ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
EMERGING ISSUES AND DEVELOPMENTS AT THE REGIONAL LEVEL:
SOCIO-ECONOMIC MEASURES TO ALLEVIATE POVERTY IN RURAL AND URBAN AREAS
(Item 7 (c) of the provisional agenda)
REPORT OF THE SENIOR OFFICIALS' MEETING ON THE AGENDA FOR ACTION ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE ESCAP REGION, BANGKOK, 1-5 NOVEMBER 1999
I. ORGANIZATION OF THE MEETING
1. The Senior Officials' Meeting was convened in pursuance of Commission resolution 54/2 of 22 April 1998 on the Manila Declaration on Accelerated Implementation of the Agenda for Action on Social Development in the ESCAP Region. It was held at Bangkok from 1 to 5 November 1999.
2. The main objectives of the Meeting were (a) to review the implementation of the Agenda for Action on Social Development in the ESCAP Region (hereinafter referred to as the regional Social Development Agenda) in the context of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development; (b) to consider development trends and emerging challenges to full implementation of the regional Social Development Agenda; and (c) to formulate recommendations and the regional perspective for the global review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development by the General Assembly at its special session to be held in Geneva in June 2000.
3. The Meeting was attended by senior officials of the following ESCAP member countries: Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, France, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Nepal, Netherlands, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.
4. The following United Nations bodies, specialized agencies and related organizations were represented: United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, International Labour Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Health Organization and United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
5. The following intergovernmental organizations were represented: Asian Development Bank and Forum Secretariat.
6. The following non-governmental and other organizations were represented: International Council of Women, International Council on Social Welfare, International Movement ATD Fourth World, International Federation on Ageing, Muslim World League, World Veterans Federation, Baha'i International Community, Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements, Disabled People's International, International Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations for the Prevention of Drug and Substance Abuse, World Association for Small and Medium Enterprises and Asian Cultural Forum on Development.
II. OPENING OF THE MEETING
7. The Senior Officials' Meeting was opened by the Executive Secretary of ESCAP.
8. In his opening statement, the Executive Secretary pointed out that the Meeting was extremely important because its outcome would be presented to the General Assembly at its special session in 2000 to follow up the implementation of the Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development forged in Copenhagen in 1995. He said that the Meeting was expected not only to outline the region's perspective on social development but also to recommend courses of action that governments and the United Nations could carry out to accelerate progress and overcome constraints in social development in the region and in the world at large.
9. The Executive Secretary acknowledged the achievements of countries in the eradication of poverty, the expansion of employment opportunities and the fostering of social integration in their societies and lauded their unrelenting commitment to the full attainment of those national objectives. However, he also noted that those accomplishments had fallen far short of the targets. Poverty in the region remained profound and endemic; millions of people were still mired in poverty, with little access to health, education and other basic social services. Unemployment remained critical and the goals of social integration had mostly not been achieved.
10. As well as the existing problems, the Executive Secretary noted that new developments in the demographic, economic and political spheres of the world were looming on the horizon, with each having the capacity to affect social development prospects adversely unless they were addressed appropriately at policy and programme levels. He urged countries to incorporate responses to those challenges in their social development agenda.
11. He concluded by saying that, notwithstanding the difficult tasks in front of it, the Meeting must forge ahead, find ways to improve performance, strengthen social development programmes and overcome constraints because the people of the region were waiting for results which they hoped to enjoy in their lifetime.
III. ELECTION OF OFFICERS
12. The Meeting elected the following bureau:
Chairperson: HE Ms Felicidad L. Villareal, Undersecretary for Policy, Plans and Programmes, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippines
Vice-Chairpersons: Mr Li Shouxin, Deputy Director General, Department of Social Development, State Development Planning Commission, China
Mr Seyed Jafar Sadjadieh, Adviser to the Deputy Head for Social Affairs, Plan and Budget Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran
Rapporteur: Mr Hemaka Asiri Dayal Raymond Perera, Director/Registrar NGO Secretariat, Ministry of Social Services, Member, National Committee on Social Development, Ministry of Social Services, Sri Lanka
IV. ADOPTION OF THE AGENDA
13. The Meeting adopted the following agenda:
V. IMPLEMENTATION OF THE REGIONAL SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AGENDA: PROGRESS MADE AND CONSTRAINTS ENCOUNTERED
14. The Meeting had before it the following documents under agenda item 4:
Report of the Expert Group Meeting on the Agenda for Action on Social Development in the ESCAP Region, Bangkok, 25-27 May 1999 (SD/AASD/1)
Review of the progress made and constraints encountered in the implementation of the regional Social Development Agenda in the context of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development (SD/AASD/2)
Asia and the Pacific into the Twenty-first Century: Prospects for Social Development (ST/ESCAP/1887).
