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Sad and scary

May 16,2017 - Last updated at May 16,2017

A study released Monday by the UN children agency UNICEF shows that one in four children in the Arab world lives in poverty and deprivation, lacking even the most basic necessities, like proper housing and safe water.

The study, the first to collect data on child poverty across the region, found that lack of education is a key driver of poverty among the young.

No wonder, then, that extremism and radicalism are on the rise in the Arab world.

The study covered 11 Arab countries and found that 29 million children live in poverty, which is determined, according to UNICEF’s social policy adviser for the Middle East and North Africa, not by income, the first thing one thinks of when talking about poverty, but, in children’s cases, by “access to education, decent housing, quality healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation”. 

One could add that deprivation for children also means loss of a parent due to armed conflicts, psychological stress and loss of hope in a better future. 

That so many children in so rich a region should live in poverty is an indelible stigma. 

Yes, the region is in the grip of conflict and extremist militancy and is shaken by displacement, as the report highlighted, and that definitely compounds poverty, but across the region, experts say many of the poorest children are in rural areas, which points to an old, and festering, problem only exacerbated by conflict. 

“Developing these areas would alleviate poverty and also stop the pressure because a lot of these people can’t find jobs, can’t find opportunities, then they move to a city and put further pressure on the infrastructure of cities,” said a political economist at the Brookings Doha Centre think tank, pointing to the crux of the matter.

Development in most Arab countries is uneven, and leaving some behind does not make the problem go away just because one chooses not to see or know about it. It will sooner or later catch up and burst into one’s face.

Children in war zones or in failed states are probably the last worry on combatants’ minds fogged up by dreams of power and vengeance, but wars do not last forever and the detrimental results will show later.

The report says that “children who live in households that are headed by an uneducated family member are twice as likely to live in poverty. One quarter of children aged 5 to17 are not enrolled in school or have fallen two grades behind”.

That alone should be reason to strive to increase literacy levels in the Arab world, for, as the political economist said, this creates a “lost generation” of young people lacking the right skills for the workforce and “what they suffer from now will have a carryover effect for the next decade or two”.

A scary thought if only in view of the staggering numbers.

This may also mean that one generation of children after another can become easy target for exploitation and radical movements, sick and unemployed, creating a vicious circle that does not bode well for Arab countries. 

The ideal thing to do now is to end the armed conflicts and settle them fairly, introduce functional democracies and make proper investments to improve the quality of life and give people hope for a better future.

Will grownups realise the effects of their mindless deeds on their own children? 

 

Not likely, sadly.

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Comments

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States should start by ending immediately the conflict in Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries, and Syria-one of the most self-sufficient prior to this mess. Next they should invest their sovereign wealth funds into the Arab World by building schools and financing the education process without strings attached. Finally, lift the visa restrictions on Arabs to allow them to travel freely throughout the Arab World and thus create greater respect and tolerance for their own kind. And then we might get somewhere!

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