The Arab world is suffering from a lack of "human security", a new report by more than 100 independent Arab intellectuals and scholars has said.
According to the Arab Human Development Report 2009, which was released on Tuesday, the Arab world misses "the kind of material and moral foundation that secures lives, livelihoods and an acceptable quality of life for the majority".
"Human security is a prerequisite for human development, and its widespread absence in Arab countries has held back their progress," the report said.
"In the Arab region, human insecurity - pervasive, often intense and with consequences affecting large numbers of people - inhibits human development."
The 208-page report, sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said water shortages, a lack of representative government, security and rising hunger and malnutrition were key threats to human security in the Arab world.
According to UN estimates, Arab countries will be home to around 395 million people by 2015 compared to about 317 million in 2007 and 150 million in 1980.
About 60 per cent of the population is expected under 25 years old "making this one of the most youthful regions in the world," the report said.
A major challenge in the coming years will be finding about 51 million new jobs by 2020, most to absorb young people "who will otherwise face an empty future," it said.
Economies of Arab nations are very vulnerable, the report said. "Real GDP per capita grew by a mere 6.4 per cent," it said, pointing to World Bank data during the 24-year period between 1980 and 2004.
"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 and the resulting insecurity of countries and citizens alike," it said.
"...the security of people themselves is threatened not just by conflict and civil unrest, but also by environmental degradation, discrimination, unemployment, poverty and hunger"
Amat Al Alim Alsowa,
director of the UNDP
Arab states bureau
Arab nations must move from a dependence on oil, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of the region's exports, to a more diversified, knowledge-based economy that provides employment opportunities, the report said.
It also called for major efforts to strengthen the rule of law.
"All Arab justice systems suffer in one form or another from blows to their independence that stem from executive domination of both the legislative and judicial branches," the report said.
"Across the Arab region, six countries continue to prohibit the formation of political parties," it said.
"In many other cases, varying degrees of repression and restrictions on the establishment and functioning of political parties, particularly opposition parties, effectively amount to their prohibition."
The report also calls for enacting and enforcing laws to protect the environment, changing laws and attitudes that discriminate against women, stepping up efforts to end hunger, and expanding access to affordable, quality health care.
"The tendency is to think of security only in military or state security terms," Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, the director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab states, said.
"But the security of people themselves is threatened not just by conflict and civil unrest, but also by environmental degradation, discrimination, unemployment, poverty and hunger."