What the Arab revolt reveals about development policy

The Guardian’s Alasdair McWilliam has written an excellent article, The pot boils over: Development lessons from Tunisia and Egypt, that anyone interested in development and foreign policy should read.

The gist of it is that our standard indicators progress in development — health, education, economic growth and the ballyhooed Millennium Development Goals — fail to adequately measure if life is getting better for people. The article says:

A glance at recent data on development indicators reveals some striking figures about the Middle East. Far from lagging behind, many Middle East countries have made rapid progress on development, especially the broader “human development” areas of health and education. Even more surprising is that the countries making the biggest media splash in recent weeks are, in fact, star performers.

The causes of unrest across Egypt and Tunisia, and the growing trouble in the Arab world, are complex, though observers attribute the situation to two major dynamics – youth unemployment and lack of political voice. But neither of these is included in prominent measures of development such as the MDGs.

Interestingly, McWilliam notes that the unrest in the Middle East could also be, to some extent, a product of improvements in literacy, education and global communications as disenfranchised people become more aware of just how inequitable their lives are as compared to the rest of the world.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.