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ESCWA Annual Report 2017

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The 2017 Annual Report provides an overview of key economic and social developments throughout the Arab region, as well as facts and figures about the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), its strategy and programme of work. The Report is built around three action pillars: inclusive development, regional integration and good governance and resilience. From the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development to high-level conferences on migration and climate change, from gender justice and women’s empowerment advocacy to enhancing youth participation in public life, discover the many facets of ESCWA’s work in this year’s Annual Report!



In May of 2017, I was honoured to be asked by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to take the helm of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), succeeding the distinguished Rima Khalaf who steered ESCWA through a most challenging period. The conflicts and instability that have scarred our region in recent years are far from resolved; I thus accepted this mandate with humility and a keen awareness of the magnitude of the hurdles ahead.

Great as these challenges are, the promise is greater: I have taken on the responsibility with high expectations of what can be achieved in the Arab region over the years to come. Now in its fifth decade, ESCWA is maturing as an institution. I am convinced that through hard work, honest and open communication, debate based on sound, factual evidence, and meaningful policy research on economic and social development, we can not only ensure progress for the millions of children, women and men who call this region home today; we can also strive for lasting prosperity and dignity for future generations.

I have asked all my staff to roll up their sleeves; I have empowered them to ask difficult questions, and ensured they have the resources to continue advocating for those in our region whose voices are less heard. Least developed countries, conflict-ridden regions, a people living under occupation, internal displacement and refugee crises: these are but a few of the priorities we must urgently address in discharging our duties.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Secretary-General’s envisaged reforms in the management and development spheres will of course frame our interventions for years to come.

While the pursuit of medium and long-term development goals in the face of immediate conflict can appear dauting, ESCWA’s work helps mitigate the impact of crisis, develop societal resilience, and lays a foundation for constructive reconciliation and peacebuilding. In carrying out our mandate, our watchwords will be transparency, integrity and accountability: towards our member States, the international community at large, and most importantly towards the people of this region whom we serve.

I also take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the Government of Lebanon, in particular the Office of the Prime Minister, for continuing to support our regional commission: Lebanon is home to ESCWA, and we look forward to a continued productive partnership with our host country.

I invite you, dear readers, to discover the many facets of our work in these pages, as we forge ahead in helping implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda while upholding the values and principles of the United Nations.

Join the conversation and share your comments on and on twitter @UNESCWA.

ESCWA in Brief

One of five United Nations regional commissions, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) provides a presence for the Economic and Social Council in the region and gives a voice to Arab countries on the global stage. It helps to implement global policy frameworks, notably the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), hand in hand with its 18 member States.

ESCWA leverages its convening power to promote dialogue and knowledge-sharing at the national, regional and global levels, foster interregional cooperation and develop rich, robust South-South partnerships, working with its sister regional commissions based in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Geneva and Santiago de Chile.


In his oath of office, the Secretary-General stated that achieving gender parity across the United Nations system was one of his top priorities. His new, systemwide approach includes monitoring the following areas: leadership and senior appointments; recruitment, retention; progression and talent management; work environment; and field and mission settings.

ESCWA shares this commitment to gender parity and continues to be the top performing entity in the System-wide Action Plan (UN-SWAP) on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.


ESCWA supports national and regional efforts towards a stable and prosperous Arab region, in which people enjoy freedom, equality, social justice and sustainable livelihoods.


ESCWA has 18 member States in the Arab region. While markedly different in many aspects, they share development opportunities and challenges that can most effectively be addressed through collective, coordinated action. United Nations regional commissions are uniquely positioned to provide impartial intergovernmental platforms for the advancement of regional integration, the development of regional norms and standards, the exchange of experiences and the fostering of international (southsouth, north-south and triangular) cooperation.

Regional commissions are recognized for the critical role they play in promoting a holistic view of development in their regions, one that balances the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in their member States.

What We Do

The mandate of ESCWA is to support inclusive and sustainable development in its member States, advance regional integration and provide advocacy for the region’s needs and concerns on the global stage. Through research and analysis, ESCWA links knowledge on economic and social issues to policy. It brings together policymakers, researchers, experts and other stakeholders in intergovernmental and expert group meetings in the pursuit of constructive dialogue and concerted action. On the ground, ESCWA provides targeted technical cooperation and advisory services to member States upon their request. It serves as:


ESCWA frames its interventions within wider regional efforts to drive development and maximize impact. It has established strategic partnerships with the League of Arab States, other Arab organizations, regional United Nations entities and country teams, and a number of key donors and civil society organizations and networks.

