Many young people born in the Arab region today will achieve a little more than half of their possible potential, a measure developed by the World Bank indicates.
According to the new metric, called the Human Capital Index, Bahrain is the region’s best performer, where youth can expect to achieve 67 percent of their potential. On the other hand, young people in Mauritania face the most obstacles in the region; the average newborn there is estimated to have only a 35-percent chance of fulfilling their potential.
But economists say the index’s metrics are only part of the picture—when a country’s income is taken into account, disparities begin to emerge. In terms of fostering human capital, some of the Gulf countries don’t appear to perform as well might be expected, considering their wealth, whereas some middle-income countries, like Jordan or Palestine, are actually doing better than expected.
“I would have thought the figures would be higher for countries in the GCC,” says Vito Tanzi, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the American University of Beirut. “Qatar is at 62 percent, yet they have seemingly all the money in the world.”
Singapore is the world’s best performer by this measure; its youth can expect to realize 90 percent of their potential. Chad, meanwhile, is the world’s worst performer at 29 percent. The global average, by comparison, is 57 percent.
The Cost of Neglecting Human Capital
The index, a key component of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project, brings together measurements of education, childhood survival and general health throughout a lifespan.
The questions the index seeks to answer are: Will a child survive to school age? If they do, will they learn to read, write and understand mathematics? If so, will they be in good health when they enter the labor market?
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Some have called the Human Capital initiative a pet project of the former president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who joined the bank after serving as president of Dartmouth College and then abruptly left in February, three years earlier than expected. The traditionally American-led bank is viewed with suspicion in some quarters in the Middle East, as being a neoliberal institution trying to push duplicated forms of Western free market capitalism on Arab countries.