Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Pursuing millennial goals

The Middle East and North Africa have seen good progress on some Millennium Development Goals, but strife and instability remain obstacles to progress on others, writes Haytham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Meeting back in 2000, world leaders made a promise. By 2015, eight crucial targets, dubbed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), should be attained. These targets ranged from health and education to poverty eradication and the environment.

With only one year left in the self-imposed deadline, the UN released an assessment report, crediting the achievements realised and noting areas of failure.

The UN report for the regions of North Africa and Western Asia was launched recently in Cairo.

Khawla Matar, information chief at the Cairo UN Office, mentioned that the MDGs aim to first, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; an achieve universal primary education; thirdly, promote gender equality and empower women; fourthly, reduce child mortality; fifthly, improve maternal care; sixthly, combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases; seventhly, ensure environmental sustainability; and last and not least, the forging of global partnership for development.

According to the UN report, conflicts in Western Asia (comprising occupied Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Yemen) impaired the region’s ability to meet the MDGs.

Fathi Al-Dibabi, UN media officer in Cairo, pointed out that “unlike North Africa, West Asia didn’t have extreme poverty, but the recent conflicts dampened its achievements.”

In fact, Western Asia was the only region in the world that saw a growth in the number of hungry adults, mostly due to regional conflicts. Malnutrition in the region increased from 6.6 per cent in 1990 to 9.8 per cent in 2011.

In childcare, the picture was brighter. Western Asia was actually on track to meet the target of a two-thirds reduction in under-five mortality rates. The under-five mortality rate fell by 62 per cent between 1990 and 2012, dropping from 65 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 25 in 2012.

Babies delivered by skilled health personnel increased from 60 per cent in 1990 to 80 per cent in 2012. Meanwhile, the maternal mortality ratio in Western Asia decreased 43 per cent between 1990 and 2013. Education and gender equality also saw some improvement, albeit slower than expected.

Access to primary education in Western Asia continues to improve, said the report. The enrolment rate in primary schools grew from 84 per cent in 1990 to 93 per cent in 2012. Although Western Asia has made significant strides in improving gender parity in education, girls continue to face high barriers to schooling in all levels of education. Girls’ enrolment ratios are still lower than boys in Western Asia. At the higher level of tertiary education, Western Asia is within reach of meeting the target by 2015 of parity between girls and boys.

Politically, women seem to be doing better somewhat. The proportion of women holding seats in parliament increased in 42 parliaments in the region. Saudi Arabia saw one of the world’s faster increases globally, with an increase of women’s participation by more than 15 per cent in its legislature’s lower house.

The proportion of seats held by women in single or lower houses of national parliaments in Western Asia rose from four per cent in 2000 to 12 per cent in 2014. Although among the adult population malnourishment grew as a result of recent conflicts, the proportion of underweight children under age five declined from 14 per cent in 1990 to six per cent in 2012.

The refugee problem also got worse due to recent strife in the region. With violence and human rights violations on the rise, the region’s refugee ranks swelled significantly. At present, five million Palestinian refugees are registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), while 2.5 million Syrians have been listed with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In North Africa, the education scene has seen considerable improvement. Countries in the region have achieved near universal access to primary education and made significant strides in increasing the literacy rate, said the UN report.

The region has also successfully halved extreme poverty rates, reduced the proportion of undernourished children, and improved access to sanitation. The report found that the primary education enrolment rate of 80 per cent in 1990 rose to 99 per cent by 2012. Between 2000 and 2011, more than nine out of 10 students in the region who started primary school completed the last grade.

Youth literacy rates also increased greatly between 1990 and 2011, from 67 per cent to 89 per cent. North Africa is moving closer to the point where male and female literacy rates are equal, because the rate at which young women learn to read is growing at a faster pace than that of young men. The female literacy rate rose 29 per cent from 1990 to 2011, compared with 16 per cent for males over the same period.

Progress was also made in improving gender parity in access to secondary and tertiary education. In 1990, only 77 girls were enrolled in secondary school for every 100 boys. In 2012, there were 99 girls enrolled for every 100 boys. Also, more girls than boys were enrolled in tertiary education institutions.

In addition, women are slowly increasing their participation in politics. The proportion of women who held seats in parliament increased from three per cent in 2000 to 24 per cent in 2014. One of the highest electoral gains for women in 2012 was seen in Algeria, with women winning 32 per cent of parliamentary seats. Algeria is the first and only Arab country to have passed the 30 per cent mark in this regard.

Despite this progress, the gender gap in employment is acute in North Africa. Women’s access to paid employment has not improved in the past two decades, with women holding less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. Access to paid employment remains a distant target for women in the region.

The drop in maternal mortality rates (by 57 per cent) in North Africa was nothing short of impressive. The region saw maternal deaths drop from 160 per 100,000 births to 69 between 1990 and 2013. The drop is attributed to improved medical care. Skilled health personnel attended 83 per cent of deliveries in 2012, compared to only 47 per cent in 1990. North Africa has achieved some targets ahead of the 2015 deadline, including halving extreme poverty rates, halving the proportion of malnourished children, and slashing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds.

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