BY MS. MERVAT TALLAWY
UNDER SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS
AND EXECUTIVE SECRETARY OF THE
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR WESTERN ASIA
TO THE TWENTY-SECOND SESSION
Beirut, 14-17 April 2003
Your Excellency General Emile Lahoud, President of Lebanon,
Your Excellency Mr. Nabih Berri, President of the National Assembly,
Your Excellency Mr. Rafiq Hariri, Prime Minister,
Your Excellencies Ministers, Deputies, Ambassadors and Heads of
Representatives of international organizations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered together here today on the occasion of the twenty-second
session of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), at
a time when a dark cloud is covering the whole world, and the Arab region
The fact that you are attending this meeting, despite the difficult
circumstances, is an indication of your concern for the issues at stake in
this region; your commitment to the principles of international
legitimacy; and of your belief in the need to confront the difficulties in
order to ensure a better future, a future which you will play a part in
building, and in strengthening the will and determination to achieve such
Permit me, first of all, to express my deep gratitude to His Excellency
the President of Lebanon for honouring ESCWA with his presence at a
session for the first time since 1997, when the Commission once again
began to enjoy the generous hospitality offered by this gracious country.
We at ESCWA greatly appreciate this kind attention on the part of His
Excellency the President, because his presence here today is a sign of
both his support and his belief in the importance of commitment to the
principles of international legitimacy. We therefore most warmly salute
His Excellency the President. Similarly, we salute Lebanon for its
political maturity and awareness and its national commitment. We further
salute the responsible spirit demonstrated by community leaders under
these difficult circumstances.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The wars and disputes that have prevailed in the Arab region for more than
50 years, affecting Palestine, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, Egypt,
Kuwait, and now Iraq, have had an obvious impact on the peoples of the
region and on the development processes of their countries.
The countries of the Arab region lie at the heart of the ancient world.
They have historical links with and have contributed to the cultures of
other geographical regions and, in particular, Europe. It is therefore in
the interests of all that stability should reign in this region.
It is for that reason that the issue of the impact on the region of lack
of stability has been chosen as one of the main focuses of this session.
It will be considered at the meeting to be held after this inauguration.
Here, with a view to appreciating the losses that are likely to ensue from
the current war against Iraq, we should pause to review very briefly the
figures relating to some of the losses in the 1990s, namely, from 1990 to
2002, that resulted from the second Gulf War.
In the past decade, that War may be held directly responsible for losses
amounting to some US$ 600 billion from the gross domestic product of the
countries of the region. It is expected that, as a result of the war
against Iraq, those losses will increase to $1,000 billion. In terms of
lost employment opportunities, those losses represent between 4 and 5
million job opportunities, a figure that is expected to rise from 6 to 7
million as a result of the war against Iraq.
In the past 10 years, average per capita income in the Arab region has
been the lowest in the world, largely because of the fall in the price of
The situation has been exacerbated by falling levels of investment;
increased military expenditure to the point where it is twice the world
average; decreasing returns from tourism and transport; increases in the
cost of insurance and re-insurance; a decline in the trade between Arab
countries; losses resulting from the cessation of bilateral commercial
agreements between Iraq and a number of Arab countries during the war
against Iraq; the environmental degradation caused by the military
confrontations and the use of highly destructive weapons, cluster bombs,
depleted uranium, mines and the igniting of oil wells; the military and
civilian human losses; the increased number of disabilities caused by
mines and other types of deadly weapon; the reverse in inter-Arab
relations; the rise in levels of unemployment; worsening levels of
poverty; increased population density; increasing sectarianism and
intolerance; the destruction of buildings, installations and
infrastructure; and the migration of citizens and consequent loss of human
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Concurrent with those difficult regional circumstances are international
changes and challenges, including economic globalization and the
technological revolution, which affect the social situation. What, then,
is the solution, and what is the role of ESCWA, faced with the current
regional and international changes?
