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Photo: U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld at the 12th Session of ECAFE in Bangalore, India 1956.

In the aftermath of World War II, many post-colonial countries in Asia and the Pacific found themselves with the complex task of fusing diverse ethnic and social groups into single nations. Faced with just 14 per cent of global exports - much of this consisting of raw materials - countries moved toward capital- intensive economic development. Despite some economic gains in the 1950s, large swathes of local populations continued to live in desperate poverty. Life expectancy averaged just 41 years, and half of all mortalities were due to infectious diseases. Promising signs emerged when some countries began making development progress.
World War II took a severe toll on the economic and social development of many countries in the region.

1947

The Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) is established in Shanghai by 10 original members to promote measures for post-war reconstruction and economic development in the region.

A view of ECAFE’s first headquarters in Bangkok, Sala Santitham (Peace Hall).

1948

ECAFE publishes first annual Economic Survey of the Far East – a comprehensive analysis of the economic conditions and challenges of countries in the region.

1957

Governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam form the Mekong Committee to oversee the management of water resources in the Mekong Basin.

ECAFE’s support for hundreds of surveys to map and catalogue the Mekong Basin’s resources laid the groundwork for today’s strong regional water cooperation and watershed management.

1959

Asian Highway Network is launched.

Conceived by ECAFE in the 1950s, the Asian Highway project established faster and more economical trans-border routes across the region. It now connects 32 countries via a network of 141,000km of standardized roadways.

Photo: ECAFE did not confine its development support to large-scale production such as iron and steel, but also focused attention on small-scale industries, such as centralizing purchases of raw materials, and on developing industries in rural areas throughout the region.

By the mid-1960s, several countries in the region started the move away from agrarian-based economies. ECAFE conceived the Asian Development Bank, which opened its doors in Manila as a financial institution that would be Asian in character and foster economic growth and cooperation in what was then one of the poorest regions in the world. The decade also saw a handful of countries dubbed the “Asian Tigers” begin their ascent. By 1970, economic growth in some East Asian countries already eclipsed their developing and developed counterparts.

1963

New Delhi hosts first Asian Population Conference to address development challenges arising from trends in population growth.

1966

Asian Development Bank opens in 1966 with 31 members in Manila, following an ECAFE resolution in 1965 to “foster economic growth and cooperation in one of the poorest regions in the world.”

Asian Industrial Development Council undertakes regional surveys in petrochemicals and agricultural machinery, and identifies opportunities for joint ventures between countries in the region.

As part of the shift towards industrialization, many Asian leaders set about creating state-owned estates and enterprises to support growing industries.
In 1966 ECAFE helped coordinate and host the first Asian Trade Fair in Bangkok. Between 1966 and 2001, the event series went on to attract over 21,000 private firms and 9 million visitors and generated around $1.3 billion-worth of business.

1968

Typhoon Committee promotes measures for minimizing loss of life and damage caused by typhoons, in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization.

1969

Asian Coconut Community improves conditions for small farmers and workers in the coconut industry, under an agreement between India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Photo: As ECAFE evolved into ESCAP, broadening its mission to encompass social development issues, technical assistance and training programs became a priority.

By the late 1970s, the pattern of trade in the region had shifted. Increasingly, countries moved toward skills improvement and capacity development. Over the next 10 years, the region would see an unprecedented drive toward thoroughly modern societies. The manufacturing sector grew rapidly, greatly contributing to growth, which led to a steady decline in poverty levels.
ECAFE changes its name to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), reflecting the economic and social aspects of development and the growing geographic location of its member States. Bangkok, 1976.

1970

Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) is established in Japan as a training centre by 20 governments. It is later accorded the status of an ESCAP statutory body in 1995.

The Regional Mineral Resources Development Centre opens in 1970, providing expert advisory services on promoting mineral development.

1975

Bangladesh, China, India, Lao PDR, South Korea, and Sri Lanka sign first agreement on trade negotiations - renamed Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) in 2005.

ESCAP supported industrial projects that shared common services and reduced operating costs, such as this estate in Ahwaz, Iran.

1977

Asia-Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT) in Bangalore stimulates the transfer of technology to and from small- and-medium-scale enterprises in the region. APCTT moved to New Delhi in 1993.

1979

ESCAP and the International Telecommunication Union create the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity in Bangkok through a joint initiative, supporting the sustainable growth of ICTs in the region.

Photo: ESCAP’s Integrated Rural Development Program in the 1970s and 80s and its emphasis on the inter-relationship between distribution and growth helped put the concept of poverty analysis on the map.

