The UNDP last month released a report showing improvement in Lebanon's human development index, with the country ranking 71st globally. Lebanon has improved on several indicators, including poverty reduction, life expectancy, and malnutrition. Lebanon lags behind in GDP per capita and other aspects, proving that economic development is still a major challenge for the country.
There has been a marked improvement in poverty reduction, with the levels dropping from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. However, poverty is still widespread as it currently stands at 28.5 percent of the population, with 8 percent living in extreme poverty. The same households that improved still suffer from major social and economic exclusion. The major providers of services, in the absence of a government that can play that role, are political parties.
A recent study on poverty launched by the American University of Beirut sheds light on communities that did not make it to the Human Development Report on Lebanon, namely Palestinian refugees, migrant workers, and Bedouin communities. The authors of the report argued that if they were included, poverty would rise to 40-45 percent of the population.
Two fields that have witnessed progress are education and health. Literacy levels have improved over the last decade, and the gender gap is lower in education. One issue that must be addressed, is access to clean water, which is as much as domestic concern as it is a regional one.
Two setbacks to the economy, the report explains, were the assassination of late premier Rafik Hariri in 2005 and the 2006 July war. The economy started to pick up again in 2007 but has now entered another recession due to regional unrest.
Lebanon is not an easy country to rank. First, it is difficult to obtain data in Lebanon, as several research studies show. Additionally, Lebanon offers a complex situation. It is considered a democratic country with a prosperous private sector and cultural freedoms, yet it suffers from sectarian tensions and instability. Political stability (or the lack thereof) influences people's ability to predict their economic livelihoods and access sustainable energy resources. Given the level to which politics pervades the economy, structural reforms must be implemented to raise people's living standards and facilitate a more sustainable economy.