Review of the SDGs in Arab States

Review of the SDGs in Arab States

on August 12, 2020


In line with objective 3 of the RRING project, the research is a first step to “align RRI to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide a global common denominator for advancement of RRI, and address Grand Challenges globally.”

This first step was mainly done through desktop research, relying on UN reports as well as voluntary national reviews (as submitted to the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) to determine what are the most important SDGs in each region (named ‘geography’ in this task) and as geographical regions use the 5 regions defined by the UN for its regional commissions, and its monitoring of the SDGs, while noting that every state is different and regional averages can be misleading, because the 5 global regions exhibit internal variety.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019

In July 2019, the High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF) reviewed global progress on the last remaining set of SDGs. 142 countries have now presented their Voluntary National Reviews. All SDGs have now been highlighted at the HLPF. As mentioned above, this year in effect closes the first cycle of the 2030 Agenda implementation.

July also marked the launch of The Sustainable Development Report 2019, prepared by UN DESA’s Statistics Division with inputs from more than 50 international and regional organizations. It provides charts, infographics and maps on SDG progress, and presents an in-depth analysis of selected indicators. Additionally, the report highlights regional progress and analyses.

The report is accompanied by a comprehensive Statistical Annex and the Global SDG Indicator Database with country and regional data that can also be accessed interactively on the Sustainable Development Goal indicators website.

This data provides a clear overview per country and region of the progress that has so far been made on the SDGs, as well as the challenges that still remain. This allows us to select the data we need from selected countries and regions to determine if there are any trends. However, since these are UN documents, they can only consolidate the information provided by Member States, so as to reveal gaps (and call these gaps priorities). They do not reflect how each country or region is implementing the SDGs except in this broad sense of progress achieved on the basis of measurements taken (e.g. the quality of how the SDG targets are incorporated in national legislation would not be visible in the aggregated record, except by means of illustrations). There are nonetheless, broadly stated conclusions on gaps to be addressed, which may be called priorities, because all states are committed to meet all SDGs. These conclusions are backed by the most inclusive political process and documentation available, so it is considered a reliable source for identifying priorities.

According to the report, the two main challenges facing the world are climate change and inequalities among and within countries, corresponding to respectively SDG 13 ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts ‘and SDG 10 ‘Reduce inequality within and among countries’. Though progress has been made, poverty remains an issue in many parts of the world and hunger has actually been increasing in recent years.

The overview per region below takes many direct excerpts from the UN SG’s report.

Arab States

This region is called Northern Africa and Western Asia in the report and has  SDG4 on education, SDG5 on gender equality, SDG6 on water, SDG7 on energy and SDG8 on work as its most important SDGs, and some others that may be challenging.


There were no particular outliers among the countries included in this region, when examining in the current indicator data. The proportion employed population living under a poverty marker used for comparisons went from 1.6 to 3% between 2010 and 2018 which indicates caution is required (SDG Indicator 1.1.1). More people could also benefit from social protection coverage (SDG Indicator 1.3.1)


10% of the population are still undernourished in the region (SDG Indicator 2.1.1). The number of children under 5 who are either underweight or overweight is typically higher in the countries of this region than in countries elsewhere (SDG Indicator 2.2.1).


With 105 maternal deaths in 2015, the region is still below the target of less than 70 per 100,000 live births (SDG Indicator 3.1.1). The under 5 mortality rate for children also remains above the international average (SDG Indicator 3.2.1). Adolescent birth rate, traffic related deaths, mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases; mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution are all worth mentioning. The prevalence of current tobacco use among persons aged 15 years is very high for men (37.4% in 2016, SDG Indicator 3.a.1)


The report highlighted several issues with regard to this SDG for the region. According to the report, the percentage of children and adolescents not achieving minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics, remains at 57 in 2015 (SDG Indicator 4.1.1). Although the situation has been improving since 2000, the participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age) was the lowest for this region (52.2% in 2017, SDG Indicator 4.2.2). Girls still face barriers to education in the Arab States: For every 100 boys of primary school age out of school in 2017, 112 girls were denied the right to education in Northern Africa and Western Asia. Lastly, according to SDG Indicator 4.6.1, the proportion of global population who are illiterate, 15 years and older, 2016: 9% (only better than Africa and Asia).


