Based on the above concept, the Minimum Common Programme aims to synergize efforts for the realization of the following goals and elements:
A. Environmental and natural resources management
There is growing recognition that continuing environmental degradation in developing countries of the Asian and Pacific region is brought about not so much by the lack of political will as by the rapid rate at which natural resources are being depleted in these countries. Environmental problems in the region can be classified into two broad categories: (a) those resulting from poverty, hunger and underdevelopment, and (b) those arising from the very negative effects of development.
The report State of the Environment in Asia and the Pacific 2000, published by ESCAP, strikes a sombre note on environmental degradation in eroded croplands, falling water tables, declining forests and biodiversity, and increased pollution. It notes that the principal environmental challenges in the twenty-first century are promoting economic and social growth while safeguarding natural resources; promoting eco-efficiency; countering the negative effects of globalization; and enhancing public participation while empowering communities to become custodians of the environment. As noted in Agenda 21, which was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, these objectives are critically dependent on the possession of objective and sufficient environment information. In the absence of reliable data, planning and foresight will be defective in the development process and this will exacerbate the degradation of the environment.
Issues related to the environment cut across geographical barriers and transcend national boundaries. The vantage point of space makes it practical to employ Earth-observation technologies on a wide scale to obtain a synoptic view of the dynamics of environmental and natural resource conditions over a wide area. By facilitating improved information infrastructure (such as topographical and thematic maps), Earth-observation technology also makes possible better resource management decisions.
Space technology applications address the primary development objective, poverty alleviation, in several ways. The rapid development of Internet-based information services will create great opportunities for the rural poor to realize their right to learn and to access knowledge. In rural areas, and even in urban areas, space technology, when appropriately applied, can improve essential infrastructure such as information and communications. This magnifies the opportunities for small medium-sized enterprises, which would otherwise not be able to market their products competitively. Poor health services are a direct contributor to poverty, as they reduce the ability of individuals to earn a living and to sustain a family. Space technology can improve the delivery of health services to isolated areas through telemedicine, allowing specialists who are far away to diagnose and treat illness even from a distant urban centre.
Earth-observation data from satellites can help agronomists and farmers choose better irrigation, planting, fertilization and cropping strategies, and can also provide guidance on regional or global production estimates, thus helping producers to determine the best marketing and pricing approach. Improved statistical data, utilizing remote sensing and GIS techniques, can better establish the relationship between environment and poverty, helping to guide development and poverty alleviation policies. This approach to "poverty mapping" has been employed by the World Bank and by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ecuador, Mexico and Viet Nam, enabling governments to target the beneficiaries of development programmes more objectively. Poverty maps, when integrated with environment, land and water resource data generated through remote sensing and GIS, enable governments to target beneficiaries of development programmes more effectively. The above approach is expected to improve the cost-effectiveness of programmes launched to alleviate poverty and food insecurity, by appropriately empowering the rural poor.
Many countries in the Asian and Pacific region suffer from damage brought about by natural disasters. In developed countries and in some developing countries with a strong space technology base, satellite observations form the core of early warning and emergency management systems, helping to prevent and reduce loss of life and property. However, in many other countries, particularly least developed countries and island developing countries, these methods are absent or rudimentary: this further increases the vulnerability of their populations to chronic or transitory poverty. Improved disaster management systems serve as a social safety net which helps the poor and disadvantaged. Acknowledging the increasing vulnerability of countries to natural disasters, various programmes by international and regional organizations have worked towards creating "a global culture of prevention". The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction proved to be a great success in establishing an international cooperative framework for disaster reduction. ESCAP has coordinated regional efforts to implement General Assembly resolutions related to the Decade, even as it recognizes disaster prevention as an integral component of sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific. In most of these efforts, science and technology are seen to contribute to the disaster reduction process in particular, through the operation of integrated warning systems and the enhancement of disaster management.
The phenomenal growth in global food production in the last 50 years has been dampened by the ever-increasing population, which has continually exerted extra pressure on the world's food production. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that the Asian and Pacific region has the highest food production, but that the incidence of malnutrition is also highest in the region. The region's 3.6 billion population, comprising 60 per cent of the global population, demands much attention, not only from governments but from regional and international organizations as well. In particular, developing countries are faced with the challenges of improving their agricultural systems and sustaining a level of food security that can keep pace with the increasing rates of population growth.
