Distinguished delegates and colleagues,
The link between peace and development or, put alternatively, between conflict and de-development is nowhere more evident than in the Arab region. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comes at a time when 37 per cent of citizens in the region live in countries beset by conflict, not to mention the Palestinian people who have been living under Israeli military occupation for half a century. Conflict, occupation and environmental challenges are threatening already meagre development gains and putting millions of people at risk of displacement, poverty, exclusion, disability or death.
The region is suffering from daunting structural barriers to sustainable development. If not addressed, people in our region will be left behind: too many children will be out of school; too many young people will have no employment prospects; too many women will remain on the margins of society; and millions will continue to live in situations of utmost vulnerability.
Today, the region is witnessing the unacceptable reality of 26 million displaced persons. If one is born an Arab today, he or she is 30 times more likely to become a refugee than anyone else in the world. In Syria alone, an estimated 13 million people, including 6 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance. The country's GDP has shrunk by more than 55 per cent in less than five years. In Iraq, one in five children is today at risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups. In Palestine, one in three children injured during the 2014 Israeli aggression on Gaza will suffer permanent disability.
Against such a bleak backdrop for many Arab countries, implementing this ambitious new Agenda may seem an unrealistic endeavour. Yet, our Member States are determined to turn commitments into action and are seeking ESCWA’s support to achieve it. Their recently developed strategies show a multidimensional longer-term approach to development. There is also growing awareness of the regional dimension and how addressing transboundary issues, such as water, trade, food security and migration at the regional level, can yield positive development outcomes at the national level.
Our strength at ESCWA lies in our profound understanding of the region’s diversity and commonalities, and in our unique ability to deliver where others cannot. Intraregional collaboration, solid multidisciplinary expertise, well-established partnerships and the diverse mandates that our member States have entrusted us with, all enhance our position to meet increasingly high aspirations for development and regional integration.
In response to such mandates, we have started working with our member States to integrate the SDGs into their national plans and fiscal frameworks. We are supporting regional platforms to facilitate implementation, follow-up and review, and are providing technical assistance and statistical support to assess and monitor progress. We are also producing seminal analysis on conflict and development to help countries beset by conflict emerge from it, and those
spared so far avoid it.
Collective efforts are necessary for the Arab region to achieve its development goals. We continue to join efforts with our regional partners, particularly the League of Arab States, in order to deliver on our complementary responsibilities.
Such joint initiatives include the 2016 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development, which has been recognized as a primary venue for multistakeholder dialogue. The forum will progressively consolidate the foundations of a regional framework for follow-up and review that raises individual countries’ progress and bottlenecks to the regional level, and that connects the region’s trends with the rest of the world.
Our member States have already articulated their strategies for implementing the new global agenda. However, they are not oblivious of their own limitations to unlock its transformative potential. They understand that, despite their best efforts, conflict and foreign occupation will not only prevent such efforts from bearing fruit, but will also put the achievements of past decades at risk of reversal.
Ending conflict and occupation requires more than the sincere efforts of their victims. The international community has an interest and a responsibility to support this process. For there will be no development without peace. Likewise, peace will be difficult to sustain without equitable development.