited some youth centres in Aswan that are participating in an initiative encouraging girls and women to utilise traditionally male-dominated spaces:
As the taxi was speeding down the incredibly bumpy alley, I looked around me trying to picture the youth centre that would eventually appear among all this rubble. One flat tire later, we finally made it to the centre, which was really just a very run-down two-story building. I stepped into the centre to be enthusiastically greeted by a group of girls and women, and the director of the centre Hagg Sayed. They proceeded to tell me about the work they’d been doing to get girls more involved in centre activities, and to get women more involved in centre governance. […] These youth centres offer children a much-needed safe space to just be kids, a place where they can run around and play and engage in constructive activities. But these centres have long been non-inclusive of girls, largely due to societal perceptions. The idea of the youth centre as a place unsuitable for girls is deeply entrenched in the community (and probably across the country) and many parents were worried about their daughters’ reputations if they were to become involved in centre activities. That’s why prior to implementing the initiative itself, it was important to first build trust with the local community. […] Gradually, opinions and perceptions changed.
The next step was to get the girls involved in sports. […] Today girls are credited with winning numerous trophies in soccer, weight-lifting, and table tennis among others. Furthermore, the once sceptical male members of the centre today attend all the girls’ tournaments, enthusiastically cheering them from the sidelines. Talking to the girls, it was impossible not to notice how proud they were. […] To see firsthand the changes that have occurred in these communities was truly inspiring. This isn’t to say that everything is now perfect there. Keep in mind that these are some of the poorest villages in Aswan, some of the poorest in Egypt. These villages face a whole host of problems related to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, lack of healthcare, lack of clean water, pollution, and other problems that are common to most Egyptian villages. These children are deprived of a lot of things and so many of their rights are violated. But this initiative has managed to make things a little bit better by fulfilling a very important right: at least now, these girls aren’t deprived of their right to a childhood.
This post discusses women's role in Egypt's development.