Thinking Aloud: The Darius Index, Qatar

May 27, 2014 by Darius 

[Two and a half months ago I introduced the Darius Index, which aims to measure the discrepancy between a country’s wealth – as measured by GDP per capita – and what that country does with the money – as measured by the UN’s Human Development Index.  See https://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/thinking-aloud-the-darius-index/]

This week we’ll check out the #10 country on the list, Qatar.

Qatar is quite unlike any other country on this list.  It’s one of the (or the, depending on the list) richest countries in the world as measured by per-capita GDP.  But Qatar wasn’t always wealthy.  Until a few decades ago, Qatar was just another poor sheikhdom on the Persian Gulf.  Most of its economy had been based on pearl fishing and was predictably devastated by the introduction of cultured pearls.  Oil was discovered in Qatar in 1939 but exploitation was delayed for years, first by WWII then by an abundance of oil from other countries.

In 1971, Qatar became an independent state (formerly a British protectorate).  In 1974, Qatar’s oil company came under government control and oil revenues skyrocketed.  It was not until 1997, though, that Qatar began exporting its real moneymaker: liquefied natural gas.  According to some measurements, Qatar has nearly 15% of the world’s reserves of natural gas; it is by far the leading exporter of LNG.  LNG has enabled Qatar to become the richest country in the world.

Qatar’s human development is the highest in the Arab world.  But it is not equally spread.  In a country with a population of nearly 2 million, only about 250,000 are actually Qatari.  And only Qataris are eligible for government services, including education, health care, pensions, etc. – the sorts of investments in human development that improve living standards.  Migrants comprise more than 90% of Qatar’s workforce.  Migrants do all the less desirable jobs in the emirate, including working in the oil fields themselves.  Though the migrants are included in both the HDI and per capita GDP, life is very different for the average migrant worker than it is for the average Qatari citizen.

In addition to a stark difference in income and benefits between 1/8th of the population and the other 7/8ths, Qatar’s relatively lower score on the HDI comes mainly from its education system, which understandably is still less developed than that of other countries in its income class, and from the heath costs associated with wealth: Qatar’s rates of diabetes and obesity are among the highest in the world.  The Qatari government has imported advisors to reform education; however, the health care problems have deeper cultural roots that will have to be addressed by the Qataris themselves.

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