Nouf Al-Rakan, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2004-07-20 03:00

RIYADH, 20 July 2004 — The gap between income level and human development is still huge in Saudi Arabia and gender inequality is still an issue of great controversy, argues the Human Development Report for the year 2004.

Released last week by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), it is based on the concept of human development Index (HDI) — an integral part of the report since its inception in 1990. It ranks Saudi Arabia as the 77th country in the “medium human development” section and as the 44th country in the income level.

“There is a gap of 33 points between income level and human development in Saudi Arabia, which is positive and negative at the same time,” said Dr. El-Mostafa Benlamlih, UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Saudi Arabia.

“It is positive because it gives an idea about the ability of Saudi Arabia to take big steps in the future, and negative because many other countries with fewer capabilities achieved greater steps toward human development.”

Benlamlih continued saying that Saudi Arabia showed a remarkable progress regarding gender development as shown in the Gender-related Development Index (GDI). However this progress is related only to education.

Adult literacy rate among Saudi males 15 years and above is 84.1 percent whereas female rate is about 69.5 percent. The percentage of school enrolment — primary, secondary and tertiary schooling — is 57 percent females and 58 percent males. Life expectancy is 73.6 for females and 71.0 for males.

Gender equality is an important part of human progress but this is reflected neither in the HDI nor in the Poverty Index. Gender inequalities are measured in GDI and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM).

The GDI measures achievements using the same indicators as the human development index, but also captures inequalities in achievement between women and men.

HDI ranks 177 countries according to their level of human development. It combines health, education and income indicators, providing a better measure of human progress than per capita income alone.

The Index is topped by Norway, with a life expectancy of 79 years, a school enrolment ratio of 98 percent and a per capita Gross Domestic Product of $36,600 (adjusted for purchasing power parity). Norway is followed by Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. The United States, the world’s largest economy, ranked eighth, followed by Japan, the second largest economy, in the ninth position.

Four Gulf countries were ranked in the high human development section. Bahrain was ranked 40th, Kuwait 44th, Qatar 47th, United Arab Emirates 49th, Libya 58th and Oman the 74th on the list.

The Index measures human development levels in 175 countries, plus Hong Kong (ranking: 23) and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (ranking: 102). This year’s ranking is based on 2002 statistics, the latest available figures from all countries.

“If the world is to reach the Millennium Development Goals and ultimately eradicate poverty, it must first successfully confront the challenges of how to build inclusive, culturally diverse societies,” said Mark Malloch Brown, the administrator of UNDP.

Claims for recognition and equality by diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups comprise one of the most urgent issues affecting international stability and human development in the 21 century, the report contends.

More than 5,000 different ethnic groups live in the approximately 200 countries in the world today. In two out of every three countries there is at least one sustainable ethnic or religious minority group, representing 10 percent of the population or more.

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