The reports are part of a series of UN development reports that cover every region and, individually, every country in the world. They're produced by the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, which advocates "for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life."
The Arab Development Reports typically draw media attention for two essential reasons:
- The reports study, analyze and draw conclusions about the Arab world that Arab nations themselves fail to do as comprehensively and objectively.
- The reports paint a stark picture of an Arab world in virtual arrested development - even as the Arab world is at the crossroads of political, social and economic issues that affect the whole planet.
In substance and objective presentation, the reports provide unique insights into the Middle East.
The reports analyze the consequences of unsustainable trends-how authoritarian regimes entrench power at the expense of development, how oil in some countries enables the amassing of fortunes without an equivalent surge in opportunities and innovations, and how income per head has declined over the past 20 years to second-worst in the world's regions, after sub-Saharan Africa.
Other findings: Productivity, research, culture, science and technology are all either in decline or too weak to make a mark on society. About 65 million adult Arabs were found to be illiterate in 2002, two thirds of them women. Illiteracy rates are much higher than in much poorer countries. And women are systematically repressed. "Sadly, the 2002 report concluded, "the Arab world is largely depriving itself of the creativity and productivity of half its citizens."
Politically, that report found, there is "a substantial lag between Arab countries and other regions in terms of participatory governance. The wave of democracy that transformed governance in most of Latin America and East Asia in the 1980s and Eastern Europe and much of Central Asia in the late 1980s and early 1990s has barely reached the Arab States. This freedom deficit undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development."
Since their inception, and following the models of other UNDP reports, the Arab Human Development Reports have been organized around general themes. The five reports, which are free and available to the public at the following links:
- 2009: Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries
- 2005: Empowerment to Arab Women
- 2004: Freedom and Good Governance
- 2003: Building a Knowledge Society
- 2002: Creating Opportunities for Future Generations
Because they are comprehensive, well researched and written mostly by Arabs, the reports have had considerable influence in Arab countries. They're mobilizing public institutions, non-governmental organizations such as human rights groups, Arab media such as Qatar's al Jazeera, and even Arab governments, especially in the Persian Gulf region, to address issues raised by the reports, with measurable, if fitful, progress.
The reports are important to the rest of the world as well. The combined population of the Middle East's 22 Arab countries is 300 million - equal to that of the United States. The Arab population has doubled in the past 20 years, and is expected to grow to between 410 million and 459 million by 2020, exceeding that of the United States and Europe by then.