Press Releases

    Background Release

    28 June 2002

    Economic and Social Council to Begin Annual Session on 1 July With High-Level Focus on Human Resources, Health, Education

    UN Development Activities, Coordination Issues, Humanitarian Affairs, Human Rights Also to Be Considered by Meeting Ending on 26 July

    NEW YORK, 27 June (UN Headquarters) -- The four-week annual session of the Economic and Social Council begins with a high-level segment -- scheduled for 1 to 3 July -- on the role of human resources development, with particular focus on the areas of health and education, as an essential factor in the overall development process. The annual session, held alternately in New York and Geneva, is scheduled to end on 26 July.

    Key government ministers, including United States Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and heads of international agencies, will join with Secretary-General Kofi Annan in examining the broad consensus that has emerged from recent global United Nations conferences and the Millennium Declaration: the surest antidote to strife and the strongest foundation for eradicating poverty and ensuring long-term economic growth is to make the most of human resources.

    When the high-level segment concludes on 3 July, the Council will take up segments on operational activities of the United Nations for international development cooperation (5 and 8-9 July); coordination (10-12 July), and humanitarian affairs (15-19 July). During its general segment (22-26 July), the Council will address a range of issues, including integrated and coordinated follow-up to major United Nations conferences, the Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries (2001-2010), various economic and environmental questions, human rights questions and proposed revisions to the medium term-plan for 2002-2005.

    The Council serves as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues, and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and to the United Nations. It makes or initiates studies and reports, and makes recommendations on international economic, social, cultural, educational, health and related matters. The Council also promotes respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms through subsidiary bodies, commissions and committees which carry out its year-round work.

    High-Level Segment

    The opening of this year's substantive session will feature Jeffrey Sachs, the Secretary-General's Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals, reporting on financing requirements to meet health and education targets. Top officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), will also lead a special policy dialogue and discussion on important developments in the world economy.

    That discussion will be guided by chapter 1 of the World Economic and Social Survey (document E/2002/50), compiled by the Development Policy Analysis Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The report notes that where the 2001 slowdown was rapid and quickly embraced by many countries, the recovery is expected to be both slow and less synchronized among economies.

    The report states that the economic downturn -- which began in the United States when financial difficulties rocked the informational and technologies sector there -- was quickly transmitted around the world through a decline in international trade, the first in almost two decades. The world economy is forecast to grow by less than 2 percent in 2002, with the momentum of the rebound pushing global growth to above 3 percent in 2003. Only a modest recovery is expected in the developed countries in 2002, while economies in transition are forecast to witness further deceleration.

    Among the developing countries, the report continues, China and India were able to maintain their growth in 2001 and are expected to continue to do so in 2002 and 2003, but the majority are not expected to return to the average rate of growth achieved prior to the Asian financial crisis until late in 2003. African countries, the report continues, had been relatively little affected by the slowdown. Their economies continued to grow at only about 3 per cent, however. Compared with the 2 per cent population growth in the area, such an increase had a negligible effect on development.

    Still, the report points to a few positive signs for the medium term. Most important among those are the improved understanding between the North and the South on key development issues emanating from the initiation of trade negotiations in Doha, Qatar, in 2001 and from pledges and commitments made at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico. It also highlights the need to initiate actions to strengthen partnerships for development, ensure requisite increases in official development assistance (ODA) and address the external debt burden faced by most developing countries.

    Ministers and high officials will also participate in a series of round-table discussions on the segment's opening day. Topics will include, "partnerships for human resources development"; "progress towards millennium development goals for human resources development in Africa"; "health priorities for Africa"; "strengthening institutional capabilities for sustainable development", and "policy coherence and financing human resources development". Tuesday, 2 July, marks the opening of the general debate on the role of human resources development in the overall development process.

    Report of Secretary-General

    The main document before the high-level segment and the general session will be the Secretary-General's report on human resources development. The report (document E/2002/46) notes that in spite of increased commitment to health and education, progress remains uneven and inadequate. The high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council is an occasion to give renewed political impetus to national and international efforts to improve health and education and to launch new approaches and new partnerships to accelerate progress towards human development as a principle engine for overall development.

    The Secretary-General asserts that efforts to reform and improve the quality and delivery of health and education services must be pursued as part of the multi-sectoral approach to poverty eradication and long-term economic growth. With that in mind, he adds that close collaboration among United Nations agencies and funds under the leadership of governments is particularly important in the areas of human resources development and capacity-building.

    The Secretary-General goes on to emphasize the need to explore ways to increase the resource base in order to fund well-formulated plans to improve human resources development. Ensuring the full integration of education and health into poverty eradication strategies is essential, he says, as is the role of the international community and United Nations in assisting developing countries build their capacity for human resources development.

    While recognizing that the challenge of achieving the health, education and development goals set at the Millennium Summit remain considerable -- particularly in financing those goals -- the Secretary-General stresses that it is possible to achieve tremendous advances with political leadership and commitment, as demonstrated by some developing countries.

    The Millennium Development Goals are indeed technically feasible and financially affordable at the global level, he continues, and therefore ministers, heads of delegations and political leaders must ensure that health and education policies are fully integrated into poverty-reduction strategies. Furthermore, human resources and development strategies must be constantly adapted to meet changing needs in the context of globalization.

    The Secretary-General stresses that domestic spending on human resources development, including in health and education, must be increased by developing countries to provide basic health care and education to the poor free of charge. At the same time, international development assistance must be massively increased to provide adequate and sustained resources for the effective programmes that will strengthen the necessary delivery systems for health and education.

    He urges the Council to maintain the focus on financing for human resources as part of its role in the follow-up to the Monterrey International Conference on Financing for Development. Building on the commitments made by some donors, the Council could reiterate the calls for increased assistance for the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; increased ODA and greater debt relief; and increasing resources generated through greater market access and trade.

    He further suggests that the Economic and Social Council call for the strengthening of the United Nations system's catalytic, advisory and supportive role in promoting human resources development and universal access to quality health and education services. To that end, the Organization should be encouraged to, among other things, support efforts at the national, regional and global levels to integrate human resources development programmes into poverty-reduction strategies, and build partnerships with stakeholders based on common goals and mutual responsibility.

    ECOSOC Composition

    The Council is made up of 54 members with geographical distribution as follows: 14 members from African States; 11 from Asian States; six from Eastern European States; 10 from Latin American and Caribbean States; and 13 from Western European and Other States. Eighteen members of the Council are elected each year to serve three-year terms of office, beginning on 1 January and ending on 31 December.

    Current members, with their expiration dates are: Andorra (2003), Angola (2002), Argentina (2003), Australia (2004), Austria (2002), Bahrain (2002), Burkina Faso (2002), Benin (2002), Brazil (2003), Burundi (2004), Bhutan (2004), Cameroon (2002), Chile (2004), China (2004), Costa Rica (2002), Croatia (2002), Cuba (2002), Egypt (2003), El Salvador (2004), Ethiopia (2003), Fiji (2002), Finland (2004), France (2002), Georgia (2003), Germany (2002), Ghana (2004), Guatemala (2004), Hungary (2004), India (2004), Iran (2003), Italy (2003), Japan (2002), Libya (2004), Malta (2002), Mexico (2002), Nepal (2003), Netherlands (2003), Nigeria (2003), Pakistan (2003), Peru (2003), Qatar (2004), Republic of Korea (2003), Romania (2003), Russian Federation (2004), South Africa (2003), Spain (2002), Sudan (2002), Suriname (2002), Sweden (2004), Uganda (2003), Ukraine (2004), United Kingdom (2004), United States (2003) and Zimbabwe (2004).

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