The Doha declaration on sustainable development

Dima El Hassan| The Daily Star

Last week, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia concluded its 29th ministerial session that took place in Doha from Dec. 13 to 15.

Organized every two years, the ministerial meeting is the main entity of the UNESCWA.

Member states’ ministers and high-level officials gather to discuss the actual and future activities and programs of the secretariat, in addition to vital economic and social development issues facing the region.

The 29th meeting featured the implementation of a 2030 sustainable development plan for the Arab World. The main outcomes were the “Doha Declaration” to implement the 2030 development agenda for the Arab world, the adoption of six resolutions from the Agenda 2030 and a two-year work plan.

The Agenda 2030 is considered to be an international framework to support national policies on development, including common goals and guiding measures to assess progress on the national level. The Doha Declaration is seen to be of high importance since its implementation is expected to play “a role in finding solutions to the challenges facing the Arab World,” as quoted by Ambassador Tariq bin Ali al-Ansari, director of the department of international technical cooperation in the Qatar Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Further to the declaration, the gathered ministers committed to apply the declaration while achieving social justice, taking into consideration the national development priorities and also the privacy and property of each country’s development.

The UNESCWA meeting also stressed gender mainstreaming in public institutions in the Arab region, and that’s from concept to policy planning and practice.

In this regard, UNESCWA is actually implementing a project that aims to assist the region’s institutions in maintaining gender equality, after its success in integrating the United Nations System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The project is expected to help in facing the different challenges to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender.

This is one example of the major fields UNESCWA is putting its efforts into, aiming to “support economic and social development” and “raise global awareness of the circumstances and needs of its member countries” as its founding objectives state.

How effective and applicable are these tools with regard to the complex characteristics that shape our region’s realities, needs and challenges?

These actions, be they the meetings, the declaration, or the project, are all valid tools to respond to how to achieve our national goals in development.

However, they are still short in addressing the huge devastating challenges that face our region in particular, and that are heavily complex by nature. Hence, no one tool can be imposed or prescribed, and tailoring in this sense seems to be another challenge, considering the chaotic world of data that most countries of the region are drowning in.

It’s not enough anymore to put the mounting challenges the Arab region is actually facing, blocking its stability and security across the decades, from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the common economic and social challenges that encounter developing countries in general. It’s time to address our predicaments in a practical, reflective way.

The declaration on the implementation of the 2030 sustainable development plan for the Arab region is endorsed by our ministers, which is a positive effort. But how can we translate it into good practice? And how can we raise greater global awareness around it? The issue of sustainable development has grown through the decades to become a global issue reaching many international platforms. It is all about human betterment in both our present and future. To attain that, we nonetheless need social and economic justice. The declaration has indeed tackled this, yet it remains, as many other declarations, so vague in providing clear direction, so late in addressing the region’s particular problems and so dull in attracting public attention.

The challenge remains how to use effectively and to improve such frameworks in order to make better decisions and reach the aspired development.

Again this region has an urgent need for stability to be able to prosper normally and adequately. Declarations alone cannot do the job. Will and commitment of decision-makers are needed, but also they need to comply with the will and consent of the people and the society at large. In this regard, the state has to regain the trust of its people by primarily focusing on restating social justice, beginning with its different institutions. What is also needed is the trust of our governments in the capacities and abilities of the peoples in taking their responsibilities and duties toward the development and prosperity of their countries. No conspiracy, just trust and action.

Dima El Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at