A call for sustainable recovery effort in Asia-Pacific
The unique and populous Asia-Pacific region is made up of 58 countries of which 12 are classified as least developed countries (LDCs) under the United Nations classification. This means they are recognised as countries that have "low levels of income and face severe structural impediments to sustainable development". Given their underlying vulnerabilities, the countries and populations of the Asia-Pacific bear the brunt of the uneven effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we have seen, the pandemic exposed common fragilities of under-resourced and inadequate health, economic and social systems across the Asia-Pacific region. This demanded major overhauls within the limited capacities of Asia-Pacific nations who are still fighting against extreme poverty, to achieve sustainable development, and the existential threats due to climate change. As a result, governments have had to divert funds and increase external borrowings to boost their stimulus packages in response to the pandemic.
In pre-Covid times, effective reforms contributed to socio-economic progress for some of the countries within the region, which have lifted millions of people out of poverty. However, many of these hard-won achievements have suffered setbacks in the wake of the pandemic.
Tomorrow I will arrive in Bangkok, Thailand to participate in the 78th session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap). It is here that leaders of the region, together with stakeholders, will gather to discuss and devise a post-Covid sustainable recovery agenda under the theme, "A common agenda to advance sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific". While in Bangkok, I will meet with leaders, the UN country teams, youth representatives, and civil society organisations.
As the meetings unfold on Monday, it will be at the helm of increased complexities of international trade, peace and order as a result of the conflict in Ukraine. With this, the Asia-Pacific region is set to face higher inflation rates which will further subject the marginalised and vulnerable societies to higher levels of food insecurity and fuel prices, and resultant poverty.
The region needs to build back stronger together and the Escap's 78th session is an opportune moment to chart an inclusive and resilient way forward. While each country faces unique challenges and have different circumstances, the transversal nature of these issues demands global and regional cooperation. They demand learning from each other. As we have learnt from the pandemic, no country is safe until all countries are safe. Sustainable and resilient recovery is an urgent and critical agenda.
I am confident that the recovery of the Asia-Pacific region lies in enhanced regional and multilateral cooperation. Where leaders, the private sector, civil society organisations, the United Nations and all stakeholders come together to bring hope for the people, prosperity and the planet.
As president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, I chose "hope" as the theme of my presidency for the 76th Session of the General Assembly because, given the despair and destruction we have seen, hope is what the world needs right now. With this vision, I have strongly advocated on recovering from the pandemic, rebuilding sustainably, responding to the needs of the planet, and respecting the rights of all, which I believe can contribute to a global appetite for building back better and stronger. These tenets of my presidency of hope will underpin the elements of my message in Bangkok.
I am no stranger to the consequences of climate change, nor the discourse around sustainable development. As a citizen and long-time politician of a small island developing state, the Maldives, these issues have continuously formed part of my efforts, especially as we face the existential threats of a changing climate. I know what it means to wake up every day worried about the future of your land, your identity, and your culture. I know the anxiety and weariness driven by technological barriers, access to adequate finance, and by unpredictable and unreliable global supply chains. I know the challenges, the confrontations, the consequences. I, with the citizens of my country and those like us, live them each day.
The discussions at Escap's 78th session will be important in paving the way for strengthened and enhanced regional cooperation to advance action on the underlying issues of sustainable development.
A post-pandemic recovery must address economic, social and environmental inequities including those around the digital and data divide. The Asia-Pacific region will be left behind without necessary digital transformations.
Likewise, it is important that policymakers pursue action-oriented discussions from a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. This will be crucial to fully grasp the extent of the impacts within communities and in ensuring no one is left behind. We need to hear from those that live through the challenges, including the women and children.
My overall message to leaders, stakeholders and the international community at Escap's 78th session will be very clear: reclaiming the future at the heart of strengthened global partnership will be fundamental for a sustainable recovery in the Asia-Pacific region.
Abdulla Shahid is the President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.