The Egyptian Government and UNDP have begun the monumental task of mapping poverty and human development trends across Egypt over the next two years, covering the lives of 68 million people in 451 local municipalities and 5,000 villages. Data available so far, from the National Human Development 2003, show that one of five households live in poverty. This indicates that the country’s development successes over the past 40 years have not overcome deficits and disparities dividing the society into “haves” and “have-nots”. Looking at 70 additional indicators in areas such as health, employment and education, a picture of uneven development emerges, with people in the north generally better off than their southern counterparts, while those in urban centres are usually living better than those in rural areas. The governorates of Port Said, Suez, Cairo and Alexandria rank highest on the human development index (HDI) — based on life expectancy, average income and educational attainment. The holiday resort of Sharm Al Sheikh City is the highest-ranking local district, with 97 per cent of adults literate, an average annual income of US$18,728 and life expectancy of 67 years. At the other end of the scale, most areas in Upper Egypt in the south have low levels of human development. The lowest ranking is the city of Dar el Salam in Sohag Governorate, where fewer than one in three adults are literate and average earnings are $1,302 a year. Nonetheless, life expectancy is 67 years, on par with much better off Sharm al-Sheik City. Decision-makers have been quick to embrace the policy implications of such findings. At the launch of the National Human Development Report 2003 earlier this year, Prime Minister Atef Ebeid announced the Municipal Initiatives for Strategic Recovery Programme, which will support intensive revitalization projects in the 58 most deprived local districts at the bottom of the HDI ranking. Similarly, the Governor of Qalioubiya, north of Cairo, recently passed a decree making the Governorate Human Development Report, the country’s first, a compulsory reference tool for local planning. The report includes the HDI for all the governorate’s villages, another first. The Qalioubiya local authority has accepted the report’s main recommendations and has started to re-allocate resources among the local districts based on its findings.
Efforts such as these can help Egypt make progress towards cutting the rate of severe poverty in half by 2015 and other targets of the Millennium Development Goals.
UNDP Resident Representative Antonio Vigilante said that the mapping exercise, which will produce Human Development Reports for all the governorates over the next two years, “uses a zoom lens to focus on human development in Egypt’s territorial units, a wide-angle lens to expose the broader geographical disparities between regions and municipalities, and a filter to eliminate details that may crowd the picture, allowing us to bring people’s living conditions into sharper focus.”
Using these tools at the governorate level provides a detailed map for addressing local problems, while also exposing the obstacles and bottlenecks unique to a particular region. Over the next two months, Human Development Reports will be published for another six governorates — Kafr al-Sheikh, Sharkiya, Menoufiya, Alexandria, Fayoum, and Assiut.