The strategic partnership of ESCWA with the League of Arab States is dynamic and wide-ranging. ESCWA provides substantive support to the League’s intergovernmental bodies, such as the Arab Ministerial Water Council and its Technical, Scientific and Advisory Committee; the Arab Ministerial Council for Meteorology and Climate; the Arab Permanent Committee for Meteorology; the Arab Climate Change Negotiations Group; the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment; and the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for Electricity. The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States has attended some Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM) meetings convened by ESCWA to increase coordination between United Nations entities working in the region.


Influence development policy: Translating evidence-based recommendations into policies and programmes requires shaping agendas, including through pressure groups, the moral force of dignitaries and institutions, and traditional and social media.

Facilitate stakeholder dialogue: ESCWA is committed to inclusive development and consensus building. It constitutes a dialogue platform for all stakeholders, including policymakers and beneficiaries of development programmes.

Broaden the scope of development interventions: Partnerships improve results as they allow for coordinating actions, and pooling resources and information.

Help bridge gaps between knowledge and Implementation: ESCWA works for the translation of knowledge and recommendations into action on the ground. In order to achieve that goal, it selects partners that have proven records of implementation, enjoy high credibility and adhere rigorously to universal norms and values.

Tap into innovation: Private sector actors and specialized entities provide new concepts and resources that assist ESCWA in delivering its mandate.

Promote norms and values: As the United Nations’ arm in the region, ESCWA promotes the organization’s values and norms in all areas of intervention, including through collaboration with its diverse development partners.

Mobilize funding: Partnerships can provide additional financing to build on existing activities and tackle emerging issues.

Organizational Chart

The Executive Secretary heads the Commission and holds the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. Current Executive Secretary Mohamed Ali Alhakim hails from Iraq; his predecessors originated from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the State of Palestine, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen.


 Mohamed Ali Alhakim was appointed Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCWA by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in May 2017.
Mr. Alhakim brings to the position a deep knowledge of the governmental landscape, coupled with strong networks throughout the region and extensive experience in the issues confronting ESCWA member States. He previously served as Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Iraq to the United Nations, both in Geneva and New York (2010-2017); as Ambassador and Director of Arab, European, International Organizations and Policy Planning at the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2006-2010); as Iraq’s Minister of Communications (2004- 2005); as Member of the Iraqi National Assembly and Foreign Relations Sub- Committee (2005-2006) and as Senior Social and Economic Adviser to the Vice-President of Iraq (2004-2010).
Mr. Alhakim holds a doctorate degree in management of engineering and telecommunications, a master’s degree in computer information technology and a bachelor’s degree in education and statistics.

Year in Review
ESCWA in Numbers
Financial Information

ESCWA is funded through the regular budget, the Regular Programme of Technical Cooperation (RPTC), the Development Account, and extrabudgetary projects.


Category Amount
Regular Budget 19,916,818
Regular Programme of Technical Cooperation 2,314,387
Development Account 1,986,538
Extrabudgetary Projects 3,204,611
Total 27,422,354


 Voted on a biennial basis by the United Nations General Assembly, the regular budget provides ESCWA with resources to fulfill its mandate as articulated in the Strategic Framework. All other sources of funding support and complement the overall orientation laid out in the Framework.



 The RPTC is aimed at providing support to member States in the formulation of sustainable socioeconomic development policies. It fosters cooperation, creates knowledge networks and promotes the sharing of experience between countries. The RPTC bridges gaps between member States’ needs and regular budget resources. Through RPTC activities, ESCWA has mainstreamed cross-cutting issues such as gender, human rights and environmental sustainability.



 The Development Account funds capacity development projects carried out through national, subregional, regional and interregional economic and social cooperation.                  



 Extrabudgetary projects support economic and social development initiatives under the seven subprogrammes of ESCWA, with new programmes dedicated to supporting member States in transition.

