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Middle East and North Africa

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Growth and Poverty Reduction
  • The Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region is expected to achieve, though narrowly, the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – to reduce poverty by half by 2015.
  • The share of people in MENA living on less than $1 a day has decreased slightly from 1.69 percent in 2002 to 1.47 percent in 2004. There are now about 4.4 million people living in extreme poverty in the region.
  • More significantly, the rate of progress in reducing the number of people living on less than $2 a day is slow. This share of population decreased only slightly from 21.7 percent in 1990 to 19.7 percent in 2004 although progress in the latter part of that period was better. Over 59 million people still live on less than $2 a day in the region.

Region's progress toward the poverty MDG target 1990-2004; a 2015 forecast

 Poverty Graph MENA

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  • Real per capita GDP growth in the region is expected to be 3.2 percent in 2006. However, the poorest country in the region, Yemen, is estimated to have done more poorly, growing at just 0.8 percent in 2006.

Fragile states

  • Global poverty is increasingly concentrated in fragile states, which are defined as countries with particularly weak governance and policies. Fragile states and territories in this region are Djibouti and West Bank and Gaza but because of their relatively small populations they constitute just a small, but disproportional, share of the region’s poverty.


  • Improvements in gender equality influence poverty reduction and growth directly through women’s greater labor force participation, productivity, and earnings, as well as through beneficial effects on child well-being.
  • More girls in this region are overcoming the strong bias against them in education, though the region is short of the 2005 goal of gender parity in primary and secondary education. Yemen and Djibouti are in the world’s bottom quintile for this indicator. Many MENA countries are among the poorest performers for female to male ratio of under-five mortality rates.
Female to male literacy

Fewer literate women than literate men

The female-to-male literacy ratio is low in this region, with the lowest number being seen in Yemen, where only 60 young women are literate for every 100 literate young men.

Young women at University in Yemen 
  • In 2005, only 16 percent of Algeria’s non-agricultural wage labor was female. Similarly low shares were seen in Syria (18 percent); Egypt (22 percent); Tunisia and Jordan (both 25 percent); and Morocco (26 percent).
  • The gender gap in labor force participation rate is among the largest in the world. Based on data from household surveys, male labor force participation rate is between 1.5 to 2 times the female labor force participation rates (20-49 year olds). For 20-24 year olds, this gender gap suggests that, unlike their male counterparts, young women face barriers to reaping the labor market returns to increased schooling.
  • Although the share of women in national parliament increased twofold over the 1990s, it remains low: in 2000-05, MENA averaged 6 percent.
Progress toward the Human Development MDGs


  • Four of the region’s countries are seriously off-track on the nutrition goal –Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, and Algeria.

Universal Primary Completion

  • Strong gains in MENA place the region on track to universal primary education. Primary completion rates rose from 77 percent in 1990 to 89 percent in 2004.
  • However, the regional average for primary completion hides some variance across countries. For example, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Tunisia, and Syria have primary completion rates that exceeded 95 percent in 2004, while the rates in Yemen and Iraq were 62 percent and 74 percent in the same year.
  • Primary completion progress is benefiting the poor in some countries. Morocco has made exceptional progress in extending basic education to all segments of the population. Between 1992 and 2003/04, Morocco’s average annual change in primary school completion was 9.3 percent in the poorest quintile, compared to the population average of 3.4 percent.

Child Mortality

  • More than half the countries in this region are off-track on this goal. Iraq has experienced a sharp increase in under-five mortality rates, from 50 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 122 in 1995 and 125 in 2005.
  • Noteworthy progress is seen in some middle-income countries in this region:
    • From 104 under-five deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, Egypt has reduced its child mortality rate to 49:1,000 in 2000 and 33: 1,000 in 2005; an annual percent decrease of 7.7 percent.
    • The Syrian Arab Republic reduced its under-five mortality rate from 39 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 15 in 2005, an annual decrease of 6.6 percent.
    • Egypt has made good progress in reducing the gap in under-five mortality rates between the richest and poorest quintiles. In Morocco, under-five mortality rates are three times higher among the poorest quintile than for the richest quintile and that ratio has not improved much over the past decade.

Maternal Health

Strong progress in increasing assisted births

Some countries show exceptional progress in increasing the proportion of births with a skilled attendant.

Morocco has increased the proportion of assisted births from 30.8 percent in 1992 to 62.6 percent in 2003/04; while Egypt has increased from 46.2 percent in 1995 to 60.9 percent in 2000.

Maternal Health
 Mothers at a hospital in Egypt

Combating Disease

  • Tuberculosis incidence in the region has fallen slightly from 66 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 54 in 2004. However, in Djibouti, a high-incidence country, the incidence has increased from 608 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 734 in 2004. (With Djibouti’s small population, this is a total of only 6,000 cases).

Using Resources Wisely

  • MENA is not on track to meet the water and sanitation goal. Of the MENA countries, 35 percent are off track on sanitation coverage and 50 percent are off track on access to improved water supply. However, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco have made rapid progress.
  • Algeria’s share of population with access to improved water sources decreased from 94 percent of the population in 1990 to 83 percent in 2004.
  • The region has a high percentage increase in emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and manufacturing cement. Emissions in 2003 in this region are 76 percent higher than they were in 1990.
  • The region had negative savings rates in 2005 when depletion of natural resources is taken into account; a change of 14.5 percentage points from 1990. A negative savings rate (adjusted net saving, % of GNI) implies that current welfare cannot be sustained.

The Role of Quality in MDG Progress

While expanding access to education and health remains extremely important, quality plays a critical role.

  • While over 96 percent of children in Sweden, Latvia, and the Netherlands can read above the lowest threshold level of literacy on OECD-benchmarked tests by age nine, less than half the children in Morocco can read at this level.


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Official Development Assistance
  • Debt relief for Iraq ($14 billion) accounted for more than half of the $25 billion increase in official development assistance (ODA) to all developing countries. Iraq also received a $3 billion increase in other forms of ODA.
  • Other MENA countries received 12% less ODA in 2005 than in 2004 and 22% less than in 2001. Egypt has seen the biggest decrease. Yemen, the only low-income country in the region, received more ODA in 2005 than 2004 but less than in 2001.
  • Saudi Arabia and other Arab donors have more than tripled their contribution of ODA since 2001.

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