15. The delegations presented statements on the progress achieved and constraints encountered in the implementation in their respective countries of the regional Social Development Agenda in the context of the Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development. Prior to doing so, they noted important developments in the world at large that had had an impact on their national implementation efforts.
A. External developments and their impact on social development
16. The foremost international development noted by the Meeting was the financial crisis that had struck South-East Asia and North Asia beginning in mid-1997. The delegations from those countries most affected by the crisis noted the damage inflicted first on their economies and then on the social fabric of their countries, obliging their governments to launch counter-crisis measures. Those measures were added to those already in place to deal with the three core issues in the Agenda. Social safety net programmes designed not just for the direct victims of the crisis but also for the vulnerable groups in their societies were among the most important of the emergency measures launched.
17. Although countries from South Asia had been saved from the direct impact of the crisis, they had not been spared from the indirect consequences of the crisis, such as falling demand from the affected countries. That development had the effect of constraining even more the quantity of resources that the countries could bring to bear on the social development problems in their national communities.
18. Globalization in the Pacific subregion had the effect of inducing many of their well-trained people to migrate to the more developed neighbouring countries, producing people shortages in some critical areas of social development in their island countries.
B. Achievements on the three core issues
1. Poverty eradication
19. The representatives reported on the progress that their governments had made in fulfilling their commitments on poverty eradication, describing various programmes and interventions launched in that direction and citing various statistical indicators in the fields of health, nutrition, education, literacy and real incomes to document their statements. In a number of important areas, governments had even exceeded the targets set earlier, especially in the field of education.
20. However, poverty remained a critical problem in many countries of the region, and millions of their people were still in its grip. Poverty in those countries remained endemic and greater effort
and more substantial resources were necessary from all sectors to eradicate poverty fully. The Meeting stressed the need for the continuing commitment of governments to persist in anti-poverty work until the task had been completed.
2. Employment expansion
21. The Meeting noted that the region had a relatively lacklustre record in employment expansion. It was informed that, in general, as a result mainly of slow economic growth and rather rapid population growth, there had not been enough employment opportunities for workers. Some representatives of countries that, because of rapid economic development, were already hosting foreign workers in their societies by the mid-1990s remarked that their countries had had to lay off large numbers of workers, including their own nationals, after 1997 because of the financial crisis.
22. Many delegations reiterated their government's commitment to labour-using economic development, particularly through small and medium-sized enterprises, and reported various policy and programme support measures initiated by their governments for those enterprises. They reported various training programmes for skills development and upgrading to enhance the employability of their working populations. Others reported employment opportunities that they had been able to derive from increased participation in world trade and were optimistic that globalization, with appropriate measures to neutralize its adverse impact, would create more opportunities in the future.
3. Social integration
23. The Meeting was informed of progress achieved in expanding and protecting areas of human freedoms in many countries through the passage and enforcement of appropriate laws. Various measures had been introduced in those countries to establish "a society for all", in particular measures for breaking down social exclusion practices, including discrimination on the basis of age, sex, religion, ethnicity, and so forth. Many governments, conscious of the fact that their populations were largely in the rural areas, had initiated measures to give due regard and attention to the needs of vulnerable groups, including the rural poor, older persons, women, children and the young, and persons with disabilities.
24. Some representatives noted, however, that in some important instances progress in building peaceful communities had been slowed down and even brought to a halt by the persistence of internal strife. They indicated that the resolution of those internal conflicts remained on top of the social and political agenda of the countries in question.
25. Some representatives expressed their concern about such aspects of social integration as cultural deterioration and its impact on family, productivity and health.
C. Constraints on implementation
1. Policy planning and legal and institutional arrangements
26. The Meeting acknowledged the progress made by governments in strengthening policy planning and reinforcing legal and institutional arrangements for social development in their societies. Most governments had specifically brought non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into the process of policy-making for social development in order to put that process on a broad social basis; in some instances, they had also mobilized the participation and support of the private sector for specific social development projects. Most governments had enacted and implemented enabling laws and instrumentalities not only to carry out specific social development programmes but also to create an enabling environment for the private sector and other elements of civil society to make their contribution to the social development effort.
