The UAE is facing some of the most severe water shortages in the Arab world, a UN report has warned. The 2009 Arab Human Development Report, released yesterday, also cautioned that the whole region's economic development has been hampered by its reliance on oil, leaving it less industrialised than it was in 1970.
The region also has the world's highest unemployment rates and will need about 51 million new jobs by 2020 to offset population growth, the report said. It called on Arab countries to strengthen the rule of law to guarantee essential rights and opportunities for all, including refugees, women and those not recognised as citizens. It recommended that laws in these areas be brought in line with international conventions.
The UAE and Kuwait were the only two Arab states to be classed as having a "critical" water shortage, with more than 10,000 people per billion litres of supply. The report, compiled by the UN Development Programme, called for more to be done to raise awareness of environmental issues, as desertification threatened about a fifth of the region's land. "The human security of people in the Arab region depends, first and foremost, on the health of the environment that sustains all of us," said Amat al Alim Alsoswa, director of the UNDP regional bureau for Arab states and UN assistant secretary general.
"Urgent action is needed to put the region on a development path which is more sustainable." Walid Khadduri, a co-author of the study, added: "The fabled oil wealth of the Arab countries presents a misleading picture of their economic situation, one that masks the structural weaknesses of many Arab economies." The report noted the erratic course of Arab economies: "Rocky ups and downs in the Arab countries, from high growth in the 1970s to stagnation through the 1980s and back to extraordinary growth in the early 2000s, directly reflect the turbulent cycles of the oil market."
It concluded that the lack of economic diversification had contributed to the insecurity of many of the region's governments, and to a pattern of foreign military interventions and armed conflicts. Regimes had failed to adjust to expanding deserts, increasing water scarcity and changing demographics, it added. "It is not only a question of politics or good governance. It is how the government manages the economy," said Adel Abdellatif, the deputy director of the UNDP's office of Arab nations. "That has to be reformed. Asian and Latin American countries with less income are doing much better."
The UAE is among 10 Arab countries that has ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which came into effect in 2008. "This does not mean that the states that have acceded necessarily demonstrate greater respect for these rights than those who have not," the report said. "However, accession and subsequent ratification of these conventions is a formal indication of the acceptance of a degree of accountability."