Challenges facing the future of the region and the role of UNESCWA in light of them are the focus of a two-day meeting that began today at the UN House, Beirut. Arab officials and highly skilled experts and intellectuals gathered to brainstorm on the “Role of UNESCWA in Servicing its Member States, the Next Five Years.”
UNESCWA Executive Secretary Mervat Tallawy welcomed all those present, considering their participation in this focused exercise to be indicative of their concern for the future of this region and the role of the United Nations. Tallawy cited the legal, security, economic, social and cultural situation in the region, asking those present to identify the trends they see on these levels so that UNESCWA may position itself to address them. “Western Asia is witnessing instability,” she said, “Despite its wealth of resources, the region offers up discouraging socioeconomic indicators.” Tallawy said about 42 million people over 15 years in the region still suffer from illiteracy, while 28% of the population in the UNESCWA region lives on less than 2 dollars a day. Unemployment remains at a relatively high 9%, while the rate of skilled workers leaving the region permanently is rising continuously. “A large portion of funds in the region, especially in the Gulf states, is not finding its way to foreign markets like before,” she pointed out, “However, they are still largely being invested in the real estate and construction sectors.” Tallawy suggested that participants actively brainstorm an investment scheme for the region and to re-think banking policies that are crucial to proceeding with current orientations. “I want to know what UNESCWA can do to further Arab regional integration and activate its tools,” said the Executive Secretary, “Must we develop new academic curricula that focus on regional integration, or should we focus on developing new strategic thinking and thinkers, opinion polls, early warning systems, etc.?”
The meeting will continue until Wednesday, 25 January 2006. Discussion will revolve around the major areas that are the focus of UNESCWA work, including Water and Energy; Technology; Globalization; and Social Policies. The deliberations of this Brainstorming session will provide a tool for the various planning exercises of UNESCWA activities during the next five years. A report, reflecting the discussions and recommendations, shall be presented to the twenty-forth Ministerial Session of the UNESCWA this May. As such, member States will have the opportunity to ascertain the Commission’s various future programs.