27. The Meeting acknowledged that most governments had also pursued policies for revitalizing economic growth and achieving an equitable distribution of the benefits of growth among social groups through the use of fiscal and budgetary policy, particularly in increasing the share of social development in budgetary allocations. Some governments had reached the 20 per cent target share in their budgets and a few others were approaching that target.
28. The Meeting agreed that all governments were committed to the improvement of governance. Most of the representatives reported on the efforts of their governments to improve transparency in decision-making, establish accountability among civil servants, facilitate decentralization of operations, accelerate internal capacity-building and, as already mentioned, broaden the base of policy-making. Most of the representatives also noted the initiatives of their governments to check graft and corruption within the state bureaucracy. While noting that progress had been achieved on all fronts, the Meeting agreed that much more needed to be done.
29. The representatives stressed that their governments were committed to continuously pushing forward to achieve the foregoing objectives. They were continuing with their efforts to strengthen their bureaucracies in their links with the people and in the performance of their duties and responsibilities.
3. Resource mobilization
30. The Meeting noted that all governments had striven to expand the resource base of social development and were continuing with their resource mobilization efforts. Towards that end, they had improved their tax-collecting machinery, had given local government units increased taxation powers as a part of the decentralization process, and had sought not only to increase the budget allocation for social development continuously but also to protect it from diminution in periods of revenue decline.
31. The Meeting noted that governments had not fully benefited from the 20 per cent share of social development in official development assistance (ODA) that had been agreed upon. It was informed that, although governments had received ODA for social development, the amounts received appeared to be far below target. The Meeting agreed that the developed countries should keep their commitments of ODA and that an increase in allocations for social development in ODA was needed.
VI. DEVELOPMENT TRENDS AND EMERGING CHALLENGES TO THE FULL IMPLEMENTATION OF THE REGIONAL SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AGENDA
32. Under agenda item 5, the Meeting had before it the document entitled "Development trends and emerging challenges to the full implementation of the regional Social Development Agenda" (SD/AASD/3).
33. The Meeting scrutinized development trends and emerging challenges on the international horizon that could impact on the implementation of the regional Social Development Agenda. In particular, it noted two major developments which had already started: the eruption of the financial crisis and the intensification of globalization in the region. The Meeting drew some implications of those challenges for the region's social development strategy and outlined some of the important initiatives that needed to be launched in order to respond to them.
34. The Meeting agreed that those international developments necessitated a refocusing of strategy, even a complete paradigm shift. It recognized the need for a clarification of the meaning of social development so that social development programmes could be more sharply focused, and a clear identification of its targets so that social services could be delivered more efficiently to them. The recent financial crisis had highlighted that need because it struck both target and non-target groups. At the same time, it recognized that the current trend towards increased globalization was resulting in industrial restructuring and, in the immediate context, in employment dislocation.
35. The Meeting pointed to the need to put in place social protection systems and social safety nets for victims of crises, in particular for members of vulnerable sectors. It urged the expansion of coverage of both long-term and short-term social protection systems in the countries of the region and the improvement in the administration of those systems.
36. The Meeting observed that crises had two major effects: an increase in the breadth and depth of the problem on the one hand and the diminution of the resources that could be mobilized by governments to deal with the problem on the other. In confronting crises, it was agreed that the social development agenda must address those two issues.
37. The Meeting, conscious of the fact that most of the people of countries in the region were in agricultural areas, underscored employment generation as a major approach to the goals of social development. The centrality of education for the promotion of employment was stressed. Education improved the various dimensions of individual development and enhanced the ability of human beings to overcome poverty, to participate fruitfully in the activities of the society in which they lived, and to find gainful employment. In respect of employment particularly, the Meeting acknowledged that education increased the productivity of workers and thus enhanced their employability. That was true at the level of the informal sector and small and medium-sized enterprises but was even more compelling at the international level where firms large and small operated in a highly competitive international marketplace. At the global level, the education of workers in the ways and methods of modern science and technology was indispensable to the development of competitiveness.
38. The Meeting noted that education must be interpreted in its broad sense, that is, to include training in specific tasks and specializations. It was through training that workers were able to develop and upgrade skills. In that context, the contribution of some donor countries to the training of workers and staff from developing countries was deeply appreciated. The Meeting called for an expansion of those training programmes.
39. Because social development involved action on many fronts, it was inevitable that social development programmes were scattered among a wide array of agencies and instrumentalities and social development measures tended to become diffused and uncoordinated. The Meeting indicated that the situation needed to be redressed. It consequently called for the improvement of coordination and monitoring, the intensification of convergence of programmes, and the acceleration of decentralization. It noted, in that connection, the indispensability of national focal points and the extreme need for social development management information systems to promote information exchanges among government agencies. It also underscored the need for statistical indicators reflecting the conditions of specific target groups. Decentralization made social development decision-making and implementation that much closer to intended targets.
