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The Arab region will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals: a new UN report

Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, 10 June 2020--The whole world is grappling with the harrowing impact of a pandemic that is rendering the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ever more challenging for most Arab countries. The second edition of the Arab Sustainable Development Report (ASDR), issued today by the United Nations entities working in the Arab region led by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), warns that the region will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It then identifies the barriers blocking transformation towards inclusive and sustainable development, and suggests solutions to dismantle them.

The new UN report calls for ending all conflicts; enhancing governance structures to help build just and peaceful societies; committing to human rights; and expanding civic space. It also stresses that there are other structural and entrenched barriers, often interconnected, hindering transformation to sustainable development in the Arab region.
In her foreword, ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti affirms that “the ASDR 2020 does not offer magical solutions but is a humble report that asks humility of us all: the humility to acknowledge that we are not on the right track to achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030”.
Indeed, even before COVID-19 exacerbated the situation, the region had witnessed the only increase in the world in extreme poverty from 2010 levels, mainly due to conflict. Its heavy reliance on food imports had made it unable to provide sufficient food in some areas, heightening its vulnerability to the unpredictability and inequities of global trade.
The region had also registered some of the world’s highest levels of income inequality and lowest levels of economic participation rates for women. It continues to struggle with gender inequality and unemployment affecting especially young persons and women. In addition, the vulnerability of women and girls to all forms of violence is exacerbated by prolonged humanitarian crises, instability and displacement.
According to the report, health care and education are among the most pressing issues to tackle in all Arab countries, namely to increase quality and access. The region’s expenditure on research and development, standing at 60% less than the world average, should also be increased.
The report identifies issues of transboundary nature requiring regional approaches, notably conflict and its spillover effects, trade, climate change, water scarcity, infrastructure and connectivity, migration, and issues related to biodiversity and the protection of marine ecosystems. These regional challenges demand a coordinated regional response.
Findings reveal for instance that, from 1990 to 2019, droughts affected over 44 million people in the region and that economic damages from disasters amounted to over $19.7 billion. Projections also show that climate change will reduce water availability, alter agricultural production patterns, threaten livestock production, adversely impact forests and wetlands, and increase the vulnerability of people to agricultural employment loss and heatwaves.
“Now more than ever, we need to make the structural changes necessary to set us on the path to transformation,” underscored Dashti. While serious efforts are required from Arab Governments and policymakers in order to do so, the report adds that transformative change is a whole-of-society project, as people and their agency are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. This entails that civil society, the press and the private sector play an active role in effecting the transformation.
The first edition of the ASDR was issued in 2015, the year of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda.

To read the full report:


One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.
For more information:
- Ms. Maryam Sleiman, Public Information Assistant, +961-81-769-888; email:
- Ms. Rania Harb, Public Information Assistant, +961-70-008-879; email: