In a recent ranking on the quality of living, Lebanon’s capital Beirut, formerly known as the “Paris of the Middle East, ” ranked 171st worldwide and 16th in the MENA region.
The annual survey of the quality of living in 221 cities by global consultants Mercer looked at cities from a standpoint of overall desirability.
The 2012 Mercer survey reported that the rankings of seven Arab cities improved, 10 declined and eight were unchanged. Libya’s Tripoli improved its rank by six spots and constituted the best improvement in the MENA region, while Damascus’ rank dropped by 18 spots and represented the steepest decrease regionally.
Within the MENA region, Dubai kept its ranking as the best city for overall quality of living.
Byblos Bank’s chief economist, Nassib Ghobril, reacted strongly to Beirut’s overall low ranking, both worldwide and in the MENA region.
“Beirut is 98 spots behind the top-ranked Arab city. It is also 47 spots behind Amman and 30 spots behind Cairo, for example. This shows the work that needs to be done to improve the quality of living here,” Ghobril told The Daily Star. “It is simply not acceptable that the quality of living in 13 Arab cities is better than that is Beirut.”
He added that “security conditions constitute one of the factors used to assess the quality of living in a country. So the deterioration of security conditions last year must have played a factor in the decline in Lebanon’s rank.”
“The fact that Lebanon’s rank has not improved, despite the drop in the rankings of several [cities in] Arab countries, reflects the deterioration on the basic day-to-day services such as electricity, telecoms, roads, etc. that was evident last year.”
Beirut’s quality of living regressed by one spot in the MENA region, outranking Djibouti, Algiers, Tripoli, Damascus, Nouakchott, Sanaa, Khartoum and Baghdad
Among cities in the 42 Upper Middle Income Countries included in the 2012 survey, Beirut ranked 35th, moving down one spot from 2011.
Mercer’s study evaluated the cities on the basis of 39 key quality-of-living determinants grouped in 10 categories, including political, economic and socio-cultural factors, health and sanitation, schools and education, public services and transportation, recreation, consumer goods, housing and natural environment.
“The pace of global economic recovery slowed in 2012. A general feeling of uncertainty permeated global markets, resulting in low growth, a situation exacerbated by the eurozone crisis,” Mercer said in an executive summary of the report.
“Economic insecurity helped provoke social and political unrest of varying degrees  in many urban areas. Protests and strikes, largely peaceful, have continued in a few Western European cities,” the statement added. “But violence – and, in places, civil war – persists in other regions, compromising the safety of both locals and expatriates.”
On a worldwide basis, Beirut ranked higher for quality of living than such cities as Cotonou in Benin, Banjul in Gambia, Yerevan in Armenia, Tirana in Albania and Minsk in Belarus. It had a lower quality of living than San Salvador in El Salvador, Almaty in Kazakhstan, Caracas in Venezuela and St. Petersburg in Russia.
Mercer consulting conducts the survey annually to advise multinational companies in order to establish the “hardship allowance” for their expatriate workers. Data was collected between September and November of last year.
According to Mercer’s report, Vienna ranked top of the list with the highest overall quality of living in the world and Baghdad kept its lowest rating on the list as the least desirable city in the world at 221st place.
Among American cities with the highest quality of living were Honolulu at 28th place worldwide, San Francisco at 29th, Boston at 35th and Chicago at 42nd place.