Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)
Supporting stability and development in Arab countries and the Middle East
Eighth Regional Conference of the Research and Strategic Studies Center in the Lebanese Army
Beirut, 20 February 2018
Ladies and gentleman,
Good morning to you all.
Thank you for inviting me to speak at this conference.
The Arab region is currently facing difficult circumstances in the form of crises, protracted conflicts and the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestine, resulting in direct and indirect damage that has impeded Arab countries’ efforts to achieve sustainable development. In the light of those circumstances, I will focus on the interconnected dimensions of stability and development under three main themes. The first covers the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a framework for achieving development and stability and enhancing democratic processes. The second theme addresses the major challenges hampering the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and the need to tackle them to ensure that development is the principal tool for fostering peaceful coexistence and supporting post-conflict democratic processes. The third theme considers ways to build national and regional capacity to mitigate the impact of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people and the Arab region.
Theme one: The 2030 Agenda as a framework for achieving development and stability and enhancing democratic processes
Over the coming days, participants at this conference will discuss interlinked topics on the main structures of stability and development in Arab countries. Democratic processes cannot succeed without peaceful coexistence, which is the gateway to achieving social development, which, in turn, is the foundation of sustainable economic development. All these topics are at the core of the Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda. The 2030 Agenda unequivocally recognizes that sustainable development can only be achieved through an inclusive and integrated approach that upholds peace, security and respect for human rights. It stresses the need to form peaceful and inclusive societies for all, which guarantee equality between individuals in accessing justice. It also emphasizes the importance of the rule of law and good governance, and of building transparent and accountable institutions. It calls for the necessary measures and procedures to eliminate obstacles that hinder peoples’ capacity to practice their right to self-determination, which is a prerequisite for economic, social and environmental development.
Theme two: Major challenges hampering the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Arab countries
In the Arab region, the achievement of the ambitious 2030 Agenda is obstructed by significant challenges, including those emerging from the disadvantageous global environment and others emanating from the difficult circumstances facing the region.
At the global level,
- The role of multilateral diplomacy in resolving protracted and emerging conflicts has regressed while the use of force and violence has increased, with fundamentalist and radical isolationist movements gaining power in northern and southern countries;
- Considerable challenges are hampering the formation of international partnerships, the resolution of debt issues, and the commitment of developed countries to increase development assistance, provide guidance and meet the needs of refugees and displaced populations;
In this environment, the Arab region is facing numerous difficulties:
- Peace and security challenges: Armed conflict and instability in the Arab region, including counterterrorism operations, have negatively affected all dimensions of the development process. Conflicts in some Arab countries have caused State institutions to collapse, destroyed infrastructure, and unravelled the fabric of society. As a result of the influx of refugees and forcibly displaced populations, expenditure and support priorities and institutions’ efforts have shifted from development projects to relief and humanitarian work;
- Challenges linked to political and institutional transitions: Political transitions in various Arab countries pose the challenge of rebalancing relations between the State and society, building trust in State institutions and apparatuses, ensuring effective participation, achieving development and equality, and cementing stability. Weak institutions pose another challenge that affects all sustainable development fields; they suffer from political, financial and technical restrictions that limit their effectiveness;
- Social and economic challenges: According to an ESCWA study on the sustainable development outlook for the Arab region, a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment levels are significantly elevated, especially among young people. Public debt is high, labour productivity is low, and social protection coverage is weak for the most vulnerable social groups. Moreover, gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment are intractable social challenge in Arab countries.
To tackle these pressing challenges that impede the sustainable development process in the Arab region, especially those resulting from conflict and occupation and their repercussions, ESCWA proposes a three-pronged approach under its strategic framework for the biennium 2018-2019.
Firstly, build the capacity of member States to address the root causes of conflict, assess their impact on development, mitigate their spillover effects, and develop national and regional approaches to tackle their indirect and long-term effects
ESCWA, in collaboration with member States, is assessing the effects of conflicts in the region on development, as well as their impact on future generations. Special attention is given to understanding trends that might fuel future conflicts in the future, exhaust human capital, weaken State institutions, and increase youth unemployment and drive them towards violence and extremism. ESCWA is also working on strengthening cooperation between member States on these priority joint issues at the national and regional levels.
Secondly, facilitate the establishment of permanent regional and national platforms for technical dialogue that bring together development partners to support post-conflict peace-building processes
In the post-conflict period, Governments do not possess the capacity for long-term planning; instead, they focus on meeting urgent needs. However, meeting urgent needs without a broader development vision results in inconsistent, or conflicting, policies that do not provide the tools for national social and economic development, which assist in post-conflict social advancement and reconciliation, and prevent setbacks and further conflict.
As such, ESCWA has launched dialogue mechanisms aimed at developing an inclusive, mutisectoral and participatory approach to tackle governance issues and social and economic challenges, and to enable national stakeholders to reach solutions and formulate reforms in line with country specificities.
Theme three: Building national and regional capacity to mitigate the impact of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people and the Arab region
It is difficult to assess the destructive and cumulative impact of the Israeli occupation, and its policies and practices on the Palestinian people and on the economy, society, the environment and development in the Arab region. The impact is not limited to rising poverty and unemployment. Israeli policies that violate international law also include annexing 20 per cent of land in the occupied West Bank, building settlements and the wall, and restricting the movement of Palestinians and prohibiting them from accessing around 68 per cent of land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Consequently, health and education services and living standards have seriously deteriorated, and the number of Palestinians in the occupied territories who rely on UNRWA food aid has increased tenfold from 80,000 in 2000 to around 1 million in 2016 - over half of Palestinians under occupation suffer from food insecurity. Gaza is witnessing the worst of these conditions, where the cumulative impact of the occupation, the blockade and military operations have destroyed the economy. In 2015, GDP per capita dropped below 2000 levels, and unemployment levels reached 42 per cent in 2016. Israel also denies Palestinian refugees the right to return to their land: there are 3.5 million refugees living in neighbouring countries, the vast majority of whom are languishing in refugee camps.
ESCWA, in consultation with Palestinian institutions, has implemented various activities to highlight the impact of occupation on development in Palestine and the region, and to build the capacity of public and civil institutions to mitigate the repercussions of occupation for implementing the 2030 Agenda.
In conclusion, I would like to stress the importance of development in building societies in the post-conflict period. The 2030 Agenda is not a prescription imposed on States, but rather a general framework to guide each country in formulating its policies and sustainable development plans in line with its priorities, specificities and challenges. The success of development requires enhanced national ownership of the 2030 Agenda, awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals, and citizens’ democratic participation at all levels to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals and their targets become embedded in individuals and societies’ consciousness and aspirations.