From the world's highest city, Lhasa in Tibet, China, to the world's deepest lake, Lake Baikal in the Russian Federation; from the highest mountain to the deepest seas; and from the driest deserts to the dampest forests; the Asia-Pacific region covers an astounding array of geography and culture.
The region is one of sharp contrasts. It has two of the world's most populous countries, China and India, and some of the world's smallest, Nauru in the Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. It has one of the world's richest countries, Japan, and the world's poorest, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
With over 700 languages in Papua New Guinea alone, the region's ethnic and linguistic diversity is greater than anywhere else in the world. Great and ancient cultures have left legacies such as the Great Wall of China-at 2,350 kilometres long it is the world's longest human-made structure-and the legendary temples of Borobodur in Indonesia. A wealth of religions criss-crosses the region, ranging from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, to other faiths such as Confucianism, Jainism and Taoism.
Many countries in the region have, for at least the past three decades, been experiencing rapid economic, social, cultural and political change. With these changes has come a fear that modernization means Westernization and the loss of ways of life and cherished traditions that have evolved over the centuries.
Economically, it is the fastest growing region in the world and yet, it is still home to over two-thirds of the world's poor, due to huge disparities in income distribution. Population figures have doubled over the past thirty-five years and are still on the increase, and the environmental and social effects of such growth are beginning to take their toll.
The diversity in demography, economy, geography, ecology and culture within the Asia-Pacific region presents exciting possibilities and daunting challenges for bodies such as UNESCO working in the region. UNESCO's mission for the region encapsulates this duality:
UNESCO is committed to consolidating the dynamism and economic growth the region is experiencing, but it recognizes its ethical mission