UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION 
FOR WESTERN ASIA

 

Statement

by

Ms. Mervat Tallawy 
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission
for Western Asia (ESCWA)

at the
World Summit for Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
29 August 2002



Mr. Chairman, 
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Colleagues, 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

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
.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

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.

Distinguished Colleagues,

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
        A regional sustainable development strategy should be prepared, based on a common Arab platform, which identifies mutually agreed priorities and avenues for implementation. This regional strategy must include institutional and operational mechanisms for implementation and secure the commitment of member States. It should include a vision based on partnerships and identify sufficient financing for the implementation of a regional plan of action.

2. Strengthening of institutional arrangements for sustainable development at the regional level
        Institutional arrangements for sustainable development should be strengthened at the regional level. This would be achieved through restructuring the existing inter-governmental environmental bodies of the League of Arab States or, alternatively, establishing a new inter-governmental forum with the specific mandate to coordinate inter-disciplinary policies and programmes for the regional implementation of sustainable development. Regional stockholders, including ESCWA, regional development banks, regional organizations and regional programmes of the United Nations should be invited to provide technical assistance, substantive input and financial support in order to ensure that this regional institutional mechanism is effective.

3. Formulation of a regional action plan
         The initial task undertaken by the regional forum for sustainable development should be the preparation of a detailed regional action plan for implementation of the regional sustainable development strategy. The action plan should assign responsibility for the preparation, implementation and assessment of specific activities based on regional targets. It should highlight the importance of regional information sharing, the formulation and monitoring of regional sustainable development indicators, the compilation of regional statistical databases, the harmonization of standards in the region and the need to agree upon a set of criteria for the assessment of progress towards sustainable development.

4. Forging partnerships
          Regional implementation requires the forging of partnerships between member States, regional organizations, civil society and the private sector. Partnerships should be initiated as early as possible in order to contribute to the process of preparation for the regional action plan. Partnerships may be task specific or support a continuous work programme. Special attention should be paid to fostering Type 11 partnerships, in order to provide opportunities for non-governmental stockholders and the private sector to participate directly in the regional sustainable development process. The sharing of experiences and opportunities for inter-regional information sharing is also important, as is the use of partnerships in order to foster technology transfer.

5. Financing
         Regional development banks, Arab funds and donor agencies should be closely consulted during preparation of the regional strategy and action plan. While the regional strategy should articulate a long-term vision, realistic targets should be identified in order to implement it and these should be supported by financial commitments.

        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.

Thank you.