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PRESS RELEASE September 16, 2020

MENA Countries Urged to Do More in Investing in their Human Capital

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2020 — In its latest Human Capital Index report released today, The 2020 index calculates the expected productivity of future workers and provides a snapshot of human capital outcomes right up to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The index serves as a baseline to track changes in human capital and inform approaches to protecting and investing in people, through the pandemic and beyond.

According to the report, MENA countries differ substantially in their human capital outcomes, which vary with country income levels and exposure to fragility and conflict. Wealthier states of the Gulf Cooperation Council have higher Human Capita Index (HCI) values (between 0.56 and 0.67), while conflict-affected states such as Yemen (0.37) and Iraq (0.41) lag behind.

The analysis finds that some countries — like Morocco, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — have improved their HCI values over the past decade, while others — like Jordan, Kuwait and Tunisia — have remained in place. Overall, countries in MENA tend to perform below countries in other regions at the same income level on the Human Capital Index.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing the fragile progress that has been achieved in human capital outcomes, MENA countries must do more to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their investments in people," said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa. "We are committed to supporting MENA countries to recover, protect and extend their hard-won human capital gains, in addition to providing help to those in need during and after the pandemic."

According to the report, utilization of existing human capital is a major concern in the MENA region, as countries fail to translate the skills and productive potential of large proportions of their populations into economic growth. The average MENA HCI value declines by more than a third (from 0.57 to 0.32) when accounting for the proportion of the working-age population who are employed. MENA countries, in particular those in the GCC, have the world’s largest gender gap in utilization rates, due to low labor force participation among women, especially those without tertiary education. High youth unemployment rates contribute to under-utilization of human capital and social tensions in many parts of the region.

Gender gaps remain wide in some MENA countries. The Human Capital Index for males (0.55) is lower than that for females (0.59) in MENA as a whole and in most countries in the region. These differences are driven largely by boys' lower educational outcomes, with girls expected to complete more than half of an additional learning-adjusted year of school compared to boys (8.0 for girls versus 7.4 for boys).

"Despite progress over the past decade, the findings in the 2020 Human Capital Index indicate that MENA countries could do much more to improve the state of human capital, its utilizatio, and gender equality,’" said Keiko Miwa, World Bank Regional Director for Human Development in MENA. "COVID-19 presents risks but also opportunities to build back better the human capital in MENA. From Egypt’s ambitious education reform — which allowed the country to quickly transition to distance learning when the pandemic struck — to emergency COVID-19 response operations assisting health and social protection systems in Djibouti, Jordan, West Bank and Gaza, Yemen, and elsewhere, we have supported — and will continue to support — countries in achieving their full development potential through stronger human capital.’"

The Human Capital Index (HCI) is an international metric that benchmarks key components of human capital across countries. Human capital consists of the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives. More human capital is associated with higher earnings for people, higher income for countries, and stronger cohesion in societies. It is a central driver of sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

The 2020 update of the HCI incorporates the most recent available data to report HCI scores for 174 countries, adding 17 new countries to the index relative to the 2018 edition. The 2020 update uses new and expanded data for each of the HCI components, available as of March 2020. As in 2018, data were obtained from official sources and underwent a careful process of review and curation.


In Washington
Nate Rawlings
Senior Public Affairs Officer