The five regional commissions—serving Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Western Asia—have been established by the Economic and Social Council in recognition of the fact that many economic and social problems are best approached at the regional level. The commissions work to raise the level of economic and social development activity in their respective regions, as well as to maintain and strengthen relations among countries within and outside regions. All actions taken by the commissions are intended to fit within the framework of overall UN economic and social policies. The commissions also are empowered, with the agreement of the governments concerned, to make recommendations directly to member governments and to the specialized agencies.
The commissions are subsidiary organs of the Economic and Social Council, to which they report annually. The secretariats of the commissions—each headed by an executive secretary with the rank of undersecretary-general—are integral parts of the UN staff, and their budgets form part of the regular UN budget.
An important part of the work of all the regional commissions is the preparation of regional studies and surveys, particularly annual economic and social surveys that are published at the headquarters of each commission. Supplementing these are bulletins and periodicals covering a wide range of subjects—such as agriculture, population, transportation and communications, energy, industry, and housing and construction—that are widely used as sources of information by governments, business and industry, educational institutions, other UN organs, and the press.
In the early 1990s, under pressure from both developing and industrialized countries to reform and rationalize the scattered development activities of the United Nations system, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali proposed that the activities of all United Nations organs be coordinated. In December 1992, the General Assembly adopted his proposal with its historic Resolution A/47/199 that stressed the need for development activities to "be streamlined and rationalized, especially in the interrelated areas of programming, execution, decentralization, monitoring and evaluation, thus making the UN system more relevant and responsive to the national plans, priorities and objectives of developing countries, and more efficient in its delivery systems." Under this plan, many of the functions carried out by various committees and boards of the specialized agencies and UN funds were transferred away from headquarters (in New York, or, in the case of the specialized agencies, Geneva or Vienna), to the regional commissions (headquartered in major cities of each region) and the office of the UNDP resident coordinator in the specific countries that were to be served by development programs. As this strategy developed, the role of the regional commissions became more and more central to the work of the United Nations system.
The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), with headquarters in Geneva, was established in 1947 to help mobilize concerted action for the economic reconstruction of postwar Europe and to increase European economic activity among countries both within and outside the region. To these goals was added that of providing governments with economic, technological, and statistical information. Begun as an experiment at a time when severe postwar shortages of some commodities and surpluses of others made economic cooperation in Europe a necessity, ECE soon became the only multilateral forum to deal with cooperation between Eastern and Western Europe. The ECE provides a systematic means of intergovernmental cooperation among the countries of Europe, the United States, Canada, Israel, and the republics of the former Soviet Union.
ECE priority objectives include the development of trade, scientific and technical cooperation, improvement of the environment, and long-term planning and projections as a basis for formulation of economic policy. Through meetings of policy-makers and experts, publication of economic analyses and statistics, and study tours and exchanges of technical information, the commission provides a link between governments having different economic and social systems and belonging to different subregional organizations.
Plenary meetings of the commission are held annually; its subsidiary organs meet throughout the year.
ECE works closely with a number of specialized agencies, particularly the ILO and FAO; with other intergovernmental organizations; and with nongovernmental organizations, which ECE has consulted frequently for their expertise in particular subjects.
The analytical work of the ECE provides both a macro- and micro-economic picture of the state of the region. It publishes statistical bulletins and special reports on the state of markets in industry, timber, and human settlements. It has also published guides for the management of joint ventures, privatization and conditions for foreign direct investment.
The network of committees and working parties mentioned above carries on the ECE's technical cooperation work. The ECE has formulated regionwide strategies and legal instruments in the fields of environment and transportation. One of its most significant accomplishments is the establishment of a standard for electronic data interchange (the UN/EDIFACT or United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport). This international standard for communication between networks of computers paves the way for the development of paperless international trade in the twenty-first century.
The events of 1989–91, during which the entire face of Europe changed beyond recognition, provided enormous challenges for the ECE. War in the former Yugoslavia and the resulting economic sanctions and displacement of 3 million people made a somber picture. The ECE provided technical cooperation to the countries of Eastern Europe in transition to a market economy. By 1994, these countries made up fully one-half of its expanded membership. Hundreds of workshops on transition issues were conducted by the ECE in these countries (1994–95). The program of workshops was supplemented by the introduction of regional advisory services in each of the ECE's major fields of activity.
Membership. As of March 2002, the following countries were members of ECE: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, and Yugoslavia. (Note: The UN recognized the country's name change—from Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro—in February 2003).
Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), with headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, and a Pacific Operations Center based in Port Vila, Vanuatu, serves a region that contains more than half the world's population. It was established in 1947 as the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East to promote reconstruction and economic development of the region. Its name was changed in 1974 to reflect equal concern with economic growth and social progress and to clarify its geographic scope. The commission meets annually.
