The ECAFE (Economic Commission for Asia and Far East) as it was then named was founded in Shanghai in 1947, with ten original members. At that time, most of the Pacific islands counties were under colonial rule or were United Nations Trust Territories, administered under mandate granted to colonial powers. They did not count in the Commission then -in name or in deed.
By the time of the thirtieth annual session of the Commission held at Colombo in 1974, the former ECAFE became ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) as was proposed by me as the new Executive Secretary.
The Pacific Islands, the jewels that stud the sparkling expanse of Pacific Ocean, had reached the threshold of a new era as the United Nations development aid system was directing considerable focus onto the region. Covering some 30 million square kilometres, the Pacific includes the largest number of small islands, developing countries and territories in the world.
Of the more than 28 principal Island groups in the Pacific, during my time, twelve were members or associate members of ESCAP). With a population of approximately four and a half million and a land area of 527,621 square kilometres, this represented an average population density of about eight person per square kilometre. Fuji, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga were all full members of ESCAP while Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Trust Territory of the Pacific islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu were associate members. Furthermore, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Solomon Islands were members of ESCAPís parent body, the United Nations.
Parliament of Asia and Pacific
ESCAP was often called the ďParliament of Asia and the PacificĒ and its primarily role was to serve member countries by identifying areas for social and economic development problems; providing a forum for debate on development issues; providing technical and advisory services; and helping member countries to attract outside assistance. It did not itself provide capital resources but helped establish institutions to attract funds for regional and sub-regional projects that in turn, supply development aid. In previous years, it was felt that ECAFE was more Asian oriented and that the Pacific Island countries and the countries bordering the Pacific were only marginally involved.
When I came aboard I was committed to change that image. In my very first Commission session I proposed to change the name of ECAFE into ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) to reflect the new political equation in region. With the re-emergence of China, Vietnam and the formation of sub regional groupings like ASEAN and in the South Pacific forum the political map of the Pacific had changed.
I wanted to encourage the countries of the Pacific and the countries bordering the Pacific particularly, to play a more active role and to guide them into the mainstream of ESCAP activities which up to then had been dominated by South Asian countries.
I was also determined to give more attention to the social dimensions of development. It is a well-known fact that hundred millions of people in Asian countries suffer from poverty, ill health and illiteracy that should be tackled in a more comprehensive way. More attention should also be given to programmes of popular participation, including the participation of youth and integration of women in development programmes.
ESCAPís Liaison Office in Nauru
During the annual sessions of the Commission I had regularly convened meetings with the South Pacific delegates to discuss specific problems and needs of the Pacific islands countries. From this discussions arose the concept of ESCAPís Liaison Office for the Pacific that would serve as a bridge over which UN aid, technical assistance and transfer of technology would flow. The Liaison office would improve linkages and maintain effective liaison between ESCAP and the Pacific island countries, and would assist me in the programming and implementation of needed activities. The thirty-fourth session of the Commission established the Liaison Office and unanimously selected Nauru as the location for the Office. To mark this milestone, the Government of Nauru even had postage stamps commissioned with my image. Upon my suggestion the President of Nauru H.E. Hammer deRoburt, was elected Chairman of the thirty-second session of the Commission.
Technical assistance to the Pacific
ESCAP had continuously increased co-operation with regional institutions in the Pacific such as the South Pacific Commission (SPC) based in Noumea, New Caledonia and the Fiji-based South Pacific Bureau for Economic co-operation (SPEC) with its far-reaching South Pacific Forum.
Joint ESCAP/UNDP programming missions
A joint ESCAP/UNDP programming mission which started a US 12 million-aid programme recommended that assistance would be channelled through institutions in the region such as the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Co-operation, South Pacific Forum and the Noumea-based South Pacific Commission, furthering the concept of self-reliance. UNDP assistance had been extended to areas such as root crops development, fisheries, investigation of mineral potentials of the South Pacific, a regional telecommunication network, civil aviation and industrial surveys in the region, trade promotion, development of small scale enterprises, alternate source of energy and livestock development.
