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Continuing Conflict Undermines Advances

The Arab revolutions that began in late 2010 halted, and in some cases reversed, the region’s progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Just when peace was needed for the final push to achieve the MDGs by the 2015 deadline, conflicts intensified in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and their effects spilled over into Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. The Gaza Strip has not yet recovered from the destruction of its infrastructure in July 2014, and tension persisted in Bahrain and other countries in the region.

However, even accounting for notable setbacks in recent years, the Arab region had been on track to reach most of the MDGs by 2015 (UN and LAS 2013; Abu-Ismail et al. 2014) . Notable region-wide progress has included improvements in education, sanitation, child mortality rates, and maternal health. But these advances hide great disparities among subregions and individual countries. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the region (in particular Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) were not expected to achieve most of the MDGs on schedule. For the region as a whole, progress has been weakest toward the goal of cutting the levels of poverty and hunger and malnutrition by half (MDG 1). Setbacks have been serious. Current estimates suggest that poverty has risen above the 1990s level, with more than 7.4 percent living in extreme poverty as of 2012 (UN and LAS 2013). And with an estimated 50 million people still undernourished, “the region is far behind on meeting the target of halving undernourishment” (ibid). The picture is worse in Arab LDCs, where extreme poverty rates are estimated at more than 21.6 percent for 2012, undernourishment affects more than 29 percent of the total population, and more than 35 percent of children under five are underweight.

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