40. The Meeting called for close adherence by both recipient and donor countries to the 20/20 initiative not only to compensate for declines in resources arising from crises but also to ensure the sustainability of social development programmes. It also stressed the need for efforts to find new and additional sources of funds for social development purposes.
41. The Meeting expressed appreciation for the contributions made by organizations of the United Nations system towards the implementation of the regional Social Development Agenda through programmes of assistance in the fields of food security and safety, health, education, employment, environment and industrial development, among others. It also acknowledged with appreciation the support of the multilateral financial institutions, particularly the lone intergovernmental bank in the region.
VII. REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE GLOBAL REVIEW OF THE FOLLOW-UP TO THE WORLD SUMMIT FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN 2000
42. Under agenda item 6, the Meeting had before it the document entitled "Regional perspective and possible recommendations for the global review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development" (SD/AASD/4).
43. After careful deliberation, the Meeting approved a revised version entitled "Regional perspective and recommendations for the global review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development" (see annex).
44. The Meeting requested ESCAP to ensure the transmission, through appropriate channels, of its perspective and recommendations to the General Assembly, to monitor compliance with the 20/20 initiative closely, and to pursue any other initiative that would contribute to the full implementation of the regional Social Development Agenda in the countries of the region within the target dates that the countries had set in 1995.
VIII. OTHER MATTERS
45. An informal panel discussion was held with the active participation of representatives of governments, specialized agencies, other international organizations and NGOs on key issues and constraints on the implementation of the Social Development Agenda in the region.
46. The Meeting expressed concern at the low attendance of ESCAP members and associate members.
47. The Meeting welcomed the Director of the Social Development Division and extended best wishes and support to him in his role as the team leader to promote social development in the ESCAP region.
IX. ADOPTION OF THE REPORT
48. The Meeting adopted its report on 5 November 1999.
REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE GLOBAL REVIEW OF THE FOLLOW-UP TO THE WORLD SUMMIT FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN 2000
I. REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE
1. As they stand on the threshold of the third millennium, the governments of the ESCAP region reaffirm their determination to carry out fully the commitments that they made in the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development in 1995, namely, to eradicate poverty, generate employment expansion and promote social integration in their national communities. Until 1997, they had made substantial advances in lifting affected peoples in their countries out of poverty, giving them opportunities for employment, and reducing levels of social exclusion in their communities. However, they are fully aware that unfulfilled tasks remain daunting, because large numbers of people in their countries are still mired in poverty, unemployment remains a critical problem, and the goals of social integration stand mostly unachieved.
2. The governments note that developments in the international environment have affected the extent and speed of their social development work. The financial crisis that struck many countries in the Asian and Pacific region beginning in mid-1997 set back social development, particularly in East and South-East Asia, throwing thousands of workers out of employment, reducing their incomes, intensifying poverty, and at the same time severely diminishing the quantity of resources available to governments for counteracting the adverse consequences of the crisis. Not all countries in the region were affected to the same extent but even those spared from direct impact suffered as a result of a volatility of capital flows and the resultant economic slowdown. The intensification of the pace of globalization continued to expose the economies of the countries concerned to intense international competition, necessitating industrywide restructuring, resulting in the inevitable shifting of employment patterns in the economies. While the trend created new jobs, it also destroyed existing ones as the industries shed workers to improve competitiveness. This added to the magnitude of the unemployment problem in affected countries. The region also experienced a slowdown in the progress of social development programmes and projects, including those relating to health, education, family, environment and disaster management.
3. The governments of the region are firm in their resolve to address the problems posed by these developments and to incorporate in their social development agenda other challenges that may arise from the international environment in the days ahead. The governments commit themselves anew to the tasks of social development remaining in front of them. They are ready to accelerate social development in their countries with greater determination and vigour.
4. To ensure the attainment of the targets of social development that they have set for themselves, modified in the light of prospective developments in the various fields of human endeavour in the rest of the world, the governments recognize the need to mobilize their own resources and seek the cooperation and support of the international community. They therefore need to carry out actions at their own national level and at the international level. These actions are outlined below.
A. At the national level
(1) Governance should continue to be strengthened, including in particular the improvement of transparency in decision-making, the establishment of accountability among civil servants and the eradication of graft and corruption in the state bureaucracy.