An integrated land and water resources management strategy supports such goals through the use of remote sensing and GIS. Increased productivity through the effective use of appropriate technology allows the generation of surplus food crops and other agricultural, silvicultural and horticultural products, which can be marketed. This helps to alleviate poverty, offset national balance-of-payments deficits and avoid social problems by sustaining rural communities. This approach also helps to equip developing countries to better manage the impact of globalization, especially in relation to improving the national balance of payments.
Countries in the region are endowed with varying amounts of resources, and they have unequal capacity and different levels of technological development, besides having different national agenda and priorities. Although the region contains some of the world's most highly advanced economies, it is also home to 13 of its least developed countries. It is also acknowledged that governments must invest significantly in human resources and infrastructure development in order to upgrade their capacity for engaging in space activities on a more comprehensive scale. Programmes aimed at enhancing national capacity should therefore take these differences into consideration, while encouraging the sharing and pooling of resources. The use of existing infrastructure and institutional facilities should likewise be coordinated in order to improve the access of developing countries to up-to-date operational technology at minimum cost.
It is important that the benefits from space technology not remain only in the R and D domain or only in the realm of those who can afford it. Space technology should be well integrated into national development plans and applications that are developed in such mode and scope that the benefits will reach the grass roots. The increased technological skills flowing from the endogenous development of space technology can help generate new value-adding industries and provide wealth-creating opportunities and jobs in the community.
Appropriately trained personnel are vital for national development. In this age of globalization, they are important elements for international competitiveness in the global economy, so much so that both developed and developing countries devote a great deal of attention to the development and management of their human resources. It is recognized, however, that investments, expenditure and efforts to upgrade human capabilities are extremely large; it is imperative that means and mechanisms for enhancing human resource capabilities be sought and implemented with less financial burden and constraints.
In the Asian and Pacific region, there are two major concerns about human resources as they relate to space technology development and applications. The first is the lack of a "critical mass" of trained personnel and professionals who are able to implement and sustain programmes to which space technology applications could make a substantial contribution. The introduction of new space technologies in the region will require the training of a large number of people in the use of these technologies. Along this line, cooperation between private industry and academia is crucial to establishing an environment conducive to fruitful research, technology transfer and education opportunities. The significant step taken by the United Nations in cooperation with the Government of India in establishing the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education is a move towards addressing some of the above issues.
The second area of concern regards how space technology applications per se can be optimally used to benefit and empower the majority of the 3.6 billion persons in the region. In this context, education includes further education, that is, on-the-job training, professional development, and the acquisition of new job skills, perhaps by disadvantaged groups, including farmers, women, the disabled and post-school-age students. A number of exciting recent developments in satellite communication technology, and in regional distance education infrastructure, mean that distance education by satellite has become a premier means of teacher in-service training and for delivering rural extension services in some countries. Increased educational and training opportunities in rural areas help reduce the pressure for transmigration and the attendant social problems.
ESCAP reports that many people in the region suffer from poor health as a result of economic and social conditions, including customary attitudes, harmful traditional practices and low education. There is evidence of close interrelationships among environmental elements, changes in ecological systems, and human health. In general, it is recognized that poor health is often caused by the lack of a healthy environment (poor water quality, air pollution), inadequate health services, and the absence of information, awareness and support systems that promote healthy behaviour patterns in everyday life. Inadequate hygiene and health care increase the risk of becoming or remaining poor. A significant issue in hygiene and health is the lack of adequate water for drinking and sanitation, an issue highlighted in the World Day for Water 2001. About one third of the people in the Asian and Pacific region do not have ready access to clean water. Satellite observations have been effectively used to select areas suitable for water-drilling. This technique has dramatically increased the success rate of the expensive drilling, helping to reduce cost and time required to bring potable groundwater into use.
