A United Nations ESCWA annual survey on the Economic and Social Developments for 2010-2011 was released on 31 January, reflecting the dramatic changes the region has witnessed while moving from the first to the second decade of the 21st century. The survey made observations, provided data to understand and explain the dynamics of regional, sub-regional and country-specific social and economic trends. Its objective is to provide a snapshot of the current socioeconomic situation and an outlook for 2012.
ESCWA Deputy Executive Secretary Nadim Khouri opened the press conference with a welcome statement, and spoke about the multiple crises ESCWA region has faced over the past years, saying: “today is a critical time for setting a course regionally and globally towards more inclusive and more sustainable development.” Khouri added that the “Arab Spring highlights the exclusionary nature of Arab society and polity, which needs to be changed through employment creation as basis of post-revolutionary and sustainable growth.”
ESCWA Director of Economic Development and Globalization Division Abdallah Al Dardari summarized the key findings of the survey, focusing on the status of economies in the region. Economic Affairs Officer Dony El Costa presented the macroeconomic side of the survey. Director of Sustainable Development and Productivity Division Roula Majdalani briefed the media on green economy while First Economic Affairs Officer in the Social Development Division Naela Haddad discussed the social dynamics of change and socioeconomic exclusions as drivers of change.
The survey looks closely at recent and projected trends in oil prices with a view to their impact on fiscal space and, consequently, the potential spending on social and productive capital. It reviews GDP growth patterns in the different sub-regions and their relationship to job creation. For example, More Diversified Economies (MDEs) experience a decreased average real GDP growth (estimated at 2.7 percent in 2011 compared to 3.8 percent in 2010), while Gulf Council Cooperation countries continue on a steady growth pattern from 4.1 percent average real GDP growth in 2010 to 6.1 percent in 2011.
According to the survey, high unemployment, particularly among youth, is seen as a major cause of the current social unrest in North Africa and Western Asia. Coupled with ineffective social protection systems and overall political and economic exclusion, consequences for the region are severe. Youth unemployment rates in the region are two to three times more than the overall unemployment rates. The survey shows that social issues the ESCWA region is currently facing, such as high population growth and unplanned rural to urban migration are complemented by serious environmental challenges (including water scarcity, drought and desertification) that represent serious obstacles to the achievement of a comprehensive Sustainable Development in its three pillars: economic, social and environmental.
The survey recommends the adoption of a new development model based on more economic diversification, enhanced competition and competitiveness, regional integration and a deepening of financial markets to foster investments. Linked to a comprehensive social agenda, these are essential policy directions the region needs to urgently embark on to develop a short-term job creation action plan using its available fiscal space for investing in social and productive infrastructure; as well as to foster regional cooperation aiming at introducing sustainable management of water and the agriculture sector, which would in turn create green jobs, reduce rural poverty and enhance food security.
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