ABU DHABI // The UAE has ranked first in the region and 32nd globally on the Human Development Index (HDI), which assesses the progress of nations in health, education and income as part of the UN's 2010 Global Human Development Report.
The country was also rated as one of only two countries from the region in the category of "very high human development".
The United Nations Development Programme announced the rankings and figures during a ceremony held yesterday at the Emirates Palace to mark the 20th anniversary of the report.
The UAE has risen five places since the last global HDI, in 2005. The overall region suffered a HDI decline of 27 per cent because of substantial inequality in health, education and income.
Globally, the average HDI has risen by 41 per cent since 1970, with an 18 per cent increase since 1990.
Out of the countries assessed in the Global Human Development Report, which cover 92 per cent of the world's population, only three countries - Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe - had a lower HDI than in 1970.
On average, the global life expectancy has increased from 59 to 70, school enrolment rates from 55 per cent to 70 per cent and annual GDP per capita has doubled to more than US$10,000 (Dh36,731) since 1970.
Experts, however, said a weak link existed between income increases and actual improvements on the HDI. To illustrate this, Francisco Rodriguez, a senior policy adviser to the Global Human Development Report office, presented a table of the top 10 countries that demonstrated improvements in HDI.
The table was then broken down into non-income HDI and income HDI. Only three countries listed under the income HDI top 10 made it to the overall HDI top 10.
As an example, the UAE has seen the gross national income per capita significantly decrease, by almost 50 per cent, since 1980. Experts said many factors accounted for this decline, such as inflation, the level of oil production and a rapidly increasing population.
Mr Rodriguez said the UAE's ranking was remarkable, given the decline in gross national income. "This is probably because of the country's significant performance in health and education," he said.
The 2010 report introduced three new indexes - the Inequality-adjusted HDI, the Gender Inequality Index and the Multidimensional Poverty Index. These new measures incorporate recent advances in measurement and support the importance of inequality and poverty in human development.
There were 169 countries assessed in the HDI, 139 in the Inequality-adjusted HDI, 138 in the Gender Inequality Index and 104 in the Multidimensional Poverty Index.
The UAE ranked 45th in the Gender Inequality Index, which measures gender gaps in reproductive health, empowerment and participation in the labour force.
Experts said this performance was attributable to gender equality in education, with 77 per cent of adult women in the UAE attaining a secondary or higher level of education, the same percentage as for UAE men.
Although placing far above its neighbour, Saudi Arabia - which ranked 128th - experts said the UAE's rank in the gender index was surprising considering the country's position on the HDI. "This is due to the low level of females in the labour force," Mr Rodriguez said. However, he emphasised that this fact provided the UAE with significant untapped potential.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade, said that where only 32 per cent of women in the region had completed a secondary education, 132 women completed university for every 100 men.
The Multidimensional Poverty Index, which identifies serious simultaneous deprivations in health, education and living standards, shows that about one third of the 104 sampled countries live in multidimensional poverty. The same report indicates that the Arab region is home to an estimated 39 million living in poverty.
"Now that the UAE is a hub of business and culture, it has become a national duty to help those in need," said Hazza Mohammed Falah al Qahtani, the director-general of the Office for the Co-ordination of Foreign Aid. "And to fulfil this moral obligation, we send millions of dirhams a year in foreign aid to developing countries."