Helen Clark: Remarks Arab Social and Development Summit

19 Jan 2011

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt- This Summit is a timely occasion to review the progress made since the first Arab Economic, Social and Development Summit held in Kuwait two years ago.

Around our world we see people young and old, men and women, calling loudly for better jobs, better education, and the chance to benefit more from and contribute more meaningfully to their country’s progress and to decisions which have an impact on their lives.

This Summit will chart a way forward on meeting the specific development challenges of this region. I want to assure you of UNDP’s ongoing commitment to human development in the Arab States and to working closely with the League of Arab States.

The Third Arab Report on the Millennium Development Goals and the Impact of the Global Economic Crisis is a joint publication of the League of Arab States, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and UNDP, and  is a background document for this Summit.

It notes that high rates of unemployment, especially for young people and women, rank amongst the region’s most pressing development challenges.

Employment-intensive and inclusive growth is needed to achieve lasting routes out of poverty and food insecurity, and to provide decent and productive work for the swelling ranks of young people entering the job market.

Unleashing the region’s renowned entrepreneurial and creative talents, diversifying economies, and providing women and men with the tools and opportunities they need to build a better life for themselves and their families are vital.

Some countries in this region will achieve most of the MDGs, while least developed countries and those experiencing or recovering from conflict still have a way to go. Conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remain very difficult, with the occupation and political divisions impeding recovery and development.

Climate change is another huge challenge to development in this region, which is already the most water scarce in the world. The increasingly erratic climate makes that worse through more droughts, reduced agricultural production, and increased food insecurity.

While the development challenges in the region are significant, at UNDP we are convinced that they can be overcome.

The last decade has seen significant strides made towards achieving the MDGs. The region is largely on track to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. Gains have been made in improving net enrolment in education and the literacy rates of young adults.  The maternal health and child mortality MDG targets are currently off-track, but notable advances have been made here too.

While many women in the region do not always enjoy the same social, economic, and political rights and status as men, there are now more reforms promoting gender equality in family and personal status laws, more participation of women in public life, and progress in girls’ education.

Now is the time to scale up development initiatives which are working, so that they can also reach those at the end of the road who have yet to benefit from the progress their countries are making.

In the run up to the MDG target date of 2015, we need - globally, regionally, and nationally - strong leadership and a determination to tackle poverty and promote policies and partnerships for economic and social inclusion so that all may benefit.

The inclusion of the youth, civil society, and private sector fora in preparations for this Summit is important in this regard. As a former long time leader in government myself, I know only too well that we need to look beyond our immediate advisors and reach out to all the talents in our societies to make sustained progress.

Increased Arab regional co-operation and integration are also vital. Many issues the region faces, from migration to water resource management, call for cross-boundary solutions. Your regional organization has a critical role to play in bringing people together to find those solutions, and it will have UNDP’s strong support in doing so.

Our collaboration with the League of Arab States has covered a range of priority development issues beyond the MDGs, including efforts to improve water governance, tackle climate change, promote the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, combat corruption through the Arab Anti-Corruption and Integrity Network, and boost trade.

For this Summit, as for its predecessor in Kuwait, we have worked on preparatory documents together to inform decision makers about the region-wide development challenges.
We are now working together to improve our analytical work and development indicators for the region to enhance the evidence base for our programmes. As well, UNDP is supporting the establishment of a centre at the League of Arab States to enhance its capacity for crisis prevention, mitigation, and response.

Our Regional Bureau for the Arab States and each of our Country Offices are supporting countries to analyze their unique development challenges, identify issues impeding human development, and find practical solutions. UNDP’s global network of Country Offices gives us insights into what is working in development around the world, and how that might be adapted to specific national contexts to accelerate progress on the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals

This Summit can be a turning point in the battle against poverty and inequality in the region. What leaders decide here can inform and drive policies which will lead to more fairness and opportunity for all the region’s peoples. At UNDP, we look forward to continuing to accompany this region on its development journey and to supporting it to meet the aspirations of this Summit to achieve sustainable human development for all.