ESCAP's activities help identify common problems and facilitate cooperation for economic and social development at the regional level. It provides technical assistance and advisory services to governments on request, carries out research on regional issues, and acts as a clearinghouse of information.
One of ESCAP's most significant meetings in the 1990s was the Fourth Asian and Pacific Population Conference (Bali, August 1992). The conference was cosponsored by ESCAP and UNFPA, in recognition of the fact that population issues were inextricably linked to the cycles of poverty and the struggle for development. The conference adopted the Declaration on Population and Development (known as the "Bali Declaration"). By this declaration, ESCAP's member countries set goals for themselves to adopt strategies to attain replacement-level fertility (around 2.2 children per woman) by the year 2010 or sooner. They also agreed to reduce the level of infant mortality to 40 per thousand live births or lower by the same time.
In the late 1990s, with more than 50 years of experience, ESCAP described itself as a regional think tank and acknowledged that its ultimate challenge lay in bringing some 830 million of the region's poor into the economic mainstream, "enabling everybody to achieve a better standard of life as envisaged in the Charter of the United Nations."
Membership. As of 2002, the 52 member states of ESCAP were: Afghanistan, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Fiji, France, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tonga, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, and Vietnam. It also had nine associate members: American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Cook Islands, Hong Kong (China), Niue, French Polynesia, Macao (China), and Northern Mariana Islands.
Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), with headquarters in Santiago, Chile, was established in 1948 as the Economic Commission for Latin America. In 1983, it formally incorporated the Caribbean region into its name. ECLAC's aim is to help the governments of the region promote the economic development of their countries and improve living standards. To this end, it collaborates with the governments of the region in the investigation and analysis of regional and national economic problems, and provides assistance in the formulation of development plans. It organizes and convenes regional intergovernmental meetings on topics in the field of economic and social development. ECLAC conducts research, executes studies, disseminates information, provides technical assistance, participates in seminars and conferences, and gives training courses.
ECLAC's initial stress on economic growth and trade was later complemented with emphasis on employment, income distribution, and other social aspects of development. In recent years, the commission has expanded its activities to include research in such areas as the environment, the development and transfer of technology, and the role of transnational corporations.
In 1999, ECLAC had divisions and units dealing with the following: planning and operations; economic development; social development; international trade and finance development; production, productivity, and management; statistics and economic projections; environment and human settlements; and natural resources and infrastructure. It also had a documents and publications division. ECLAC also has two sub-regional headquarters (in Mexico and Port of Spain), and offices in Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Washington, D.C.
ECLAC meets biennially; a committee of the whole carries on intersessional work.
Two other organizations are part of the ECLAC system: the Latin American and Caribbean Institute for Economic and Social Planning (ILPES) in Santiago, Chile; and the Latin American Demographic Center (CELADE), also in Santiago. ILPES was established in 1962 and undertakes research and provides training and advisory services, as well as furthering cooperation among the planning services of the region. CELADE was established in 1957, but became an integral part of the commission in 1975. It collaborates with governments in formulating population policies and provides demographic estimates and projections, documentation, data processing, and training facilities.
The commission carries out its work in close cooperation with UNDP, the International Trade Center (UNCTAD/GATT), UNESCO, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), UNICEF, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Membership. As of 2002, ECLAC had 41 members: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Spain, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay, and Venezuela. It also had seven associate members: Anguilla, Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, and United States Virgin Islands.
The Economic Commission for Africa, with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was established in 1958. It was the first intergovernmental organization in Africa whose geographical scope covered the whole of a continent in which economic and social conditions differed widely and where many countries and dependent territories were among the poorest in the world. ECA's chief objective is the modernization of Africa, with emphasis on both rural development and industrialization. Its work has been marked by a sense of urgency and a determination to match the rapid pace of African political progress with economic and social progress. In carrying out its functions, ECA works closely with the Organization of African Unity and various organizations of the UN system.
The commission's sessions are held annually at the ministerial level and are known as the Conference of Ministers.
The approach of ECA is primarily at the level of its five subregions: North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, and West Africa. ECA members have made it clear that the subregional approach is to be regarded as a necessary first step and that pan-African economic integration remains the goal. For that reason, five multinational programming and operational centers have been established: in Tangier, Morroco, for North Africa; in Niamey, Niger, for West Africa; in Lusaka, Zambia, for Southern Africa; in Yaounde, Cameroon, for Central Africa; and in Kigali, Rwanda, for Eastern Africa.
