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Poverty Reduction in the Middle East and North Africa

Ignacio Hernandez's picture

The World Bank has recently published the report Sustaining Gains in Poverty Reduction and Human Development in the Middle East and North Africa. The report states that there has been little progress in poverty reduction in the MENA region since the mid 1980s. The slow growth can be at the origin of this lack of progress in poverty reduction.


In an interview, Farrukh Iqbal, Lead Economist and author of the report, talks about the relationship between growth and poverty in the region:


Slow growth has a social cost. In the region, average per capita income grew by only 1 percent per annum between 1985 and 2000. Over roughly the same period, the number of poor grew by 11.5 million to reach 52 million. This shows what happens when populations continue to grow while economies don't. This also justifies the Bank's concern with promoting growth in the region as the most effective way of fighting poverty.


The good news is that human development indicators have improved in the region, regardless of the lack of growth:


Surprisingly, the lack of income growth did not constrain human development in MENA. While per capita incomes stagnated, health and education indicators improved tremendously. For example, between 1985 and 2000, literacy spread from 47 to 69 percent of the population, child mortality rates plunged from 108 per thousand to 46 per thousand, and average years of schooling rose from 3.2 to 5.4. Indeed, the region did better than its middle-income comparators over this period.


There is reason to believe that the gains in human indicators were due to a combination of factors including enhanced private spending and improvements in the delivery of public health and education services. This is an encouraging finding. It suggests that, even in the absence of income growth, it is possible to improve health and education attainments through attention to public service delivery. It provides a strong empirical justification for the Bank's operational focus on such issues.


Access the whole report.

Read the interview with Farrukh Iqbal.

Related article: Poverty in the Middle East and North Africa: A Cause for Concern?


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