A second ESCAP/UNDP programming mission for the Pacific took place in October 1980 and had presented a US 16 million package of aid for developing island countries for 1982-1986. As well as continuing a number of current projects, several new ones would be started in 1982, again in co-operation with sub-regional organizations. Energy, atoll development and training were among the programmes planned.
The United Nations Development Advisory team (UNDAT) based in Suva was
another example of ESCAPís co-operation with and concern for the Pacific
island. Established in 1972 and taken over by ESCAP as executing agency in
1977, UNDAT was referred to as ď a short term and
quick action consultancy programmeĒ. It consisted of UN experts and consultants,
who advised and assisted Pacific island governments on request, on a broad
range of development issues such as economic and social planning, town planning
environment, tourism, airline management, migration and shipping. American
Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Guam. Kiribati, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon
Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, had all benefited from the Teamís service.
UNDAT co-operated closely with SPEC, SPC and the University of South Pacific.
Australia and New Zealand contributed significantly to the activities of the
Team. The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and America also provided their
support. ESCAPís role in assisting the development of the Pacific Islands would
further increase in 1980s as I instructed the various divisions of the
Secretariat to seek co-operation with other UN agencies and UNDP to combine
their resources in vital areas of island
Energy, then a major international development issue had been suggested by me as the theme for the thirty-seventh Commission session of the Commission in Bangkok in March 1981 and the Pacific Island countries would receive special attention in the search for new, alternate and renewable sources of energy. A working Group would meet in Apia, Samoa, to plan wide-ranging energy programmes for the South Pacific.
It was agreed to formulate inter-country and sub-regional programmes to assist the South pacific countries with their most urgent and important energy needs.
Closely allied to the energy crises was that of the environment and a South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SREP) was established that would work in co-ordination with other regional environmental programmes as well as the United Nations Environment program (UNEP).
The Natural Resources Division of ESCAP started a three-year US $ 2,5 million program in January 1979 funded by UNDP. ESCAP Committee of Co-ordination of Joint Prospecting administered the program for mineral resources in South Pacific areas.
The sea and its resources had a special significance for ESCAP. The vast Asia/Pacific area with millions square kilometres of ocean and thousands kilometres of coastline would make any development in the Law of the Sea highly significant. Thus I had inscribed the Law of the sea as a major agenda item for the thirty-seventh session of the Commission.
The Social Development Division concentrated on a number of programmes in the Pacific particularly those relating to youth and the integration of women in the countries development programs. For Pacific Island youth, a series of short term training programmes were organized in co-operation with the World Councils of Churches.
The role of women in development received increasing attention from ESCAP. In Samoa for example, ESCAP assistance had resulted in the formation of Womenís Advisory Committee directly responsible to the Prime Minister and attached to the Rural Development Program to assist in the integration of woman in Samoaís development.
Those were some of the programmes and projects that I had initiated in the Pacific.
Two way visits
With so many on-going activities in the Pacific, more frequent contacts were being made between ESCAP staff and the Pacific islands. Conversely more islanders were visiting ESCAP and taking important roles in ESCAPís deliberations and programmes.
An increasing number of regional and sub regional meetings often at ministerial level were held in various Pacific islands countries. The Crown Prince Tupoutoa had also visited ESCAP.
In frank and open discussions, the Crown Prince was informed of the substantive on-going ESCAP assistance programmes for the Pacific, particularly energy, environment, mineral resources and the role of women and youth in Pacific Island development Subsequently Dr. Tom Davies, Prime Minister of the Cook Island visited ESCAP in May 1980, to discuss possibilities on how ESCAP could assist the Cook Islands in the promotion and development of trade and in the field of export marketing Relations between ESCAP and the Pacific islands would become even more cordial in the forthcoming decade in name and deed, socially and economically.
It is with a feeling of satisfaction that one of the commitments I had set myself to achieve during my tenure of office was successfully accomplished.