Work priorities for the 1990s and beyond included the broadened concept of food security and poverty alleviation through sustainable development with emphasis on capacity building; the promotion of economic cooperation among African countries and between African and other developing countries; the physical integration of the continent in line with the goals of the UN Transport and Communications Decade for Africa (1991–2000); and greater control and sovereignty over natural resources and environment. In the field of industrial development, ECA implemented the UN Second Industrial Development Decade in Africa (IDDA) by strengthening the technological and entrepreneurial capabilities of African countries. Special attention was paid to subregional and regional cooperation in small-scale cottage and rural industries and to highly advanced technology.
In 1992 ECA issued a technical publication evaluating the impact of the 1992 European economic integration measures on African agriculture. The publication discussed the various factors underlying the European single market. The publication underscored the need for galvanizing the cooperation of African nations in the face of moves to strengthen economic integration in other regions, notably Europe and North America. ECA also consulted with the OAU and the African Development Bank on the establishment and functioning of an African Economic Community (AEC).
ECA supervised the African Training and Research Centre for Women, which assisted ECA member states in improving the socioeconomic conditions of African women and enhancing their participation in development. ECA pursued its efforts to establish a regional Federation of African Women Entrepreneurs and a Bank for African Women to support women's entrepreneurial activities. ECA developed a Pan-African Development Information System that provides training, advisory services, data base development, and network-building, and produces studies and publications for ECA member states, institutions, and nongovernmental organizations.
Beginning in July 1995, ECA embarked on major institutional and managerial reforms, resulting in a new strategic focus, which it defined by five core programs and two cross-cutting themes. The core programs were facilitating economic and social policy analysis; ensuring food security and sustainable development; strengthening development management; harnessing information for development; and promoting regional cooperation and integration. The themes were: fostering leadership and empowerment for women in Africa and enhancement of ECA capacities (with regard to information and technology, staff training, communication, and public awareness of programs through the mass media).
Membership. As of 2002, the following countries were members of ECA: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comores, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
A regional economic commission for the Middle East was first proposed in 1947–48. A commission that would include the Arab nations and Israel proved to be out of the question, however, and in 1963, the UN Economic and Social Office in Beirut (UNESOB) was set up. For 11 years, UNESOB assisted governments in economic and social development and provided them with consultants in such fields as community development, demography, industrial development planning, and statistics.
In 1972, Lebanon revived the issue of a regional commission for the area, and in August 1973, the Economic and Social Council established the Economic Commission for Western Asia to supersede UNESOB. In 1984, it was renamed the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) to reflect the importance of the social aspect of its activities.
The commission began operations on 1 January 1974, with provisional headquarters in Beirut. As defined by the resolution establishing the commission, its task is to initiate and participate in measures for facilitating concerted action for the economic reconstruction and development of Western Asia, for raising the region's level of economic activity, and for maintaining and strengthening the economic relations of countries of the region both among themselves and with other countries of the world.
ESCWA undertakes or sponsors studies of economic and social issues in the region, collects and disseminates information, and provides advisory services at the request of countries of the region on ESCWA's fields of activities. Much of ESCWA's work is carried out in cooperation with other UN bodies. The commissions conducts industrial studies for individual countries in conjunction with UNIDO. It cooperates with FAO in regional planning, food security, and management of agricultural resources. UNDP supports ESCWA's work on household surveys in Western Asia and the Arab Planning Institute in Kuwait. Work is also undertaken with UNFPA and UNIFEM in population and women's programs, with ILO in statistical surveys on labor, with AGFUND in rural development, with UNCTAD in development planning and maritime transport training, with UNEP in integrating environmental aspects (particularly control of desertification) into development programs, and with OIC in natural resources, industry, and trade issues.
The sessions of the commission (held every two years) are attended by representatives of member states and bodies, UN bodies and specialized agencies, regional and intergovernmental organizations, and other states attending as observers.
In 1992, the commission called for the establishment of an Arab and international interagency coordinating committee on environment and development to promote the goals of the UN Conference on Environment and Development's (UNCED) Agenda 21.
In May 1994, during the Commission's seventeenth ministerial session in Amman, ESCWA member states voted to move the permanent headquarters to Beirut. The 8-story UN house was built in the Beirut Central District for this purpose.
ESCWA maintains close liaison with other UN organs and specialized agencies and with intergovernmental organizations in the region, such as the League of Arab States and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.
In 1976, ESCWA decided to move its operations to Amman, Jordan, for one year because of the conflict in Lebanon. Later the same year, it decided to accept the offer of the government of Iraq for Baghdad to be the site of its permanent headquarters. It moved to Baghdad in 1982, only to relocate to Amman during the Gulf War between Iraq and Kuwait in 1991. ESCWA had established six working committees by the late 1990s; they were: statistical, social development, energy, water resources, transport, and liberalization of foreign trade and economic globalization.
Membership. As of 2002, there were 13 members of ESCWA: Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine (Palestine Liberation Organization), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.