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The Skanner News
Published: 16 June 2010

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) --The World Bank on Tuesday urged Mideast countries to invest more in their impoverished rural areas instead of relying on subsidies and mega-projects to alleviate inequalities in the region.
The organization's recommendation, outlined in a report, underscored the shifting demographics of the region -- one where experts say rapidly expanding economies have shifted governments' focus to urban areas at the expense of the rural lands that for centuries formed the backbone of the region.
It said Middle East and North African governments can use a mixture of policy decisions and targeted investments, rather than big-ticket projects and subsidies, to raise living standards for citizens living in less developed areas.
"Big spending ... is not the answer on its own. We know that from global experience," Alex Kremer, who authored the World Bank study, said in an interview. "The benefits are temporary and it's not cost-effective."
Citizens of the Middle East are quickly moving to cities in search of jobs, though rural areas remain mired with low-level employment and poverty, according to the World Bank. It says countries in the region on average have swung from being 65 percent rural in 1960 to 65 percent urban in 2007.
The Washington-based body outlined a three-pronged approach to reduce the gap between poorer areas, often in the countryside, and more developed parts of the Middle East.
Specifically, it recommends "leveling the playing field" by investing in people living in areas that have historically been neglected, such as by providing more education for girls.
The bank also calls for improved links between better-off areas and poorer ones. That includes the creation of improved transportation and trade ties, as well as better communication and computer networks.
"Let's make sure people who live in lagging areas have access to areas where development can take place," Kremer said. "That means nowadays, more than ever, public transportation and information technology."
The bank also calls on governments to coordinate development projects with local leaders and the private sector.
Shamshad Akhtar, the World Bank's regional vice president, said the report aims to provide governments with a framework to give residents outside booming cities a chance to share in development gains.
The report, titled "Poor Places, Thriving People: How the Middle East and North Africa Can Rise Above Spatial Disparities," was released Tuesday in Dubai.
It covers Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen. The Arab Gulf states were excluded because their wealthy oil-fueled economies differ so much from the rest of the region.

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