Development aid can ensure a better future for MENA region
In recent years, the MENA region has been mired in the tragic results of political instability, conflicts in several countries and economic recession. On top of that, shock waves from the global pandemic have pushed people into extreme poverty, and led to rising unemployment rates and reduced access to essential services, such as education, healthcare and social protection.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak gripped the globe, extreme poverty rates in the region were climbing sharply, driven mainly by conflicts, rising from 3.8 percent to 7.2 percent between 2015 and 2018. The World Bank estimates that the pandemic has pushed an additional 8 million people in the MENA region into extreme poverty, forcing them to survive on $1.90 per day, with a further 18 million living on less than $5.50 per day.
During these precarious times, it is pivotal that development work remains a guiding and stabilizing force in many countries. We have seen how decades of development projects have provided a foundation for populations to rise out of poverty, offering them renewed chances at a better life.
Official development assistance (ODA), or foreign aid channeled to support economic and social development projects in less developed countries, can benefit the global community, not just beneficiaries. With financing, policy advice and technical support provided by donor countries, the global community can tackle important issues that are of mutual interest, such as poverty, mass migration, peace and security, education, youth employment, global health, gender equality and climate change adaptation.
A better world means a more sustainable, secure and happier world for all of us today and for future generations.
ODA can be utilized to support economic and fiscal policies that can stimulate local economic growth while boosting job opportunities, thereby providing communities with the financial security to afford essentials. It is imperative to launch initiatives that promote small and medium enterprises, in addition to boosting employment among youth and women.
Investments are also pivotal in building critical infrastructure, a key element in strong economies, such as power, telecommunication, schools, hospitals and clinics, housing and transport. Reconstruction and recovery projects are especially important for countries to rebuild their communities after conflicts. By establishing adequate infrastructure, countries can capitalize on their resources to boost bilateral trade. Furthermore, such investments tend to accumulate and compound over decades, leading to long-term growth and stability.
Perhaps most important is the investment in empowering the region’s human capital through education, healthcare, housing, employment, gender equality and social projection programs. Funds can be utilized to alleviate human suffering and prevent loss of life in the aftermath of conflicts or natural disasters, in the form of food and water, shelter and medical assistance. Educational programs, vocational education programs and training workshops remain a priority spending area to equip people with the necessary knowledge and skills to thrive in the labor market.
ODA can also be invested in healthcare infrastructure, medical equipment and staff to combat epidemics or chronic diseases. By reducing the rates of illness and poverty in the region, people can focus on contributing to their economies. Lastly, ODA has been credited to bringing about peace and stability in many countries as it reduces the incidence of violence and crime spurred by poverty.
International organizations and governments have been responsible for much of the region’s progress. They have funneled funds, policy advice and technical support to upgrade and enhance many key areas of development. Additionally, many of the region’s countries have been strategic partners in development cooperation, working diligently to address important issues.
It is imperative to launch initiatives that promote small and medium enterprises, in addition to boosting employment among youth and women.
Over the years, donor countries have launched a number of influential projects related to youth employment, refugee support, food and water security, governance, education, healthcare, gender equality and economic projects. A report published by the OECD ranks the UAE and Saudi Arabia among the world’s largest bilateral contributors to development cooperation, amounting to $1.7 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively, in 2020. Figures indicate that almost 70 percent of donations from Arab countries and institutions were channeled toward development activities in the MENA region from 2013 to 2017.
The UAE’s technical assistance program, for example, aims to transfer useful knowledge and skills to upgrade institutional capacity and train employees. Important themes include mobility and infrastructure development, energy and sustainability, government effectiveness, services, and women and girls’ empowerment. The program is delivered via expert missions, training courses and scholarships, customized programs, study visits and training tours.
Arab donors have also been strategic partners in assistance for Lebanon, and the OECD reports that almost half of all funds received by Lebanese public institutions between 1992 and 2017 were from Arab providers. Most of the funds were in the form of concessional loans for large infrastructure projects and grants during conflict periods. Additionally, many Arab countries have invested heavily in the country’s real estate, banking and tourism sectors.
Looking forward, development work should continue to provide timely, relevant and effective support to pressing challenges in the region. Tracking key development indicators regularly can highlight key areas of growth and attention, thereby channeling funds and technical support accordingly. It is also important to monitor and evaluate continuously to assess areas of improvement, and efficacy of projects and programs.
Despite the region’s battles with myriad crises, it is imperative that development work continues to enable communities to live productive, safe and happier lives.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.