The decade gave rise to a growing consensus about the major objectives of economic policy in the region: higher growth, fuller employment, equity and fulfillment of basic needs. However, concerns about the slow growth and transformation of the region’s least developed and Pacific island developing economies, led to a greater recognition that they would need strong support from the international community, including the region’s developed and other developing countries.

1981

ESCAP establishes a regional coordination centre for agricultural research and development agriculture in Bogor - renamed the Centre for the Alleviation of Poverty through Secondary Agriculture (CAPSA) in 2010.

The Asia and Pacific Development Centre opens in Kuala Lumpur in 1981 to enhance the innovative capacity of governments and NGOs. (Jeremy Richards)

1984

Pacific Operations Centre in Port Vila, Vanuatu opens to support countries in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The centre relocates to Suva, Fiji in 2005 and is renamed the Subregional Office for the Pacific.

The Pacific Operations Centre prioritizes national and state-level development planning. By the end of the 1980s it had broadened its scope to include more work on gender issues. (Guido Amrein)

1985

First Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific results in the Asian Action Plan for Human Environment – a regional framework for enhancing public awareness on environmental management for sustainable development.

1987

CITYNET is established by ESCAP, UNDP, UN-HABITAT, the City of Nagoya and 27 members to improve the sustainability of cities in Asia and the Pacific.

Photo: By the 1990s, work on gender and development was firmly established at ESCAP as it organized the regional preparatory meeting for the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

Throughout the 1990s, the manufacturing ability of coun- tries in the region coupled with cheap labour markets were the main drivers of economic growth. By the end of 1997, however, the financial crisis gripped much of East Asia. By the end of the decade, many countries were on the road to recovery and income poverty was on the decline. The social pillar had also crystallized as complementary to the economic pillar with an increase in regional discussions on issues such as gender parity, ageing and urbanization.
ESCAP’s Asia-Pacific Urban Forum, first held in 1993, has brought together government and civil society to develop regional initiatives such as the Network of Local Government Training and Research Institutes.

1993

Asian Decade on Disabled Persons (1993-2002) is declared to promote the human rights of disabled persons. It is the first such regional decade in the world.

A major demographic transition to an ageing population in the 1990s prompted ESCAP to launch the Macao Plan of Action on Ageing in Asia in 1999.

1995

ESCAP holds regional preparatory meeting for the Fourth World Conference on Women. Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is adopted to promote gender equality.

School girls in India learn how to use a computer as part of efforts to improve gender equality in the education system. (UNDP)

Photo: ESCAP has been concerned from its earliest days about adequate supplies of energy, but environmental implications and climate change now demand a more urgent shift to low-carbon, carbon-free and renewable resources.

Over the decade, dramatic economic growth allowed millions in Asia and the Pacific to climb out of poverty. But the rapid increases in industrial and agricultural production also exerted intense pressure on the environment. A new vision emerged out of these concerns that focused on more sustainable and balanced development. Greater attention was paid to disaster mitigation, cleaner energy and the ways in which ICTs can enhance development.

2002

United Nations Asia Pacific Centre for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery is established in Beijing - renamed Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Machinery (CSAM) in 2013.

2005

ESCAP Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness is established to support a multi-hazard approach, following the destructive Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.

Disaster mitigation, early warning systems and community-based disaster risk management have become priority areas for ESCAP once again, following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Asia and the Pacific pioneers the concept of green growth at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development.

2006

Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT) opens in Incheon, strengthening ICT in member States through capacity development.

ESCAP’s Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development (RESAP), is an example of increasing regional cooperation in the areas of space technology. (Muratart)

Trans-Asian Railway Network Agreement is adopted, covering over 117,500km of railway lines and 28 countries.

Photo: The Ministerial Declaration on Transport Development in Asia and the Pacific is a stepping stone for countries to increase cooperation on international road connectivity.

The position of Asia and the Pacific as the driver of the global economy continues to intensify alongside its growing leadership in shaping the international debates on economics and policy making. Meanwhile, the region seeks collective solutions to persistent challenges such as climate change, pollution, natural disasters and growing disparities. In embracing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, countries reaffirmed the need to work together to tackle many of these cross-border issues. Seventy years after ESCAP was created to help the region build out of the rubble of war, Asian and Pacific countries now are deepening regional cooperation and integration in the pursuit of shared and sustained prosperity for all.

2012

The Incheon Strategy - the world’s first set of regionally agreed disability-inclusive development goals is adopted, along with the Ministerial Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is celebrated in Kabul, Afghanistan.

2014

Bangkok Declaration on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration (RECI) in Asia and the Pacific sets the agenda for RECI in the region.

2017

Asia and the Pacific becomes first region to develop a regional action plan on the Sustainable Development Goals in 2017.

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