Concerted efforts are being made on a global scale to use space science and technology to improve human health throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the HealthMap Programme to promote and implement the use of mapping and GIS as operational tools for planning, monitoring and managing public health programmes. In addition, WHO is promoting the use of GIS, the Global Positioning System (GPS) and remote sensing in its disease surveillance programmes and in planning emergency responses to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. Such programmes were further articulated at the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, held in Vienna in 1999, which recommended that programmes at the regional level should be established to prevent the re-emergence of diseases. It concluded that the use of remote sensing and GIS could help prevent infectious diseases, particularly in developing countries.
The Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) of 1992 provided an impetus to the development planning activities of countries around the world. Since the Summit, countries have gradually developed their national versions of Agenda 21 for a comprehensive and integrated approach to development anchored on the premise of sustainability: that environment and development can go hand in hand. Development is seen to be sustainable if it meets the following two requisites: (a) it improves the quality of human life, and (b) it conserves the Earth's vitality and diversity. In the region, countries agree that sustained efforts are needed in protecting the environment and conserving both renewable and non-renewable resources. Concerted action from various stakeholders and sectors of society are vital in optimizing the resources and ensuring their efficient distribution to meet the basic requirements of the region's population and growing industries. Agenda 21 noted the important role that new technologies must play in the acquisition and analysis of objective information about the environment and natural resources.
For more than two decades, countries of the region have used space technology applications to study their natural resources, map their extent and distribution and manage their exploitation. Space-based technologies contribute to more robust and objective decision-making about sustainable development policies at the national level. In turn, this helps developing countries to take more effective action in poverty alleviation and in avoiding or mitigating social problems. A better information base is an essential component of the efforts of developing countries to improve their position in the face of the challenges of globalization. The continuing challenge is to integrate space technology applications into various stages of sustainable development planning activities.
The Minimum Common Programme views the overall development process in the light of the whole concept of sustainability, which in itself is anchored on the premise that the environment and development can go hand in hand. In consideration of the above goals, the projects that comprise the Programme are intended to support the pursuit of economic growth that improves the welfare of people as ultimate beneficiaries, without causing deterioration to or depletion of the resource base that underpins development. At once, one can see the emergence of four critical interacting dimensions of sustainable development, which a report of the World Resources Institute categorizes as (a) economic, (b) human, (c) environmental and (d) technological.
Economic dimensions include optimizing the consumption of natural resources, such as forest, land and water, by industrialized countries and minimum depletion of non-renewable resources. To a certain extent, these also include putting a price on the negative and adverse impacts of resource consumption or the environmental degradation and pollution caused by such activity. Economic dimensions may also include minimizing destruction or loss of life and property in disasters. Information infrastructure and services using space technology applications that are affordable and sustainable to developing countries in the region may also be considered part of the economic dimension.
Human dimensions relate to the commitment of resources to improve living standards in poor and underdeveloped countries, reducing the disparities, and providing improved health care and education to vulnerable groups, such as women and people with disabilities. Controlling the migration of population to urban areas, raising the capacity of the urban and rural population, and protecting the cultural and ethnic diversity of human beings are also a part of this concept.
Environmental dimensions generally comprise mitigating the negative impact of increased population pressure and human activities on the environment and natural resources. This category also includes arresting soil loss and land degradation, enhancing food production without overuse of chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides, ensuring the availability of surface and groundwater for drinking and irrigation, and maintaining the biodiversity of plant and animal life. Reducing air, land and water pollution while maintaining the productivity of associated resources, as well as regulating the indiscriminate conversion of lands, also come under this category.
Technological dimensions relate to the use of environment friendly technologies and processes, enhancing energy efficiency and promoting the use of renewable sources of fuel and energy, and awareness of affordable information and communication infrastructure and services based on space and information technology. The creation of resource databases using Earth observation and spatial information systems to support informed decision-making for sustainable development, and the use of advanced technologies, such as satellite communications and information technology for information generation and dissemination, also come under this category. Technological dimensions also relate to establishing affordable systems for environmental monitoring, disaster warning, tele-education and telemedicine.
These four dimensions of sustainable development clearly incorporate the eight goals discussed earlier and unify them into a cohesive, interrelated set of common denominator projects that are to be carried out to support the implementation of the Minimum Common Programme.