The United Nations has five regional commissions that perform the critical function of bridging the gap between the UN headquarters in New York and the UN program delivery at the country level. The UN regional commissions perform the missing-link regional functions in order to remedy a traditional yet still challenging weakness in the UN, that is regional integration for social and economic development. However, the UN regional commissions have many challenges of their own; funding, coherence and coordination are among these challenges. We will review these challenges after a brief overview of the five regional commissions.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) supervises the five UN Regional Commissions:
- United Nations Economic Commission for Africa – www.uneca.org – ECA is mandated to promote the economic and social development of its member States, foster intra-regional integration, promote international cooperation for Africa’s development, promote regional integration in support of the African Union vision and priorities, while meeting Africa’s special needs and emerging global challenges. ECA was established in 1958, it consists of 53 member States, it is located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – www.unece.org – ECE aims is to promote pan-European economic integration, to provide analysis, policy advice and assistance to governments, to give focus to the United Nations global mandates in the economic field, in cooperation with other global players and key stakeholders, notably the business community. ECE also sets out norms, standards and conventions to facilitate international cooperation within and outside the region. ECE was established in 1947, it consists of 56 member States, it is located in Geneva, Switzerland.
- Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean – www.eclac.org – ECLAC focuses on contributing to the economic development of Latin America, coordinating actions directed towards this end, and reinforcing economic ties among its countries and with other nations of the world. The promotion of the region’s social development was later included among its primary objectives. ECLAC was established in 1948, it consists of 44 member States, it is located in Santiago, Chile.
- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific – www.unescap.org – ESCAP is the regional development arm of the United Nations for the Asia-Pacific region. It focuses on issues of economic and social development that are most effectively addressed through regional cooperation. ESCAP was established in 1947, it consists of 62 member States, it is located in Bangkok, Thailand.
- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia – www.escwa.un.org – ESCWA is mandated is to fulfill the economic and social goals set out in the United Nations Charter by promoting cooperation and integration between the countries in the region, to support economic and social development in the countries of the region and to ensure interaction between Western Asia and other regions of the world. ESCWA was established in 1973, it consists of 13 member States, it is located in Beirut, Lebanon.
Funding is one of the major challenges of the UN regional commissions. As an example, we will compare funding of the newest UN regional commission (ESCWA) with the funding of a medium size UN organization (UNFPA). UN Mismanagement, UN OIOS Inaction and UN Broken Justice. For more on UNFPA’s support of abortion, please see our post UN Abortion Policies., an average of $33.6 million per year. That is 0.05% (less than 1%) of other UN organizations such as , an average of $631.5 million per year. A significant portion of UNFPA’s budget goes to support abortion programs and another significant portion of UNFPA’s budget is wasted due to UNFPA top management abusive and corrupt practices. For more on UNFPA mismanagement, waste and abuse, please see our posts
With the capable leadership of Ambassador Tallawy, and despite the severely limited budget, ESCWA was successfully able to deliver its programs under very difficult regional circumstance in a politically charged and war torn region. Among the flagship successes of ESCWA is the Integrated Social Policies initiative, with the significant contributions of one of the world’s leading sociologists, Professor Nagi. For more on this leading program, please see our post UN Social Policies. ESCWA was also successful on many other fronts, including:
- Sustainable management of natural resources (water/Energy)
- Technology, especially Information and communication technology
- Productivity and competitiveness of small and medium enterprises
- Post-conflict recovery, rehabilitation and development
- Regional integration/trade, transport and finance
- Population and Social Development
- Economic analysis and forecasting
- Advancement of women
The above mentioned funding discrepancies are completely inexplicable. For every $19 UNFPA receives, ESCWA receives $1 (19 to 1 ratio). The UN must review its funding priorities and must provide the regional commissions with sufficient funding in order to function effectively, to be better equipped and more able to deliver on its mandate.
The five UN regional commissions include 2 economic and social commissions (ESCAP and ESCWA) and 3 economic commissions (ECA, ECE, and ECLAC ), which gives the false impression that social development is not important in Africa, Europe or Latin America; wrongly implying that economic development is the sole objective of these 3 commissions. In fact, social development is more significant than just economic development in Africa, Europe and Latin America, therefore, just having a department in these commissions for social development is not enough. All 5 UN regional commissions should be Economic and Social Commissions as the ultimate goal of development is an all encompassing social goal, that is to enhance people’s life and well being in all aspects including health, education, income, peace, security, justice and human rights; not just merely economic development.
One of the five UN regional commissions does not mention the UN in its name; that is the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC) which leads the observer to wonder as to the reason behind this inconsistency, that is again confirmed in ECLAC’s website domain name: www.eclac.org which also omits mentioning the UN. Incidentally, out of all the 5 UN regional commissions websites, ECLAC’s is the only website that opens in Spanish, the other 4 websites open in English, including ESCWA’s whose main target audience are Arabic speaking, yet their main website is in English, with an available Arabic translation. It should be mentioned that the UN official languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. As to ESCWA, there is another peculiarity in the website domain name: www.escwa.un.org which includes a mention of the UN but after ESCWA and uses a domain name structure similar to small offices of the UN Secretariat such as the UN online jobs system www.jobs.un.org which is part of the UN Office of Human Resources Management.
Membership in some of the UN regional commissions is another peculiarity; for example the membership of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) includes USA, UK and France; none of these 3 countries is in the Asia Pacific region. The membership of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) includes Israel which is not in the European region. The membership of the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC) includes USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Japan and Republic of Korea; none of these countries is located in the Latin America Caribbean region. These membership patterns defy any geographical explanation.
Coordination between the UN regional commissions and the rest of the UN organizations should be reviewed and enhanced to reduce or remove duplication, redundancy and to ensure the efficient and effective use of the limited financial resources available to the UN regional commissions. For example, all the UN specialized organizations such as UNICEF, WHO and UNDP have regional and sub-regional offices in the same geographic regions of the UN regional commissions. Many of these regional and sub-regional offices carry out similar programs as the UN regional commissions, it would make good sense financially and programmatically to entrust the UN regional commissions to monitor and coordinate the regional work of the other UN organizations (programs and funds) as well as the rest of the UN activities in the regional commissions respective regions to ensure effectiveness, efficiency and to reduce waste and duplication at the same time to help the UN be more coherent, better coordinated and better able to deliver its programs while speaking in one voice at the regional level. The budgets of the UN regional commissions should be further augmented in order to perform the additional functions of the UN regional monitoring and coordination.
M. Alaadin A. Morsy
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