Yet another Arab struggle
To date, the Arab world’s battle with its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has seen sharp regional and intra-country discrepancies, mainly brought about by inequality in wealth, service and resource distribution. There are also questions surrounding entrenched gender inequality, the questionable will of governments, no-target policies and weak governance. According to a September 2005 UN report, the Arab region contains urban – rural disparities and continues to suffer setbacks such as poor income performance and inadequate financing, not to mention the ongoing political tensions and conflicts.
The Arab region also had one of the lowest per capita GDP growth rates in the 1990s and early 2000s. This poor performance has been reflected in slow human development in comparison with the average for developing countries. It faces several obstacles to achieving the MDGs, including unemployment, the gender gap, illiteracy, war and conflict. In January, The Middle East Economic Survey, suggested that the way forward for the Arab region is through pro-poor development policies, strategies and legislation, stronger regional partnerships and integration, improved productivity and institutional capacity-building.
The scenario for Lebanon is less drastic. Lebanon is close to achieving many MDGs already. Extreme poverty is rare, literacy rates are high, as is life expectancy – around 70. Lebanon has also made huge progress in rebuilding its national economy after the civil war.
However, gaps remain. High regional disparities in wealth lead to an unequal accessibility to services, particularly education as well as maternal and child health. South Lebanon and North of Akkar, for example, are areas with an unequal share.
Moreover, the rather progressive image of the Lebanese woman we see today conceals within it significant gender inequality. The National Report about the Situation of Women in Lebanon demonstrates women’s limited participation in decision-making at different levels:
Members of Parliament: Three women out of 128 MPs
Ambassadors: Two out of 53 Ambassadors
Director General: Three out of 22 Directors Generals
Dean in the Lebanese University: One out of 13 Deans
Members of the Municipal Council: 139 out of 1022 members
The Teachers’ Union: One woman out of 12 board members
The Secondary Teachers’ Union: Two women out of 18 board members
The Engineers Union: No women on the union’s board
The Physicians Order: No women in the union’s board
The Pharmacists Order: One woman has been twice elected as President
The Dentists Order: One woman was once elected as its President
The Bar Association: Two women in the board
Judge in the State Consultative Council: Six out of 365 judges
Judge in the Judicial Court: 66 out of the 365 judges
The Lebanese Report on MDGs, issued in September 2003, and reports from the UNDP and other UN organizations, indicate that while high primary school enrollment rates were noted, they were mitigated by “concerns regarding the quality of education.” Only 65% of children in grade 4 and 66% of those in grade 8 possess “the basic set of skills accredited at the national level.” There is also a low correlation between the quality of education and the high teacher-student ratio estimated at 1:9, compared to the global ration of 1:15-20.
Lebanon witnessed a rise in the percentage of students completing primary education from 91.1% in 1997 to 95.3% in 2000 (the MDG is 100% enrollment in primary school by 2015) and an increase in government expenditure on education from 56% in 1993 to 65% in 1998 (although resource reallocation and rationalization of expenditures is still needed). Challenges still exist. There are still early drop out rates, particularly due to economic needs, illiteracy (5-6% rate among males 18-25 years of age), the need to extend compulsory primary education years, and the lack of accurate and reliable data and methodology.
Health services lacking
Health related MDGs are also riddled with challenges. Maternal health, child mortality and disease control are all affected by poor access. Furthermore, according to doctors, the health care system is fragmented with little or no referral schemes. Other concerns include mediocre medical facilities, low post partum care, restricted choices, insufficient medical insurance, and few community awareness campaigns, particularly in rural and low income areas.
A workshop organized by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) will be held in early March 2006 in Beirut to examine the country’s performance on its MDGs and the role of civil society, as well as the role of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) in this respect. While all sectors related to the eight MDGs (such as UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, ANND, Greenpeace, different ministries, and NGOs) must be involved, two issues stand out: awareness and indicators. Recent research shows that very few people around the world are aware of the international agenda to achieve the MDGs and this must surely also apply to Lebanon. How aware are the Lebanese people of the country’s commitment and efforts to meet the MDGs and what can our students, volunteers, NGOs, politicians, entrepreneurs and general public do to further promote such efforts in their daily activities? Awareness campaigns and space for grassroots participation must be created.
Lastly, unless data is updated and professional studies are carried out through advanced methodologies and techniques, Lebanon can neither properly assess the current situation nor monitor any progress. Even the National Millennium Development Goals Report for Lebanon declares in its introduction that “poor availability of statistics has seriously constrained monitoring and review.” Several blanks are in most if not all Lebanese surveys and tables. Policy makers will continue to fail to recognize the sectors and geographical areas and communities most in need of attention. Many reports cite 1990 as the latest date for indicators related to poverty and services such as water and electricity, suggesting that any post-war progress has not been recorded. The first major post-war sample survey was conducted in 1996 and so, the ‘baseline year’ against which progress is compared is 1996 in most cases!
Lack of indicators
The UN resident coordinator in Lebanon, Yves de San, and the President of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, Jamal Itani, have announced that the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Central Administration of Statistics, with support from the World Bank, UNDP, and UNFPA, have initiated the implementation of a Multi-Purpose Household Survey, while UNICEF will update the CHILD-INFO database on a regular basis. Until then, and in the current Lebanese scenario, political and other factors remain responsible for the lack of accurate indicators, particularly those showing discrepancies and inadequacy among regions and communities.
Before we can safely and clearly indicate where Lebanon stands in its progress towards meeting its MDGs by the year 2015, we must have the mechanisms needed to do so.