MedWetCoast Project for conservation of Wetlands and Coastal Ecosystems in the Mediterranean Region MedWetCoast Project for conservation of Wetlands and Coastal Ecosystems in the Mediterranean Region
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Mediterranean Development Forum Opens in Amman
Tuesday 8 October 2002, by Web Team

-  source : Word Bank News

The Fourth Mediterranean Development Forum (MDF4), which strives to openly debate key and frontier regional issues and support, facilitate networking, and create communities of practice, is currently taking place in Amman, Jordan, from October 6-9, 2002.

The forum, organized by Middle East and North Africa Region think tanks, United Nations Development Program, and the World Bank Institute, brings together more than 500 participants from think tanks, NGOs, media, government, and the private sector from across the Middle East and North Africa region.

Jean-Louis Sarbib, the World Bank Vice President for Middle East and North Africa, who is attending the forum, contributed the following comment to the International Herald Tribune. The piece ran in the weekend’s edition of the paper (October 5-6).

"Sow freedom - and reap prosperity" The debate over Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other events have catapulted the Middle East to center-stage again over the past year, spurring renewed global interest in a region long afflicted with tension and uncertainty.

From diplomatic circles to classrooms, people have been asking why prosperity and stability seem so elusive in a region with vast oil wealth. Lively debates on both sides of the Atlantic have underscored the importance of peace and stability for growth. But it is equally important to realize that economic prosperity goes hand in hand with openness.

An evolving development paradigm, best known through the work of the Nobel Prize recipient Amartya Sen, tells us that a country’s wealth cannot be measured by growth in gross domestic product or by the size of its economy alone. Development is freedom, Sen says. It is about creating an environment where people can participate in deciding their economic and social future. It is about creating opportunities for everyone to pursue their hopes and dreams.

In the current climate of uncertainty, the governments of the Middle East and North Africa are confronted with difficult decisions over allowing a political openness that will engage their people in the development process and integrate their countries into the global economy.

This weekend 500 representatives from the region’s governments, private sector and civil society will gather in Amman for the Fourth Mediterranean Development Forum, organized by the region’s research groups with support from the World Bank. Despite the heightened tension, there is much to hope for in a region so rich with potential.

Still, unemployment averages about 20 percent and young people are entering the labor force faster than jobs are being created. During the 1990s the sluggish economy and joblessness also led to an increase in poverty. Some 30 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

To compound the problem, most people in the region do not have a voice in the development process that touches their lives. This is particularly true for women.

A growing and idle young population, stifled by the twin poverties of income and participation, is creating pressure for the region’s leadership on social, economic and political fronts. Perhaps the biggest long-term challenge that has emerged for these governments is to provide employment and hope for the future for their young people.

The experience of other countries has shown that this can be done by implementing broad economic and social reforms, opening the political system and increasing the participation of civil society. But Middle Eastern and North African economies, with reforms often partially implemented and the public sector still very much in the driver’s seat, have yet to fulfill the potential for job creation by cultivating a vibrant private sector and opening up to the world economy.

When world trade took off in the late 1990s, the region was not a part of that story, although this is slowly changing. A glance at non-oil exports, a sign of economic competitiveness, reveals that the combined exports of Middle Eastern and North African countries stand at approximately $40 billion - lower than Finland’s, whose population is 50 times smaller than that of the region. Foreign direct investment, which reflect investors’ perception of a healthy business environment, is also lagging in the region.

Exports and foreign investment are not the only measures of an open society. Knowledge-related economic activity remains modest in Middle Eastern and North African countries. The region scores lowest in the world on the number of Web sites and Internet users, the most basic indicators of integration in the global knowledge economy.

Middle Eastern and North African governments must engage their people in the information revolution, create more jobs, and encourage trade and investments. At a time when prosperity seems so elusive, this is an opportune moment for the world to see the region making progress in both economic and political reforms."

-  Useful links: Click here to learn more about the forum.

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