South and South-West Asia coming together can hold up the world, economists and policymakers tell United Nations panel

A united South and South-West Asia, committed to inclusive and sustainable growth can help a world grappling with the economic downturn and multiple development challenges, a leading global development economist told a high-level subregional policymakers’ forum here.

“We have only one planet and it is in a dire state. We are wrecking it, causing unbelievable damage at an unprecedented pace. The three pillars of economic development, social inclusion and sustainability need to be combined,” noted Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute, Columbia University, addressing the High-level Policy Dialogue on Regional Cooperation and Inclusive Development in South and South-West Asia here last week.

“This is absolutely vital, including for the poor… Here is an extraordinarily crowded part of the world, which is grappling with many issues. A lot of the drama is taking place in the subregion. I really hope it can pull itself together. It can only succeed as one,” he added, citing issues such as extreme poverty, maternal and child mortality, basic sanitation, gender equality and an unmet need for contraception.

Professor Sachs was the keynote speaker at a session on “MDGs and Inclusive and Sustainable Development: Development Agenda for 2015 and beyond - A South Asian Perspective” during the Policy Dialogue organized by the New Delhi-based South and South-West Asia Office of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Addressing the session, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer said: “South and South-West Asia is where the drama is unfolding indeed and where history is being made. You need to make it work here for the people, mobilizing them to get the future we want.”

Challenging countries in the subregion to think big for the final push towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Dr. Heyzer underscored that new drivers of growth had to be found to address entrenched inequality and extreme poverty, while preserving the environment.

Discussing the new development paradigm beyond 2015, Prof. Sachs underscored the need for goals that are universal and aspirational.

“Each country faces its own trauma and set of issues in the pursuit of the MDGs, the development agenda is mostly set elsewhere but most of the issues are glaringly exposed here,” H.E. Dr. Syeda Hameed, Member of the Planning Commission, Government of India told the session, underscoring the importance of giving voice to the voiceless, including women and indigenous populations.

“South and South-West Asia needs to learn from its successes and failures. The subregion coming together is what could hold up the rest of the world,” Dr. Hameed said.

Dr. Hafiz Pasha, former Finance Minister of Pakistan and former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations too urged the subregion to be more self-reliant. “In a transformed development landscape, with developed countries falling short in their aid contribution target, the time has come to focus on regional economic integration,” he said.

Mr. Karma Tshiteem, Secretary, Gross National Happiness Commission, Bhutan, drew the participants’ attention to other dimensions of well-being, including leading a purposeful life and balancing the mind, body and soul: “A holistic approach of development is critical and only this will help ensure we accomplish what is needed and what people ultimately care about.”