Beirut, 1 April 2021 (ESCWA)--In the Arab region, the population groups who are suffering the most from the COVID-19 pandemic are those who had long been neglected. Countries must thus expand the scope of social protection to ensure inclusion and fulfil the promise of “leaving no one behind”, during and beyond the recovery phase. That is one of the key messages of the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development 2021 (AFSD-2021), which closed on Wednesday 31 March after three days of virtual discussions on “Accelerating progress on the 2030 Agenda post-COVID”.
Among other recommendations, Participants urged for reactivating the role of public institutions in ensuring fair distribution of services and resources, with a view to upholding human rights, preserving dignity and including everyone in recovery efforts. Saudi Arabia, in its capacity as Chair of AFSD-2021, will submit those recommendations to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, to be held in New York in July 2021.
Saudi Vice Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal F. Al-Ibrahim detailed the key messages in his closing statement, highlighting the fact that “the pandemic encouraged everyone to invest, develop and innovate, and pushed Governments to think about proactive rather than reactive strategies to overcome future crises”.
The Forum, organized by the UN development system in the Arab region in partnership with the League of Arab States (LAS) and hosted virtually by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), gathered some 2000 experts from more than 50 countries from the region and beyond. They discussed the interlinked challenges facing the Arab region in achieving the Global Goals on poverty, hunger, health, gender equality, economic growth, peace and justice, and strong institutions, as well as partnerships for development, data collection and technology, stressing the need for strengthening cooperation among countries and stakeholders in designing and implementing development policies and programmes.
The closing session was attended by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti. In her statement, Mohammed urged everyone to avoid “canned solutions” and identify the specific problems hampering the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in each country in order to propose appropriate answers.
The issue of financing development was debated at length: participants called for adopting a regional road for combating illicit financial flows, tax evasion and financial corruption, and bridging the financing gaps for the SDGs, increasing financial revenues and redirecting expenditures in the recovery phase.
On the sidelines, ESCWA and the FAO Regional Office organized an Arab regional dialogue on the Food Systems Summit during which participants discussed regional perspectives and experiences on rendering food systems equitable and sustainable. During another special event, ESCWA and the World Summit Awards (WSA) launched the Digital Arabic Content Award for sustainable development in the Arab region to reward institutions and young entrepreneurs from Arab countries for innovative digital Arabic content applications or products that have a clear impact on society.
“Let us remember that we are 436 million Arabs with 436 million ambitions and more, and let us work together, armed with our values and solid will and relying on science and innovation, to fulfill our dreams and achieve security, justice and prosperity.” It is with those words that Dashti concluded the Forum.
This year’s edition of the AFSD is the first one held in the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, during a period where Governments and communities worldwide are trying to contain and recover from COVID-19. In 2020, the Arab Sustainable Development Report (ASDR) sounded the alarm that the region was not on track to achieving those Goals even before the onset of the pandemic.
For more information, visit the AFSD webpage: afsd-2021.unescwa.org.
One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.
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