It is always refreshing to read statistics. It brings to the fore many facts which can be evaluated for societal expectations. However, the statistics that appeared in Al-Khaleej paper and which were sourced to the United Nations shocked many - foremost among them Dr. Hassan Madan.
I am sure it will shock more people when they realize the degree of ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, bad planning and complacency in the Arab world.
The statistics point out that there are 240 million people in the Arab world with seventy three million living below the poverty line; over 10 million suffer from malnutrition.
Services have reached an all-time low with only half of city dwellers having access to clean water while a third are provided with health care. The educational scene is devastating. Nine million Arab children have no access to even primary education and 15 million do not go to secondary schools.
Females don't fare better. In Africa, 39 percent go out to work while about 24 percent do so in the Arab world.
While others are developing agricultural technology, our voracious appetite does not take into consideration the effects of depending on foreign food. Poor planning and lack of facilities in the rural areas make millions of people pour into cities to search for non-existent jobs. These people add to the woes of already overburdened municipalities.
Now these are figures that would make the most of diehard optimists cringe and wither. Apparently nobody had ever highlighted these problems because we do not believe in surveys, statistics and evaluations. The media has been "hailing" so much that it has begun to believe its own announcements.
The number of young people in the Arab world is increasing. They have high expectations. They look at their counterparts in Europe, America and Asia. Thanks to satellite access, they view how others live. They aspire to be like them.
They crave for material goods. And when they can't get them, their frustration level runs high. Their shanty towns and poor neighborhoods turn into cauldrons of hate. And their minds become prey to extremists and sinister elements of society.
It is important that one device methods to arrest this development in society. How can one go about doing this?
I believe strongly that there should be surveys and evaluations on a regular basis. This will be a link between society and the authorities. Thus they will have an insight into what is happening.
The Arab world needs to wake up. It should realize that as we approach the 21st century with its multitude of challenges, old-age methods of dealing with them will not do. Wishing away these problems will not wipe them away.
A bold and frank appraisal of societies' expectations and goals should be the priority of decision-makers. In this, I believe that the media can play a very crucial role by highlighting issues that are relevant to the progress of society. Sociologists, psychologists and political scientists should come out and point to where society is and offer solutions and directions for the advancement of Arab society so that it will be on a par with others in a fast-changing world.
However, to do that, we have to pay serious attention to the facts and figures.