Again, there is no data in the report of its statistical annex by region on SDG Indicator 5.1.1 ‘Whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non‑discrimination on the basis of sex’ though it could be interesting to include them at a later stage. According to the statistic annex, 73.9% of girls aged 15-19 who had undergone female genital mutilation/cutting in Northern Africa, though it is important to note that the data only comes from two countries with a 65% population coverage (2018, SDG Indicator 5.3.2). Additionally, the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (SDG Indicator 5.5.1) and the proportion of women in managerial positions (SDG Indicator 5.5.2) are among the lowest globally – e.g. only 7.7% of women in managerial positions in Northern Africa.


This could be considered a ‘priority’ SDG for the region as it is prone to drought and conflict, including over water resources. The first issue is that only 37.5% of the population are using safely managed sanitation services (2017, SDG Indicator 6.2.1). Most countries with high levels of water stress are located in Northern Africa and Western Asia and in Central and Southern Asia (SDG Indicator 6.4.2). This could lead to water scarcity which could in turn result in the displacement of an estimated 700 million people by 2030, according to the report. The percentage of countries by levels of transboundary cooperation is very low (SDG Indicator 6.5.2), even though there are many transboundary aquifers in the region.


In terms of renewable energy as a share in the total energy consumption, the region has the lowest overall score (5.6% in 2016, SDG Indicator 7.2.1) and could therefore be seen as a priority. Energy efficiency – which is central to the global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions – only improved by 1% in the Arab States between 2000 and 2016 (below target of 2.7%, SDG Indicator 7.3.1).


There are considerable issues with this SDG in the region. First of all, the annual growth rate of real GDP per capita (SDG Indicator 8.1.1) and per worker (SDG Indicator 8.2.1) has been decreased since 2000. Second, although the situation is slightly improving, the region still has the highest unemployment rate at 9.9% in 2018 (SDG Indicator 8.5.2). The data gets even worse when disaggregated by age or sex. The unemployment rate for women was over 8% higher than for men compared to 1% average globally. About one quarter of the region’s youth were not engaged in either education, employment or training (NEET) in 2018 (SDG Indicator 8.6.1). Again, the situation worsens when taking into account gender disparities (37.7% young women compared to 16.3 young men).


The region has a lower than average manufacturing value added share in GDP and manufacturing value added per capita (SDG Indicator 9.2.1). They also have a higher than average CO2 emission per unit of value added (SDG Indicator 9.4.1). The proportion of expenditure of GDP on research and development was only 0.77% in 2016 (SDG Indicator 9.5.1). The region is also below the global average of proportion of researchers in 2016 (SDG Indicator 9.5.2). Lastly, according to SDG Indicator 9.b.1, the Arab States were below the global average of proportion of medium and high-tech industry value added in total value added.


The region has the lowest labour share of GDP, comprising wages and social protection transfers, of any region (36.3% in 2017, SDG Indicator 10.4.1)


Notes of interest concerning this SDG include the fact that 26% of the urban population are living in slums in 2018 (SDG Indicator 11.1.1) – on par with other developing regions but far higher than Europe and North America. Convenient access to public transport remains below the global average. Annual mean levels of fine particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5 and PM10) in cities (population weighted) are higher than average with 50 micrograms per cubic meter (SDG Indicator 11.6.2).


The region has the second highest fossil-fuel pre-tax subsidies (consumption and production) as a proportion of total GDP (1.92% in 2015, SDG Indicator 12.c.1) although improvement has been made since 2013.


Not a lot of specific data is given on the region. Apart from it being a global ‘priority’, the region suffers from high levels of water stress (as mentioned under SDG6). This means it is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change water scarcity.


The region has some of the lowest average coverage of protected areas in relation to marine areas in 2018 (SDG Indicator 14.5.1)


The region lost 0.07% of forest area between 2011 and 2015 (SDG Indicator 15.2.1). The region also has a low coverage by protected areas of important sites for mountain biodiversity (SDG Indicator 15.4.1) and a low Mountain Green Cover Index (SD Indicator 15.4.2).


Incidence of bribery remains above average (SDG Indicator 16.5.2). Also of note is that the proportion of countries with independent National Human Rights Institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles is very low (29.2% in 2018, SDG Indicator 16.a.1)


The part of the region called Northern Africa has the single highest number for personal remittances (personal transfers and compensation of employees) received as a proportion of total GDP (5.13% in 2017, SDG Indicator 17.3.1). At 5.8%, the share of global services exports remains low (SDG Indicator 17.11.1).