The United Nations is warning the Asia and Pacific region faces several economic and environmental challenges that threaten to undermine development and progress achieved during recent decades.  The concerns were raised during the annual meeting of states of the UNESCAP - meeting in Bangkok.

The U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific - ESCAP - says the combined impact of the global economic downturn, climate change, and growing food insecurity are threatening social and development gains in the Asia and Pacific.

In her address to the annual Commission session, ESCAP Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer said the crises facing the region - represented some of the "largest development threats in recent years".  These threats include climate change, extreme food-fuel volatility, and the most severe financial crisis, since the great depression.

"All of which could roll back our development gains and precipitate a human tragedy in the region," she said.  "This is time to use our collective strength as Asia Pacific to prevent this emergency from happening."

In its annual survey of the region, ESCAP earlier warned economic growth in the region's developing economies would fall to three percent in 2009, from 5.8 percent last year.  Much of this growth is due to China maintaining moderate expansion.

Heyzer also warned as many as 23 million workers are facing the loss of their jobs, especially women in the manufacturing sector.  She pointed to an expected decline in remittances from migrant workers that will add to the financial insecurity.

The Asian Development Bank has forecast a sharp rise in poverty that threatens the Asia-Pacific region from achieving its Millennium Development Goals or MDGs.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya pressed developed nations to maintain levels of assistance.

"If the current crisis is used as an excuse to ignore our commitment to Financing for Development, then achieving the MDG's will become nearly impossible for the least developed countries," said Kasit.  "We therefore call on member states to maintain - or even better - increase official development assistance."

Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva pointed to the threat posed by growing trade protectionism, calling for countries to stand by commitments to free trade.  Thailand is currently the chair of the Association of South East Asia Nations.

"While major economies bear the immediate impact of the financial crisis, many emerging and developing economies are feeling the effects in their real sectors," said Mr. Abhisit.  "If the crisis worsens, there will be increased calls in the developed world for protectionism."

He said all countries need to press for the reactivation of the Doha Round of international free-trade talks as a way to overcome the protectionist threat.