Statement by Dr. Henning Karcher, UNDP Resident Representative at the Workshop on SAARC Poverty Profile held in Kathmandu

27 May 2002

Statement by Dr. Henning Karcher, UNDP Resident Representative at the Workshop on SAARC Poverty Profile held in Kathmandu, 27 May 2002

Your Excellency Secretary-General of SAARC, Distinguished Representatives of Governments of SAARC countries, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues and Friends,

It gives me great pleasure to say a few words at the opening of this important event the workshop on a Regional Poverty Profile of SAARC countries.

Let me begin by putting this event in a broader historical context pointing out how it is linked to work carried out by UNDP during the last nine years.

The point of departure is, of course, as you all know the Declaration adopted at the last SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu in January this year. All of us who were present at the Summit were struck by the seriousness and sincerity with which Heads of State and Governments shared their concern over the extent and depth of poverty that affects approximately 515 million people in South Asia. Although South Asia accounts for only 23% of the world’s population it houses 40% of the world’s poor. In terms of absolute figures, the number of poor people in South Asia exceed the poor of sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States, Latin America and the Caribbean taken together.

Looking back at the commitments made at the Dhaka Summit in the year 1993 SAARC Leaders admitted to the failure of living up to their commitments and promises made at that time. At that time leaders were under the impression of the statement made by the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA) that poverty trends in South Asia were so alarming that they threatened the very fabric of societies and democratic structure unless corrective action was taken on an urgent basis. Faced with such ominous scenario leaders committed themselves to eradicate poverty by the year 2002 through a three-pronged strategy focussed on social mobilization, pro-poor policies and monitoring poverty.

Soon after the adoption of the 1993 Summit Declaration UNDP initiated its subregional South Asian Poverty Alleviation Programme which mirrors in a way the threepronged strategy of the SAARC Summit Declaration. Social Mobilization was and is the centre piece of the programme which has by now touched in a decisive way the lives of over 1.3 million people in 6 participating SAARC countries. The formulation of pro-poor policies is, of course, an ongoing process and time does not permit me to explain to you how SAPAP contributed in this field. In the area of monitoring poverty SAPAP focussed its efforts primarily on district and community levels leaving the monitoring of poverty at national and regional levels to a later opportunity. This opportunity has finally arrived and we are grateful to the Secretary General of SAARC, his staff, His Majesty’s Government and others involved for giving us an opportunity to work with all of you and make progress in an area which is of critical importance if we ever want to attempt seriously to reduce poverty in South Asia.

Why did the authors of the original ISACPA and the Heads of State and Governments attach so much importance to the monitoring of poverty?

- First of all in any development activity and human endeavour it is critically important to set oneself clear targets, allocate resources and determine on a regular basis whether progress is being made towards the realization of the targets. This is the only way to stay in course and take corrective action early if strategies are not working.

- Taking stock of the situation and determining trends is also critically important for the creation of awareness and to stir up politicians and the public at large with a view to generating the energy required to finally break the vicious cycle of disempowerment and discrimination that characterizes the lives of poor in South Asia.

Setting targets and monitoring their realization lies also at the heart of a global initiative recently launched by the United Nations that is closely linked to our South Asia Poverty Profile. I am referring here to the Millennium Development Goals adopted at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. Taking together with the decision adopted at the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development earlier this year these represent a global compact between developing and developed countries to the effect that each side will do their part to contribute to the realization of the Millennium Goals. Developing countries will reform their system of governance in the direction of more participation, transparency, accountability, efficiency and ultimately more democracy. Developed countries will provide the financial resources that are required to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015 and realize all the other goals listed in the Millennium Declaration, such as universal primary education for boys and girls, fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDS and incorporating principles of sustainable developments in all development strategies and plans. The latter goal will be further operationalized on the occasion of the World Summit for Sustainable Development that will be held in South Africa later this year.

The preparation of our SAARC Poverty Profile the way I see it goes, therefore, far beyond a purely academic exercise of taking stock and tracing trends. If managed properly the process of preparing and of launching the profile could play a critically important operational role in stirring countries and Governments into action and triggering ultimately a release of significant resources for development in South Asia.

Much will be said and discusses during these two days on the choice of economic and human development indicators for the profile. Let me just mention here that for the reasons mentioned above we consider links to the Millennium Development Goals as very important. Let me also mention that we are excited about the idea of constructing an empowerment index. This idea was borne out of the realization that empowerment is now recognized internationally as a key element for any poverty reduction strategy. Yet no convincing and generally accepted definition of empowerment has yet been developed.

We also feel that there are interesting linkages to be explored between empowerment on the one hand and social mobilization on the other, which is, as we know has worked so convincingly in transforming the lives of millions of people in South Asia.

In closing I would like to express appreciation to the organizers of this workshop, the Secretary General of SAARC and his colleagues as well as all of you for the wonderful cooperation that has been extended so far. I am convinced that this workshop will be a truly enjoyable exercise for all of you and will also be remembered as an important milestone in the efforts of the Governments of South Asian countries to move the war against poverty from a rhetoric to reality.

I wish you success in your deliberations.

Thank you.