UNU International Conference on
"The United Nations and South Asia"
The seven South Asian countries; Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, constitute one fifth of the world's population. The region faces substantial challenges as regards economic development, environmental protection, democratic governance, internal and inter-state conflicts, with the added dimension of nuclear capability, and new security issues such as international terrorism. The scale of the problems, the amount of people affected, as well as the potential spill-over effect to the rest of the world, make it imperative both for the South Asian countries and the international community to address these issues. The South Asian challenges are inter-related and mutually reinforcing, and must be addressed in an integrated manner.
South Asia and the United Nations
The Charter of the United Nations stipulates maintaining international peace and security, and promoting social and economic advancement, as two of the core purposes of the organisation. In both areas South Asia presents defining challenges to the United Nations as the global arena for problemsolving. The problems faced in South Asia cut across the major faultlines of the United Nations system, and several UN agencies will give their input. The focus of the conference is on issues of particular relevance to the region, and exploring the potential for improvement both in domestic and international efforts at alleviating the problems of South Asia.
Peace and security
An immediate concern to the international community represented by the UN, is South Asia's effect on international peace and security. There are several potential threats to peace and security; there are two nuclear powers engaged in dispute over territory, several high-intensity intra-state conflicts, and terrorism has been a major security threat in the region for decades.
Special emphasis is put on the relationship between India and Pakistan, the nuclearisation of that particular conflict, and the effects of the war in Afghanistan on South Asia. Intra-state conflicts and governance are also integral to concerns about peace and security. One working groups session will be addressing the substantial contribution made by South Asian countries to UN peacekeeping. Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are currently among the world's four biggest contributors.
Social and economic advancement
South Asia represents twenty percent of the world's population, and has had a population growth rate of 2.2 compared to the world's average of 1.6 in the 1975-1998 period. The region is characterised by poverty, illiteracy, and low life expectancy. Although the record is improving, the region does not compare well on UNDP's Human Development Index, even by developing-country standards. Further, the economic development of South Asia can be closely linked to concerns about the considerable environmental degradation.
Poverty alleviation, the role of foreign aid and international trade in South Asian development, and the link between development and environmental degradation are central themes of the conference. Working group sessions will also focus on wider aspects of human security, how these problems affect women and children, as well as the security risk posed by overly exploited natural resources and environmental degradation.
2002 marks the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Japan by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In addition to the specific problems of South Asia, the conference will address the relationship between Japan and the countries in the region.