9 May 2006

Regional Cooperation, Economic Integration Essential for Addressing Repercussions of Conflict, Political Volatility, Says Secretary-General to Beirut Meeting

NEW YORK, 8 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message to the twenty-fourth ministerial session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), delivered by Mervat Tallawy, ESCWA Executive Secretary, in Beirut, 8 May:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to all the participants in the twenty-fourth ministerial session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

These sessions are an important mechanism for formulating and solidifying regional cooperation.  Indeed, regional cooperation and economic integration continue to be an essential strategy for addressing the repercussions of the conflicts and political volatility that plague the region.  They have also proven to be a useful tool in facing the social and economic challenges associated with globalization.

The crises in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Iraq and in other parts of the region tend to overshadow other pressing challenges.  But, the rate of poverty in the Arab region did not undergo a significant change between 1990 and 2000.  ESCWA places the poverty rate at an alarming 16 per cent.  And, the unemployment rate in the Middle East and North Africa is an estimated 13 per cent, the highest in the world.  We are also seeing a steady rise in the number of skilled workers and professionals leaving the region indefinitely.

Addressing these urgent challenges will require action across many fronts, but the empowerment of women will be crucial.  Towards that end, I encourage you to watch for the publication, later this year, of the next Arab Human Development Report, which will survey the challenges facing women in the Arab region, while also highlighting their critical achievements in the legal, social, political and cultural fields.

I also encourage you to do your part in advancing the process of United Nations reform and renewal.  You meet as the United Nations continues its efforts to implement the commitments made by leaders at the 2005 World Summit last September.  The drive to create a better equipped United Nations now includes a new Peacebuilding Commission, a strengthened Central Emergency Response Fund, and the launch of a Democracy Fund has been launched.  Most recently, the General Assembly created a new Human Rights Council, which will enable us to restore United Nations credibility in this vital area.  The Assembly is also undertaking a comprehensive mandate review, which should make it possible to avoid much duplication and waste, and ensure that our work reflects the current priorities of Member States, rather than those of yesteryear.  The reform effort also extends to forging closer partnerships with civic and private institutions and strengthening our management.

ESCWA itself has also put reforms in place in recent years.  It is encouraging to know that ESCWA has established a Technology Centre, which will seek to increase national and regional capacity to absorb technology, as well as a Unit for Emerging and Conflict Related Issues, which aims to reduce the impact of conflict and instability on socio-economic development in Western Asia.

Western Asia does not lack the human and financial resources to succeed in addressing these vital issues.  I look forward to working with you to meet the region's needs and keep pace with the evolving challenges of our times.  Please accept my best wishes for a productive session.

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