Poverty in the Arab region garners little international attention because poverty rates there are far lower than in other regions like South Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa. However, high aggregate wealth hides significant pockets of hardship. The least-developed countries in the Arab region witnessed large increases in the proportion of their populations living below the poverty line in the last decade and some, like Yemen and Sudan, are among the poorest in the world. As a whole, the region has seen little decrease in absolute poverty measures since the early 1990s.
Moreover, it had one of the lowest per capita GDP growth rates in the 1990s and early part of this decade, which translated into slow progress in human development compared to other developing countries.
Many governments in the Arab region have outlined strategic plans and earmarked financial resources for achieving significant poverty-reduction goals. Governments can use a diverse set of interventions to achieve these objectives, including regulations, taxes, and trade, monetary, and spending policies.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Arab Planning Institute (API) collaborated on this book, Public Policy and Poverty Reduction in the Arab Countries, in an effort to provide policymakers in the region with empirical analyses of the effects of public policy on poverty reduction in their countries. This book focuses specifically on public spending, which is a concrete demonstration of societal goals and public policy commitments. Governments can use public spending to achieve both economic growth and equity—the two components of poverty reduction—but the ideal investment strategy to maximize these goals will be country-specific.
The collaboration between IFPRI and API is an example of best practice in partnership and networking. During the past decade, IFPRI has conducted a number of studies examining public spending and its impact on growth and poverty reduction in many countries and regions. These studies have been valuable to developing country policymakers, often pushing them to rethink their priorities in allocating public resources. However, the relationship between public investment and poverty in the Arab countries had not been examined.
Fortunately, API has been studying poverty in the Arab countries since 2000, aiming to establish the basic facts on the spread, depth, and severity of poverty in the Arab countries. The Institute also conducts training courses on development management, including issues related to poverty and its correlates, for mid-level Arab planners and economic managers and provides consultancy services to Arab governments.
Through these activities, API has a unique advantage in communicating research results to Arab policymakers. The fruit of this collaboration is the current volume of studies on public policy and poverty in the Arab countries, which includes five country case studies and three regional background papers. We believe that the results reported in the volume will be useful to policymakers and researchers in the region, as well as to those in developing countries more broadly. While we recognize that more work remains to be done to understand the impact of public spending on poverty alleviation in the Arab region, we sincerely believe that our collaboration has established a launching pad for future work on the subject.