Strategic Framework

The Strategic Framework of ESCWA provides direction to and structures the activities of the Commission. For the biennium 2016-2017, it was based on three pillars: regional integration, inclusive development, and good governance and resilience. Each subsequent chapter of this report is dedicated to a pillar, with the crosscutting issues of statistics, gender and partnerships highlighted throughout.


The work of ESCWA in the field of inclusive development focuses on three priority areas: social justice, the knowledge economy and employment, and sustainable natural resources.

Social Justice

ESCWA organized a special event to commemorate World Day of Social Justice on 20 February 2017, with the participation of Lebanon’s Minister of State for Combatting Corruption. The event sought to underline the commitment of ESCWA to a rights-based approach to social justice, centered on equity, equality and participation. It also featured music, poetry and theatre performances, as well as a painting exhibition, highlighting art as a powerful vehicle for social expression and change.

Poverty alleviation and the reduction of inequalities are among the priorities of ESCWA in advocating for social inclusion and integration. Through targeted research, advocacy and technical cooperation, ESCWA seeks to ensure broad participation in decision-making processes and equitable access to social protection, information and knowledge. Emphasis is placed on least developed countries and vulnerable groups.
 In 2017, ESCWA pioneered a project to assess the cost of violence against women. The resulting report presented a methodological breakthrough and was met with enthusiasm by civil society and government officials in the region. The support of ESCWA contributed to the adoption by Tunisia in July 2017 of a law on eliminating violence against women, which is considered one of the most progressive in the region. The text recognizes the “physical, moral and sexual violence” against women and provides measures for protection and redress.
Despite progress in the adoption of gender-sensitive legislation, Arab States continue to have one of the lowest female representation rates in parliament. Only Algeria, Tunisia and the Sudan exceeded 30 per cent of female representation in the lower house. In addition, legal protections against child marriage are weak in the region, where three out of four girls aged 10 to 17 years remain vulnerable to child marriage.
Adopting a holistic methodology developed at the University of Oxford, ESCWA, in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the League of Arab States and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), produced the Arab Multidimensional Poverty Report. The report, first of its kind in the region, provides an in-depth technical analysis of poverty in all its dimensions and root causes in various Arab countries and areas. It contains practical recommendations to step up efforts towards eradicating poverty and delivering on SDG 1.
In 2017, ESCWA worked on enhancing the capacity of member States to design and implement just, equality-oriented policies and programmes through workshops in Beirut, Khartoum and Tunisia, using three new toolkits that consolidate knowledge, prerequisites and good practices in these areas. Engagement with member States around such tools helped to foster national dialogue on ways of mainstreaming social justice and equality concerns into public policy.
Further actions and research geared towards social justice addressed the contribution of public expenditure policies to social development, the nature and scope of social protection policies and programmes, social protection for persons with disabilities in Arab countries, engagement with population councils, engagement with Parliamentarians on the 2030 Agenda, and a regular meeting of the ESCWA Committee on Social Development, during which new mandates on social inclusion, social justice, the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda were given to the ESCWA secretariat by member States.
Knowledge Economy and Employment
ESCWA member States present disparate levels of natural resource endowments yet share a vulnerability to commodity price fluctuations. Transitioning towards knowledge economies would open the door to diversification and the creation of job opportunities, notably for young people, and thus bolster productivity and competitiveness.
Since 2015, ESCWA has worked with the Governments of Egypt, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, and Oman on establishing National Technology Transfer Offices (NTTOs) to enhance innovation capacity through legislative and policy reform. These offices are linked to universities and research institutions, which facilitates partnership among researchers, and actors from the economic sector, industry and government. A report on the National Technology Development and Transfer System in Mauritania was released in 2017 and highlighted the positive experience of the country in the field.
Also in 2017, ESCWA and the League of Arab States launched their joint 2020 Arab Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Initiative, in line with the global IGF. A new charter for the Arab IGF was produced and the Second Roadmap on Internet Governance – The Next Decade was adopted. These instruments promote more inclusiveness in the Arab IGF process and guide it towards increased regional cooperation and coherence with global frameworks.
Other related ESCWA endeavours included capacity-building activities in the field of innovation in the public sector and digital opportunities, and an expert group meeting on innovation and technology. Some 60 international and regional experts gathered in Beirut to discuss innovative methods to harness technology to turn regional and global challenges into opportunities and work towards the SDGs in an integrated manner.
Sustainable Natural Resources

SCWA works to increase resource consumption efficiency by leveraging new technologies and seeking to maximize the benefits on income and employment.

