FOR WESTERN ASIA
Ms. Mervat Tallawy
The goals and targets set forth in Agenda 21 and during preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) focus on global priorities. They explicitly avoid reference to national specificities in order to generate global agreement on a common platform for action.
At the national level, the scope of the sustainable development challenge is too broad for countries to navigate and implement independently, in view of the international dimensions of domestic policy-making in the globalized world today. Peace and security, trade liberalization, natural resource management, environmental quality and information technology can be examined only within the context of international relations and, in particular, at the regional and sub-regional levels, where resources and impacts often transcend national borders.
Regional implementation bridges the gap between national and global
approaches to achieving sustainable development. Regional implementation
respects cultural specificities and local circumstances. Regional implementation
can provide an effective mechanism through which Member States can forge
common positions and programmes relative to global platforms, while remaining
focused on priorities shared at the regional level. Regional implementation
also supports efforts to promote regional integration, which is the best
means by which regions can face the challenges posed by globalization
Each regional commission represents a body of member States with unique social, economic, environmental, geographic and political characteristics. The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) also enjoys a unique position among regional commissions in that it is the only one in which all member States share a common language, history and culture. Moreover, ESCWA has standing and provides technical assistance to States members of regional organizations that serve the Arab region to which ESCWA member countries firmly belong. This endows ESCWA with a strong position from which it can foster dialogues and facilitate agreement on regional priority issues for implementation.
Regional preparations for the WSSD were led by a joint secretariat comprising ESCWA, the League of Arab States (LAS) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Office for West Asia, which consulted with regional and sub-regional organizations and stockholders. The resulting regional platform identified seven broad areas for action. The need to achieve peace and security in the region continues to be the top priority, as no long-term progress towards sustainable development can be a reached while conflict, political turmoil, economic sanctions, embargoes and armed conflicts continue,to plague the region. Poverty must also be alleviated and special attention given to the provision of economic opportunities for the rural and urban poor. Alleviation of the debt burden forms an essential part of this effort, as some ESCWA member countries are no longer able to provide adequate social safety nets in view of the fact that a considerable share of their public expenditures goes to financing the national debt.
Other regional priorities include integrated natural resources management, particularly with regard to water and energy, as well as efforts to improve health, environmental protection, education and the status of women and vulnerable groups. Reaping the benefits of globalization through trade, investment, information and communication technologies as well as the need to strengthen the role of civil society and the private sector also integral components are of the regional platform.
It has been recognized that action on regional priorities cannot be achieved in the absence of effective mechanisms for implementing sustainable development. For this reason, ESCWA member countries have also explicitly identified the need to strengthen governance and integrated development planning at the national and regional levels as essential parts of the sustainable development process.
Regional implementation of sustainable development and the outcomes of the WSSD requires regional commissions to work closely with regional and sub-regional institutions, regional development banks and United Nations funds, programmes and agencies. The working relationships that ESCWA enjoys with regional and sub-regional organizations are strong. However, modes of cooperation and coordination need to be strengthened further in order to create a stronger enabling environment for regional implementation. This will require the adoption of innovative approaches and appropriate operational mechanisms that are accessible to member States and that build on past experience. Five measures are proposed for consideration by member States in order to support the regional implementation of sustainable development.
1. Preparation of a regional sustainable development strategy
2. Strengthening of institutional arrangements for sustainable development
at the regional level
3. Formulation of a regional action plan
4. Forging partnerships
The ESCWA region is blessed with generosity. Most Gulf States members of ESCWA contribute a greater share of their gross domestic product (GDP) per capita to foreign aid than do many member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). However, in view of the scope and urgency of the sustainable development challenge, regional capital is simply not enough. The ESCWA region is home to peoples suffering from conflict, debt and poverty in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen. Water scarcity is a fact of life in these countries, as is dependence on costly, energy-intensive desalination technologies in the Gulf countries.
Regional resources must be complemented by close collaboration with international donor agencies and partnerships with private investors. For the ESCWA region, this includes improving access to global financial mechanisms in order to address regional priority issues, such as desertifi-cation. Regional commissions need greater financial resources in order to manage the effective implementation of a regional sustainable development work programme.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Concerted action is needed in order to support the regional implementation of sustainable development. ESCWA stands ready to support this process and looks forward to assisting member States in achieving their goals.