BEIRUT: While Lebanon is considered to have high human development rates compared to other countries in the region, the lack of data presents many obstacles to growth, delegates heard at the launch of the Human Development Report 2011 in Beirut Thursday.
The annual U.N. Development Program report, this year entitled, “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All,” ranked Lebanon 71 out of 187 countries, one place higher than its last appearance in the HDR in 2009. Lebanon was not included in last year’s report due to a lack of statistics, and this dearth was again cited as a major obstacle to national progress.
The U.N. measures human development on three basic dimensions: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.
This year’s report makes special reference to the relationship between the environment and human progress, and Environment Minister Nazim Khoury spoke at the launch.
The HDR, he said, highlighted that the main challenge facing the world today is to provide for future generations so that the “the present does not become the enemy of the future.”
Human development, Khoury said, reveals the “close relationship between sustainability and equity” which must be respected “so that we can achieve our main demands of equality between all people, of all sects, across the world.”
Kamal Hamdan, the managing director of the Consultation and Research Institute, presented and analyzed the report’s key findings relating to Lebanon, and the wider Arab region. The report’s overwhelming findings, he said, were the huge discrepancies between various countries within the region.
In terms of health, the average life expectancy in Lebanon is 72.6 years, which places it 14th in the region, behind Occupied Palestine in 13th place at 72.8 years but above the world average of 69.8 years.
While Lebanon’s average life expectancy has increased by six years since 1980, Hamdan said that with one of the highest expenditures for health care in the region, the findings must force “us to ask many questions about the values and returns of this health care spending,” given the relatively low ranking in this regard.
With regard to education, the average length of schooling in the Arab world is 5.9 years, compared to 10 in Europe and Central Asia. Lebanon falls in the middle regionally and at 7.9 years, has a similar rate to Latin America.
Despite often priding itself on being the birthplace of the alphabet, Hamdan warned the Lebanese to be “a bit more humble” about the country’s educational levels.
Citing a desire for better education as a key factor behind this year’s Arab Spring, Hamdan also highlighted the report’s findings in regard to secondary education – the proportion of those over 25 years of age holding a degree.
The region ranks poorly in relation to the rest of the world, with less than half of the population educated to a secondary level and a relatively low overall share of Lebanon’s population falls in this category, Hamdan said.
However the gender gap is quasi-non-existent, he added, with 32.4 percent of women and 33.3 percent of men holding a degree in Lebanon. In Syria, Libya, Kuwait and Qatar, more women than men hold degrees.
In terms of gender equality, which is measured by reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity, the region “lags behind other areas in empowering women” the report says, and Hamdan said this was another key instigator behind the Arab Spring.
Lebanon ranks eighth in terms of gender quality in the region, with Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain leading the pack. Yemen has the highest levels of gender inequality in the region.
The Arab region has the lowest female labor participation in the world, at almost half the global rate, the report shows. Lebanon ranks poorly, with the sixth lowest in the region, at 22.3 percent, (versus 71.5 percent for men) despite the absence of a gender gap in education.
So while many women are receiving an education, they are not necessarily joining the work force, Hamdan said.
In terms of the environment, the Arab region faces many challenges, the report shows. It is the world’s most arid region, has the world’s highest dependency on fossil fuels and the greatest urban pollution of all regions.
Seifeldin Abbaro, UNDP’s country director for Lebanon, also spoke at the launch, and said that climate change has become a reality to everyone, even the skeptics.
Khoury said that each of us must ask himself or herself, “What can I do? What did I contribute to the deterioration in the environment? How can I change my behavior?”
But while the HDR 2011 “gives us long term ideas about progress, health care, education and development,” as Hamdan said, “we need to have more progress in defining the concept and collection of data.”