In partnership with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), ESCWA carried out a development account project on supporting Member States in developing and strengthening environment statistics and integrated environmental-economic accounting for improved monitoring of sustainable development, which included holding a regional meeting in 2017. Thanks to donor support, ESCWA also continued to work on the Regional Initiative for the Assessment of the Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources and Socioeconomic Vulnerability in the Arab Region (RICCAR) and the MDG+ Initiative, which engage Arab countries in cooperation around common objectives related to climate change, water resources and the delivery of water services.
Working with the League of Arab States and the United Nations Environment Programme, ESCWA organized the Preparatory Meeting on the Regional Environmental Issues and Priorities for the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development, on 23 and 24 April 2017 in Cairo. The meeting resulted in an outcome document, which was presented to the Arab Forum. It highlighted the importance of the environmental dimension in implementing the 2030 Agenda and emphasized the sustainable management and consumption of natural resources as a necessary condition to maintain livelihoods, specifically those of the rural poor, women and refugees.
ESCWA also convened the Highlevel Conference on Climate Change Assessment and Adaptation in the Arab Region in Beirut, from 26 to 28 September 2017. Ministers, diplomats and experts in the fields of environment, water and development from the region and beyond participated in the event, during which the Arab Climate Change Assessment Report was launched.
Seeking to strengthen the capacity of its member States to mainstream energy-related SDGs into their national development plans, ESCWA convened a regional capacity-building workshop on the Water-Energy Nexus Operational Toolkit: Resource Efficiency, in Manama, on 20 and 21 February 2017. Participants examined ways to improve efficiency during the production and consumption of water and energy resources and services, processes in sewage treatment plants and the financial aspect of those issues. Case studies from Arab countries were showcased and discussed.



In the context of both rapid globalization and instability in several Arab countries, the second pillar of the Strategic Framework of ESCWA, regional integration, constitutes a critical means to foster sustainable development, boost production and income, and address the twin challenges of poverty and unemployment. The Arab region lags significantly behind others in terms of economic integration. To remedy this, ESCWA helps to formulate trade policy at the subregional, regional and interregional levels to strengthen national capacities and increase the competitiveness of domestic markets. ESCWA also assists member States in implementing resolutions arising from high-level regional and global forums. The implementation of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA), and the creation of an Arab customs union and a common market are among the long-term objectives of the work of ESCWA in that area.

Policy Coherence

ESCWA works for improved cross-border infrastructure, and increased comparability of data and conformity with international standards.

Agreements and Strategies

ESCWA promotes the 2030 Agenda as an opportunity to rethink local, national, regional and global development policy based on the imperatives of productivity and job creation, reduction  of  poverty  and  discrimination,  improvement  of public  health,  and  realization  of  social  justice. The  2030 Agenda forms the backbone of the current regional integration strategy  promoted  by  ESCWA,  which  spearheads  efforts to assist member States in its implementation, notably by tracking it in Arab least developed countries using micro-level data.



The third pillar of the Strategic Framework of ESCWA focuses on promoting good governance, accountability and transparency in public institutions, and on helping these institutions withstand natural and man-made crises. This is accomplished through work in the priority areas of fostering institutional development, promoting participation and citizenship, documenting the socioeconomic impact of conflict and occupation, and strengthening resilience to natural and man-made crises.

Institutional Development

ESCWA works on strengthening institutional frameworks, as strong institutions are necessary for States to achieve successful democratic transitions or to weather political tensions and conflicts. It strengthens member States’ capacity to adopt policies centered on their citizens and provide them with good public services.

Participation and Citizenship

ESCWA advocates for good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights, as well as transparency, participative political processes, accountability, political reform and social cohesion. In doing so, it seeks to help States empower civil society and advance gender equality.

Resilience and Crisis Occupation

Two  of  the  most  significant development challenges facing ESCWA member States today are  conflict  and  occupation. The region also registers the highest displacement figures in the world, with over 25 million forcibly displaced individuals.