Moslem countries are doing best at reducing hunger – why? What would a 'Mecca Consensus' on human development look like?

Dani Rodrik pointed out that while East Asia has topped the charts in recent decades on growth and poverty reduction, many of the best performing countries on human development are majority moslem, scattered across the Middle East and North Africa. I’ve just been reading IFPRI’s Global Hunger Index 2010, and the same pattern emerges. Here’s the graph of best and worst performers in reducing hunger over the last 20 years (click on the chart): Global Hunger Index 2010 best and worst             Six of the top ten performers on hunger over the last two decades are majority moslem (and they’re not the same six as the top performers picked out by Rodrik, which were Oman, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria): is the apparent connection just coincidence/ correlation or causal? At least three of them have loads of oil, but the natural resource ‘curse’ is hardly an inevitable blessing – look at Nigeria. Lefties would doubtless argue that it’s because they are least likely to take any notice of the Washington Consensus, and they may well have a point. But what else is going on here? Is there a distinctive set of particularly successful social policies or broader societal attitudes at work (a ‘Mecca Consensus’)? According to Rodrik, moslem countries demonstrate ‘determined policies to expand educational opportunities and access to health along with a willingness to depart from the conventional wisdom of the day and experiment with their own remedies.’ Is there a link with the high speed demographic transition to much lower fertility rates in countries like Iran? There’s also a notable disparity between progress on nutrition and human development, and that on democracy and civil and political rights (it would be interesting to do a cross comparison of countries positions on human development v some of the league tables for rights and freedoms – anyone got the time to do it?). I would appreciate some thoughts and stuff to read on this, please.]]>

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7 Responses to “Moslem countries are doing best at reducing hunger – why? What would a 'Mecca Consensus' on human development look like?”
  1. Ansumana Dambelleh

    The Gambia is a majority-Muslim country as well, but it falls on the losing side of the table. I guess something has to be said specific geographic conditions and national leadership. The Gambia is also caught between English and Arabic language education paths and as a result neither achieves great results. I would like to see that data for the last few years in isolation though as much has been done recently to promote reforestation and “back to the land” campaigns.

  2. Ines

    this is interesting, and I am sure that access to health and education in the countries listed in the graph (whether they have a majority Muslim population or not)does play a role in reducing hunger. What strikes me, however, is that when we check against the Global Gender Gap Report 2010, of the 9 ‘good performers’: 5 are ranked below 100th place, 2 below 90th and the other two below 50th place. Is this a methodological quirk or something more serious?
    Duncan: not a quirk at all, but quite an important challenge to us, I think – unless I’m missing something, this disparity looks like it undermines the more instrumentalist arguments that gender rights lead directly to improvements in health and education outcomes. Reminds me a bit of the old ‘Asian values’ discussion that said autocracy was necessary in the early stages for income growth.

  3. The data from these recent studies don’t necessarily discredit instrumentalist arguments about the importance of gender rights if other powerful factors are at play. Your reply to Ines mentions the possibility that autocracy helps during the early stages of economic growth, but what about absence of war? Can one say that peace—despite some obvious glaring exceptions!—has generally characterized Islamic countries in recent years? And how do the autocratic yet war-torn exceptions fare in the studies?

  4. Ikram

    Its a good news that poverty concentrated regions are performing despite the lasting repercussions of instability in the region resulted by imposed war on Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and world sanctions on Iran and North Korea. However, endowment of natural resources especially oil and industrialization in few countries are the key factors towards development than religious considerations.
    Duncan: Thanks Ikram, but if that were true, how come oil-rich economies in other regions (Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria) have failed to progress?

  5. Nurvitria

    Interesting findings…
    For me, it seems that Islamic cross-subsidizing schemes in Moslem countries such as the obligatory zakat, as well as voluntary infaq and shadaqah for the poors, also contributes to the poverty reduction initiatives–however this I don’t know if there’s already any study that look through it.
    But then again, it depends on who’s on power and the dynamics of civil society in mobilizing the scheme. Cheers, 🙂