Arab states among leaders in raising living standards

Oman is the global leader in health, education and wealth gains, with four other Arab states ranked among the "top 10 movers" in this week's Human Development Report.

NEW YORK // Arab countries have been some of the world's most successful at raising living standards for their people over the past 40 years, according to a UN report.

Five Arab states ranked among the "top 10 movers" globally in this week's Human Development Report, an annual study from the UN Development Programme that scores countries on health, education and wealth.

Oman was the world leader in gains made since 1970, with better schools and hospitals enabling the Gulf state to outpace even China, which was ranked second. Saudi Arabia (5th), Tunisia (7th), Algeria (9th) and Morocco (10th) also scored high among the 135 countries for which there was comparable data.

Norway (1st), Australia (2nd) and New Zealand (3rd) topped the overall scoreboard and Niger (167th), Democratic Republic of Congo (168th) and Zimbabwe (169th) placed at the bottom, as western countries again led the list while sub-Saharan African nations trailed.

The UAE ranked as the best Arab country to live in, coming 32nd globally. The Emirates fared better than last year, when it came 35th and ranked below Qatar and Kuwait, although researchers said it was difficult to compare scores from different years because the statistics were collected differently.

The progress in Arab nations "is not attributable to oil and gas earnings, as might be assumed", said Jeni Klugman, the main author of the 227-page report. "The high-achieving Arab countries can attribute their success largely to impressive long-term improvements in health and education."

Across 21 Arab states and the Palestinian territories, life expectancy has risen from 51 years in 1970 to 69 years in 2010 and education enrolment has almost doubled from 34 per cent to 64 per cent. Gains were achieved against a backdrop of military activity that was almost three times higher than in other regions, the report said. Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and the Palestinian territories suffered most from instability.

Researchers warned that the Arab region lagged behind on some key indicators, such as labour relations, women's rights, democratic reforms, public empowerment, income equality and the accountability of officials.

The annual report ranks countries according to a Human Development Index, a measure of wellbeing published by the UN for 20 years. It combines individual economic prosperity with education levels and life expectancy.