Thursday, April 4, 2013

Iraq Sees Progress In U.N.’s Human Development Index, But Is Still At Bottom Of The Middle East

For the last thirteen years, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been tracking the growth of countries in Africa, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Pacific. Instead of looking at just economic statistics, the Human Development Index (HDI) also ranks life expectancy, education, and control of resources. Since 1990, the UNDP has seen steady growth in developing nations. Of 132 countries that were tracked only two had lower scores from 1990 to 2012. This even occurred while the richer nations ran into a recession in the mid-2000s. Iraq has seen progress as well, but finds itself towards the very bottom of the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2012, UNDP saw progress in Iraq, but it still has a long way to go before it can catch up to its neighbors on the Human Development Index. Together, the twenty Arab states and Iran included in the index had an HDI value of 0.652. That placed it in the middle of the six regions the U.N. divided the world up into. The Middle Eastern-North African countries had an average life expectancy of 71.0 years, a mean of 6.0 years of schooling, compared to an expected 10.6 years, and a gross national income per capita of $8,317. Iraq scored below all of those averages. Out of the 186 countries in the 2013 report, it was ranked 131. Out of the 20 Middle Eastern and North African states, it was number 18 with only Yemen and Djibouti doing worse. Iraq’s HDI value was 0.590. It had a life expectancy of 69.6 years, a mean of 5.6 years of schooling, compared to an expected 10.0 years. Its gross national income per capita was $3,557. Despite its low ranking compared to its neighbors, Iraq has seen progress. In 2005 it had an HDI value of 0.564, going up to 0.567 in 2007, 0.578 in 2010, 0.583 in 2011, until reaching 0.590 in 2012. That reflects the fact that after the civil war ended in 2008, the government has started functioning again, and the economy has started to grow. The country still faces huge problems, with poor services, the oil curse, a state-run economy, and dysfunctional politics, which makes it extremely hard for the government to pass meaningful legislation and formulate policies that will help it out of its dilemma. Despite these major structural problems, Iraq is expected to see continued growth, even if it is flawed.

Iraq Compared To Middle East-North Africa On Human Development Index
HDI Index
HDI Value
Life Expectancy
Mean years of schooling
Expected years of schooling
Gross national income per capita (2005 PPP$)
Middle East-North Africa
6.0 yrs
10.6 yrs
5.6 yrs
10.0 yrs

Iraq’s HDI Values 2005-2012
2005 0.564
2007 0.567
2010 0.578
2011 0.583
2012 0.590

Ranking Of Middle East-North Africa Nations On UNDP Index
1. Israel 16
2. Qatar 36
3. UAE 41
4. Bahrain 48
5. Kuwait 54
6. Saudi Arabia 57
7. Libya 64
8. Lebanon 72
9. Iran 76
10. Oman 84
11. Algeria 93
12. Tunisia 94
13. Jordan 100
14. Palestine 110
15. Egypt 112
16. Syria 116
17. Morocco 130
18. Iraq 131
19. Yemen 160
20. Djibouti 164

Iraq is predicted to be one of the fastest growing economies in the next few years. This will be driven by large increases in oil production. Those revenues will boost aggregate economic indicators, and could boost living standards and services as well, but the government has to invest the money wisely. Unfortunately, Iraq has a state-run economy plagued by inefficiencies, corruption, and an unwillingness to diversify. That drains off huge amounts of money from every major project, and hinders strategic planning. That means Iraq will see continued improvement on the Human Development Index, but will still drag behind the rest of the region, because its human indicators will lag compared to the economic ones.


Tijara Provincial Economic Growth Program, “Assessment of Current and Anticipated Economic Priority In Iraq,” United States Agency for International Development, 10/4/12

United Nations Development Programme, “Human Development report 2013, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,” 2013

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