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Peace and security top agenda at UN-Escwa meeting

Participants will tackle issues of social and economic development in the region

The issue of peace and security and their impact on economic and social development in the Arab region will be a priority at the 23rd UN-Escwa Ministerial Session to be held in Damascus from 9 to 12 May.

The agenda of the session includes important issues such as cooperation with the Arab League; the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals; as well as social policies in UN-Escwa member countries. The heads of delegation representing each country will participate in roundtables geared toward these issues.

The session will also include the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of maritime transport in the Arab Mashreq.

Peace and security and their impact on economic and social development will be the focus of the first roundtable, wherein a paper by UN-Escwa will be submitted to the heads of delegations for discussion and debate.

The paper takes into account a report prepared by UN-Escwa on "International Peace and Security: An Arab Perspective," resulting from a series of brainstorming meetings involving a number of Arab decision and public opinion makers as well as academics. This process was begun by UN-Escwa following the initiative of the UN secretary general regarding the formation of a high level panel on international peace and security.

In previous meetings, participants reached a consensus on the following points that link between peace and security and their relation to economic and social development:

1) Certain "soft threats" were seen to undermine international and regional stability and security. There is a near-consensus among political economists and experts worldwide that soft threats, such as chronic hunger, poverty, mass unemployment, pervasive disease, racism, organized crime, marginalization, and illiteracy endanger international peace and security. These soft threats are largely perceived to contribute to extremism and undermine socio-economic and political reform in the region.

2) On the regional level, the focus was on the rising rates of unemployment, especially among the young, educated youth, which exceeds 50 percent in several Arab states. Estimates put the overall unemployment rate in UN-Escwa member countries at 16 percent, while the youth unemployment rate is estimated to be around 25 to 30 percent. It is also estimated that over the coming decade, the Western Asia region will need about 35 million jobs to redress this alarming problem.

3) Attention was also given to the worsening income distribution and wealth in the region, dramatic growth of "squatter areas" and "poverty belts" in Arab cities, where millions of people subsist on less than $2 a day; continuous environmental degradation; and widespread corruption in the administration and the society at large; not to mention continuing gender disparities. A number of participants related these social ills to the investment of a substantial part of the region's financial resources in the purchase of arms.

4) Money invested in armaments should be reinvested in the socio-economic sectors to reduce poverty and provide jobs for the army of discontented young men and women who are unemployed. Relocating resources invested in "the business of death" into peace dividends would serve the cause of international security.

5) There exists an urgent need to tackle "soft threats," which are socio-political and economic in nature and which affect the lives of millions of people. These challenges, if neglected and allowed to boil over without resolution, could provide a fertile environment for militancy and threaten international peace and security.

Beirut,04 25 2005
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The Daily Star
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