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Regional groups offer mixed picture of progress towards development goals

Regional groups offer mixed picture of progress towards development goals

From the Caribbean islands to South Asia and Africa, officials from the major United Nations regional groups report scattershot progress towards meeting agreed development goals, as individual countries struggle to cope with debt, the effects of natural disasters, wobbly economies and the uncertainties of war and political tension.

In their annual dialogue with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) yesterday, the heads of the major groups – Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Western Asia and Africa – detailed the status of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the regional level.

Their presentations revealed sharp contrasts across, and even within regions, in some of the primary MDG target areas, which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by 2015.

Warning against generalizing global development trends, Brigita Schmögnerová, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and Commission Coordinator, stressed that regional cooperation offered countries a way to address common development challenges. While country-level ownership of the MDGs was key, regional approaches and South-South cooperation could reinforce good practices at the country level and promote them on a wider scale within developing regions.

José Luis Machinea, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), agreed, adding that regional dimensions offered countries an effective instrument for cooperation in facing common development challenges and in reaching the Goals. That was especially important in relation to issues of a cross-border nature, such as trade, sustainable development and natural disasters.

Highlighting striking regional disparities, Kim Hak Su, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that while many countries, especially in South and South-East Asia, were on track to achieve most of the MDGs, many others, including small island developing states, were not. He was very concerned about the least developed Asian countries, the largest of which was Bangladesh, and their progress. The more successful countries must help those in greater difficulty, he said.

K.Y. Amoako, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said global partnerships today required cooperation between rich and poor countries on numerous levels for activities such as the transfer of technology. Africa's main concern as a region was to form strong partnerships at the national, regional and special partnerships levels. Partnerships at the national level called for addressing each country's specific needs and for strengthening cooperation between governments and civil society.

Focusing on other issues pressuring development, Khaled Abdel Hamid, Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said the overall GDP of his region would have increased by $600 billion since 1990, if there had not been instability or war. Such instability affected not only the growth of the countries in the region, but also the work and assistance offered by ESCWA. Continued instability affected investment, but that was not the whole picture. Institutions and policies also played a role and ESCWA worked with countries, in that regard. For example, ESCWA worked with the Palestinian Authority to crystallize development in the occupied territories, despite the continuing instability there.