14 March 2008 - The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) will strengthen its Pacific Operations Centre as part of its campaign to provide greater support for the region's island nations, which are facing critical development challenges given their size, relative isolation and vulnerability to climate change.

Under-Secretary-General Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, committed the regional body to the strengthening of the centre during a two-day meeting that ended yesterday in Noumea, New Caledonia.

The enhancement of the operations centre, based in Suva, Fiji, will include new arrangements for South-South cooperation and opportunities to increase the voice of Pacific island States at ESCAP and within the wider UN system, as well as more capacity for data collection and statistical analysis.

"Pacific island States are facing unique development challenges requiring one to look at new potentials and opportunities, including the building of stronger partnerships and closer collaboration between Asia and the Pacific," Ms. Heyzer said, according to a press statement released by ESCAP.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) were among the participants at the Noumea meeting this week.

Ms. Heyzer added that ESCAP is undertaking a review of the implementation so far of the social and economic targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) among Pacific island nations.