Given this situation, ESCWA was forced to reconsider its orientations and
programme of work. It was you, the member countries, who at the last
session took the decision that the work of ESCWA should focus on one main
objective, namely, regional integration, and that its activities should
accordingly focus on a limited number of priorities in order to serve that
objective. Pursuant to that decision, the following four fields were
chosen as being of central importance for the countries of the region:
water, globalization, social policies and technology.
There is a scarcity of water in most countries of the region.
Globalization and stiff international competition pose challenges that the
countries of the region must make preparations to meet. Social policies
must be interconnected and cohesive.
Technology is a field in which a revolution is taking place at the global
level, particularly with respect to information and communications. If we
ask where the region stands with regard to that revolution, the figures do
not provide a favourable response. The number of personal computers in
Arab countries is seven times lower than the world average, while Internet
use is 80 times lower.
In the light of the foregoing, it was necessary to restructure the
Commission and its programme of work. As a result of that restructuring,
one new division was established in order to consider globalization and
regional integration-related issues; another to deal with economic
analysis and consideration of the future; and a third for information and
Accordingly, activities have been added to the ESCWA programme of work
that are concerned with post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation. Such
activities are being undertaken by ESCWA, in a very modest fashion, in
certain villages in southern Lebanon and Palestine. The first steps have
been taken pursuant to the resolution adopted at the twenty-first session
concerning the rehabilitation of economic sectors in Palestine.
Furthermore, the Commission prepares an annual report on the economic and
social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of
the Palestinian people. Recent events have demonstrated the severity of
the confrontation with the forces of the Israeli occupation, during which
the human tragedy has reached proportions rarely witnessed in the age of
the modern technology that has been used to oppress man and challenge all
the principles of international law.
A further activity has been added to the programme of work, concerning
local communities. An example of that is the work undertaken by ESCWA with
Beirut Municipality in order to make the Beirut central area accessible to
the disabled and in the town of Aley, where the Commission has worked to
preserve the heritage. In Jordan and Lebanon, educational centres for the
blind have been built.
The Commission has also inaugurated work with, inter alia, civil society,
non-governmental organizations and unions.
For the first time, ESCWA is working with the private sector, with funding
from individuals, in order to assist them in building their societies.
Considerable sums of money have been contributed to ESCWA by Lebanese
individuals and companies in order to help disadvantaged areas and groups.
We are grateful for such magnanimous gestures, and hope that they will
continue and increase. Pursuant to the resolution adopted by member
countries at the twenty-first session concerning the designation of the
sessions of the Commission as the forum for a biennial pledging
conference, ESCWA hopes that the initiation of such a conference will make
available additional funding that will permit the Commission to confront
major and unexpected events under its regular, previously prepared budget.
It is therefore important to make pledges at this session.
In order to promote regional integration in our region, ESCWA has taken
action to develop the integrated transport system in the Arab Mashreq. At
the last session, the Agreement on International Roads in the Arab Mashreq
was adopted; during the current session, the Agreement on International
Railways in the Arab Mashreq will be adopted. At the twenty-third session,
an agreement on maritime routes will be adopted.
The preparation and coordination of the positions of member countries at
global conferences is a manifestation of regional integration at
international level. The Commission therefore made preparations for the
Second World Assembly on Ageing, that was held in Madrid, the World Summit
on Sustainable Development that was held in Johannesburg, and the World
Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Geneva.
Your Excellency the President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Once again, I am deeply grateful to His Excellency General Emile Lahoud,
President of Lebanon, for his sponsorship of the session and his support
for the Commissionís endeavours to achieve regional integration and Arab
cooperation. I should also like to thank all those who have so graciously
attended for their interest in ESCWA and their commitment to international
principles, in the face of all the difficulties. This will strengthen the
will of the people, the desire for steadfastness and the commitment to
right and justice.
Permit me, therefore, to salute those who are calling for peace, who
embody the determination of the international community to adhere to
international rules and laws, and who are making every possible effort to
bring peace on all fronts. I salute the people of this region who have
endured these difficulties for the past 50 years and have remained
steadfast in the hope of a better future.
Thank you for your kind attention.