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).