(2) The decentralization process should be accelerated, including the decentralization of the administration of justice and financial functions, to the lowest levels of government.
(3) Partnerships should continue to be strengthened between government and civil society, including the private sector, non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, universities and research institutions, and other stakeholders to maximize their contributions to the attainment of social development objectives.
(4) Recognition should be deepened that the task of eradicating poverty is not the responsibility of governments alone but is shared by all sectors in the economy and society.
(5) Support should be increased for employment generation in small and medium-sized enterprises, micro- and home-based enterprises and cooperatives in terms of restructuring technological upgrading and increasing competitiveness through institutional support; human resource development; knowledge and information; business development services; as well as collective efficiency of small and medium-sized enterprises through clusters, networking and partnerships.
(6) Income should be generated and social integration stimulated for a large part of the rural population, particularly the poor, including women, through the strengthening of linkages between industry and agriculture and improving agricultural productivity to ensure food security and safety.
(7) Capacity-building should be accelerated at all levels, from high government bureaucracies to those at the local level, from non-governmental organizations to community-based organizations, from trade unions to professional groups, to make social development a self-sustaining process.
(8) Society should be prepared to derive maximum benefit from advances in information and communications technology and to safeguard itself against unwelcome influences coming through this technology without impairing human rights and freedoms.
(9) The media should be encouraged to play a more active role in the production, dissemination and use of information on social development.
(10) Social services should be carefully planned and provided to take into account changing family circumstances, gender equality and changing responsibilities of women and men, mass migration and displacement of people, and shifts in population age structure, including the increase in the proportion of the elderly.
(11) Gender mainstreaming activities should continue to be enhanced in national development to achieve gender equity and equality.
(12) Documentation of social development work should be improved, including particularly the collection and systematic compilation of necessary social statistics and indicators.
(13) Monitoring and evaluation systems should be established for all policy interventions, including systems in which the target beneficiaries themselves assist in carrying out the monitoring and evaluation work.
(14) With the advent of globalization and the exposure of countries to its debilitating as well as energizing impacts, a social fund should be established that would provide income support for the poor to prevent them from sliding into even deeper poverty during transitions and emergencies.
(15) Support should be extended to the informal sector, including possibly unemployment assistance such as microcredit and public works, as well as education and training schemes, for the purpose of ensuring social protection for the poor in the event of a crisis.
B. At the international level
(16) Technical assistance should be provided towards improving understanding of the social impacts of, and identifying the appropriate social policy and programme responses to, financial crises.
(17) The effectiveness of international institutions in adapting to the new social challenges should be increased through relevant measures for improving the international financial architecture so as to prevent the recurrence of financial crises.
(18) Technical assistance should be provided for the establishment, operation and strengthening of social protection systems, including unemployment assistance, education and training and protection schemes for the informal sector.
(19) Medical and financial support should be extended to countries to fight the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome and other communicable diseases.
(20) Progress in the attainment of the quantitative targets in the various social fields set up by the countries in the Agenda for Action on Social Development in the ESCAP Region and at the World Summit for Social Development should be monitored continuously.
(21) Technical assistance should be provided in conducting social assessments in linking social policies with economic policies to ensure the simultaneous achievement of social and economic goals, including the incorporation of social concerns in loans and in structural adjustment programmes.
(22) Policy advice should be provided in strengthening the capabilities of the productive sectors of the economy, in industry, both formal and informal, and in agriculture, to contribute to social development.
(23) Technical assistance should be provided for the strengthening of procedures and institutions for social dialogue, including procedures for encouraging participation and growth of independent non-governmental organizations.
(24) Social development indicators should be developed and standardized.
(25) Cooperation should be strengthened between countries of origin and receiving countries in the employment of migrant workers to ensure maximum benefit to both origin and receiving countries and adequate social protection for individual temporary labour migrants.
(26) Efforts should be strengthened to reverse the current decline in official development assistance and reach the agreed international targets for such assistance.
(27) The debts of the heavily indebted low income countries should be substantially reduced and resources channelled for social development purposes.
(28) Regional and international cooperation and coordination should be strengthened in dealing with issues on drug trafficking, trafficking of women and children, refugees and displaced persons, transnational organized crime and environmental problems.
(29) Preferential interest rates should be provided for social development projects.
(30) Social development concerns should be mainstreamed in programming and evaluating official development assistance.
(31) Regional and subregional efforts should be encouraged and strengthened such as those by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in pursuing the goals of social development.