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GEO-3: GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK  
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Human development

Most West Asian countries fall into the high (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) or medium (Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Syria) category of human development. Yemen is the only country classified as having a low level of human development, and information is not available for Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (UNDP 2001). Human development rankings were higher for most countries in the 1990s than the early 1980s although many have experienced set-backs over this period, particularly in the 1990s (UNDP 2000).

In some countries, there has been a significant improvement in certain components of human development over the past three decades. For instance, in Oman life expectancy increased from 54.9 years in the early 1970s to more than 70 in 2000 although in Iraq it declined from 66 to 58 years over the same period (WHO 2000). Access to improved water and adequate sanitation is generally high (80-100 per cent) with the exception of Yemen, where the figures are 69 per cent for improved water and 45 per cent for adequate sanitation (UNDP 2000, 2001). Access to safe water also dropped in Iraq during the second half of the 1990s (UNDP 2000).

GDP per capita (US$1995/year): West Asia

West Asian GDP per capita has shown little overall change since 1972. Variations are mainly due to changes in the price of petroleum

Source: estimated from World Bank 2001

There is considerable variation in per capita GDP between the countries of West Asia. The highest are on the Arabian Peninsula, ranging from US$6 384 in Saudi Arabia to US$16 483 in Kuwait in 1998. However, in countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, per capita GDP has declined over the past 30 years - for example, from US$36 413 in 1975 to US$12 950 by 1998 in Qatar. These changes are attributed to fluctuations in oil prices. Mashriq countries have much lower levels of per capita GDP, ranging from US$1 095 in Syria to US$2 288 in Lebanon in 1998 (data are not available for Iraq and the Palestinian territories). Yemen is by far the poorest country - average per capita GDP increased from only US$169 in 1975 to US$471 in 1998 (UNESCWA 1999).

Despite the relatively high per capita GDP in many countries, human and income poverty still exist. Seven West Asian countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen) score poorly on one or more of the key components used to assess levels of human development. For most of these countries, adult literacy and low life expectancy are the key factors, rather than income poverty which is mainly an issue in Jordan, Oman and Yemen (UNDP 2001). Overall, literacy rates have increased in West Asia over the past two decades - for example to 92 per cent in Lebanon. Female literacy has increased steadily in most countries but it remains below the male literacy rate (UNESCO 2000).