Asia-Pacific leaders reaffirm priority for social protection amidst crises

Government leaders and policymakers from 60 Asia-Pacific nations assembled in Bangkok today pledging to protect the poor and vulnerable from the aftershocks of financial and natural crises and secure for them the benefits of the region’s dynamic economic growth. The Prime Ministers of Thailand and Bhutan, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia joined government ministers and representatives from the region at the 67th annual Session of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), convened to help formulate a policy agenda to promote sustainable and inclusive development for the region. “Despite the economic rebound of today, we cannot take our overall development for granted,” Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary told the start of the Ministerial Segment of the Commission Session. “The region’s new economic growth, our growing urbanization, and the continuing migration of people, within our countries and across our sub regions, requires a new commitment by our governments to institute social protections to secure the benefits of economic growth for all the people of the Asia-Pacific region.”

In beginning his keynote address, the Prime Minister of Bhutan H.E. Mr. Jigme Thinley endorsed the theme of the Commission which looks at “Beyond the Crises: Long-term perspectives on social protection and development in Asia and the Pacific.”

“It must mean that in facing the challenges of adaption as well as mitigation, we are desirous of understanding the causes or the triggers of the crises and how their impact and possibly, their frequency, may be reduced as opposed to accepting them as phenomena beyond our control.”

Continuing along this theme, Thai Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva asserted in his inaugural address that while crises may differ in nature, their ability to slow down the pace of development represented a common thread. Furthermore, the impact of crises would continue to leave people suffering from abject poverty, diseases and health problems.

“Be that as it may, I believe that crises can be abated if we have prepared ourselves well in advance so that our people can be better equipped and enjoy social protection against the uncertainties that may come in the future.” Touching on another key topic of the Commission, that of landlocked developing countries, the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia, H.E. Mr. Miyegombo Enkhbold reported to the Commission on the recently concluded Ulaanbaatar Declaration that highlights and analyses the challenges faced in advancing development in the region.

Against the backdrop of the pressing need for more comprehensive social protection coverage in Asia-Pacific developing countries as an investment in future economic growth, the ESCAP chief urged countries in the region to work together and invest in regional economic growth through increased intra-regional trade and improved connectivity between countries. “These are the straight forward steps necessary to sustain the present economic rebound,” said Dr. Heyzer. “But we can go beyond that as well, Asia Pacific can shape the forces of the economic recovery by investing in its people, its human capital, by strengthening the social dimension of our extraordinary growth and implementing social protections as a mainstay of national development.” Government decision makers attending the 23 to 25 May Ministerial Segment are reviewing policy recommendations formulated during the preparatory Senior Officials’ Meeting held from 19 to 21 May.

Other issues covered during the Commission include the social, economic and environmental impact of high food and fuel prices, volatile capital flows, natural disasters and climate change, as well as bridging development gaps for the poorest and most vulnerable Asia-Pacific nations.

ESCAP, founded in 1947, is the regional development arm of the United Nations in Asia and the Pacific, representing more than 60 percent of the world's population.