Heavy investments in human development have turned the UAE into one of the fastest developing nations, according to a United Nations report.

The report said it was considered to be a backward nation with high death rates and meagre services. But it is among the fast developing nations today with a surge in education services and life expectancy, a steep decline in infant mortality rate and the absence of epidemics.

In just 10 years, the UAE has jumped from the 77th rank in 1990 to the 45th rank in the list of nations, as classified by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as countries with high human development levels and better development prospects in the future.

The achievements have been credited to heavy investments in this sector and an intensive government drive ordered by His Highness President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan with an emphasis on the development of human resources and expansion of essential services made available to all people living in the emirates.

According to estimates by the Ministry of Planning, the UAE has pumped around Dh 46.4 billion into human development and other services since 1972. In some years, such investments accounted for more than 15 per cent of the total spending.

"The UAE has moved from a medium level in human development classification to a high level in the human development index," the UNDP said.

The report, which was reviewed by the UAE cabinet on Monday, noted that the UAE has surged ahead to the top of the list of Arab countries in the field of health, education, economic prosperity, and illiteracy eradication for both men and women.

From 53 years in 1956, life expectancy in the UAE jumped to 74.8 years in 1999 and the level is set to grow to 83 years. Infant mortality was slashed from 83 per thousand in 1970 to nine per thousand in 1999 while health services have become accessible for all.

"People in the UAE enjoy high standards of health services and this has enabled the country to make great strides in life expectancy.

"Besides, epidemics and other serious diseases, such as AIDS, are not widespread in the UAE as the country sticks to Islamic values and ethics," it said.

The UNDP index covers 162 countries around the world and it involves three main spheres-life expectancy, literacy and living standards. The index's classification includes 80 points or more for high human development level, 50 to 79 points for medium level and less than 50 per cent for low level of human development.

The index, which has been issued annually since 1990, has been expanded to cover other social and educational fields including the extent of women's education and their participation in politics and economy.

The UAE and three other Arab countries, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, were given a high degree in human development, while 10 other Arab states got a medium grade. Four members are still classified as countries witha low level of human development.