Bill Lyons / World Bank
A new World Bank report addressing the widespread dissatisfaction of citizens with the delivery of essential public services and calling for accountability in public service delivery in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was released a few weeks ago.
The statistics in Trust, Voice, and Incentives: Learning from Local Success Stories in Service Delivery in the Middle East and North Africa are grim, as nearly three quarters of MENA students are scoring “low” or “below low” in international student performance tests and one third of the public health clinics in MENA countries lack essential medicines and staff.
The good news, however, is that the report also sheds light on local success stories in health and education where, to citizens. The examples from Jordan, Morocco, and the Palestinian Territories highlight the power of collaboration and mutual trust between citizens and public servants to produce better results.
Middle East and North Africa
In 2010, just before the Arab Spring, the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey* identified a soaring social dissatisfaction among the region’s youth. Democracy was then the top priority. Ninety-two percent of those polled responded that “living in a democracy” was their greatest wish. The same poll conducted earlier this year shows a marked decline in aspirations for democracy.
Lebanon and Jordan are providing a global public good to the international community by hosting an incredibly high number of Syrian refugees who have fled the conflict in their embattled country. More than two million are currently residing in Syria’s two resource-poor neighbors, which have been impressively generous in welcoming them in a seamless manner, unmatched in modern history.
Saudi Arabia hosts the largest number of migrants in the Gulf region. The country is the second largest remittance sender after the USA. A new Saudization program since 2011, the so-called “Nitaqat program”, seeks to increase the number of Saudi nationals employed in the private sector. Will this have an impact on migrants and remittance outflows from Saudi Arabia?
For a region that is considered middle-income, it is unacceptable that one in every 40 children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) dies in the first year of life mostly from preventable causes. Neither does it makes sense that one fifth of its youngest population is stunted from malnutrition, and more than half are missing out on critical micronutrients such as iodine in salt, which impairs cognitive development. Moreover, with only 27 percent of children ages 3-5 enrolled in pre-school, almost half the world average, three quarters of children in the region are missing the opportunity to build the foundations for school readiness, and to acquire the skills they will need to lead a happy, autonomous, and healthy life.
What are the implications of these alarming trends?
Inequality begins early in life. In the Middle East and North Africa region it begins before birth, as prenatal care is not universal, and continues right through early childhood with different levels of access to vital nutrition, health services and early education. Missing out on any one of these key development factors can leave a child at a permanent disadvantage in school and adult life. There is also the risk that inequality entrenched early in life is passed on to the next generation, creating a cycle of poverty. A new World Bank report has calculated the different chances that a child from the region’s poorest 20% of households (least advantaged child) and a child from the region’s richest 20% of households (most advantaged child) have for healthy development.
Supporting the development of private sector participation in infrastructure in fragile and conflict affected states is a strategic priority for PPIAF, where immediate and overwhelming infrastructure needs are apparent.
In that realm, PPIAF has long been supporting Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories, among many other conflict impacted economies, and has achieved significant impact, particularly in the telecommunications sector in Afghanistan, and the solid waste sector in the West Bank. Increased access to infrastructure is crucial in fragile and conflict-affected states, and resulting services create opportunity and drive economic growth, thereby reducing the risk of resurgent conflict.
While both places face unique challenges, my experiences demonstrate some commonalities that could be applied to other economies with similar situations. Both Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories have recently undergone political transition, and both have outlined plans to pursue private sector participation to accelerate access to infrastructure and drive economic growth. This comes in the context of growing fiscal constraints and reduced future donor budgetary support.
Let’s look at the specific economic and political context of both Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories to put things in perspective:
One thousand years ago, the famous Arab scientist and mathematician Al-Hazen moved from Basra to Cairo to take up a new job in a neighborhood near Al-Azhar University. At the time, the Middle East was a flourishing technology giant, with scientists, inventors, artists and philosophers moving freely from the heart of the Spanish peninsula to the deep enclaves of Central Asia. Al-Hazen was invited to Egypt by its young Caliph who, among many other rulers in the region, was a champion of knowledge and innovation. Al-Hazen and other inventors from the Middle East had both strong political support and access to resources, which led to some of the greatest scientific discoveries of their times. Why are things so different today?
- Children & Youth
- Private Sector Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Middle East and North Africa
- Yemen, Republic of
- West Bank and Gaza
- United Arab Emirates
- Syrian Arab Republic
- Saudi Arabia
- Iran, Islamic Republic of
- Egypt, Arab Republic of
“50% of Arab world citizens are dissatisfied with public services in their area,” according to a World Bank survey — which prompted not one, but two sessions at the World Bank Group-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings. So it was no coincidence that the meme #BreaktheCycle emerged in another Middle East and North Africa (MENA) panel, “Creating Jobs and Improving Services: A New Social Contract in the Arab World,” which also revisited the theme of the social contract in both oil-importing and exporting countries.
Civil wars are not only a human tragedy for the countries that experience them, but they can also have an impact on neighbouring countries. That is the case also for the devastating civil war in Syria - one of the most violent in recent times. The war has caused devastation and hundreds of thousands deaths, displacing over 6 million people, and forcing another 3 million to flee the country as refugees.