By Simona Sikimic
BEIRUT: As the U.N. releases its Millennium Development Goals Global Report 2011 Thursday, attention is shifting to the many hurdles ahead, which for Lebanon range from countering devastating environmental degradation to reducing regional income disparities.
According to an unreleased Lebanon-specific progress report, produced in 2010 and obtained by The Daily Star, the country is in line to meet less than half of its MDGs, a U.N. list of the worst global developmental problems that are expected to be slashed by 2015.
“Lebanon is expected to be off-track on goal 7, as most environment indicators are not progressing as expected,” the U.N. Development Program report said.
While sparse statistics infuriate monitoring, Lebanon’s performance in the Environmental Performance Index, where it has dropped from 36th to 90th place, out of 133 countries, from 2006 to 2010, is seen as a good indicator of its poor compliance, the report added.
This corresponds to a region-wide failure to adopt sustainable environmental practices, with Western Asian countries using more than 100 percent of their reusable water resources annually since 2005, raising fears the already arid region could soon run out of all natural water reserves.
“Water shortages in this part of the world are a key concern,” Adib Nehmeh, U.N. MDG and poverty regional adviser, told The Daily Star.
Information about the risks of other environmental problems, such as deforestation, remains vague in anticipation of a regional assessment report later this year. Lebanon is scheduled to issue its own brief in early 2012.
“The most serious challenge lies in the poverty level,” the Lebanon report said. Although a “slight descending trend” has been reported, “huge disparities across regions” mean that the severe poverty level is “around three times the national levels in some areas.”
According to UNDP, poverty rates in Beirut are just under 6 percent, but over 52 percent in northern Lebanon, notably Akkar and Tripoli, where up to 18 percent of people are thought to live in “extreme poverty.”
Worryingly in Western Asia, the instance of extreme poverty, calculated as an individual income less than $1.25 a day, has risen from two to six percent from 1990-2005, explained Tarik Alami, director of U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia’s economic, development and globalization division, who chaired a regional assessment of the global report at ESCWA headquarters in Beirut.
The Middle East is the only region, apart from the Caucasus, where extreme poverty has increased – it dropped globally from 45 to 27 percent from 1990 to 2011 in one of the biggest achievements hailed by the MDGs.
Regionally, as in Lebanon, “the low rate [of poverty reduction] is attributed particularly to the low participation of women in economic activities, another indicator of the MDGs that is lagging behind and that needs further focus in the future,” the Lebanon report said.
Lebanon, however, has made “very significant” efforts to reduce maternal mortality, outstripping its 2015 targets, UNDP said, although attempts to lessen teenage pregnancies have failed. Authorities have also made strides in reducing child deaths, with the under-five mortality rate now at 18.3 per thousand births against a target of 12 in 2015, although more must be done to step up vaccination rates in underprivileged areas and improve awareness, it added.
But the capacity of the region to meet its MDGs will depend on the outcome of the popular uprisings that have sprung up across the Middle East this year, already toppling the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. While over the long term, the upheavals could act as a catalyst for development, the ensuing uncertainty is likely to lead to stagnation in the short term, especially in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, seen as most at risk, explained Alami.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has come out in support of the latest global assessment report, insisting that the MDGs have “helped lift millions of people out of poverty, saved countless children’s lives and ensured that they attend school.”
“They have reduced maternal deaths, expanded opportunities for women, increased access to clean water, and freed many people from deadly and debilitating disease,” he said.
“At the same time, the report shows that we still have a long way to go in empowering women and girls, promoting sustainable development, and protecting the most vulnerable [groups].”