Helen Clark: Opening speech to UNDP Arab states regional meeting of resident representatives in Rabat, Morocco

30 Mar 2012

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

Opening speech to UNDP Arab States Regional Meeting of Resident Representatives in Rabat, Morocco

It is a pleasure to greet you all at this meeting of leaders of UN Country Teams and UNDP across the Arab States, together with members of the UN Development Group’s Regional Directors’ Team, and, from New York, Assistant Secretaries- General and other senior personnel from headquarters.

At the outset, let me express our deep appreciation to the Kingdom of Morocco for being so supportive of the holding of our regional meeting here, and for the Kingdom’s warm hospitality.

We are also delighted that the newly elected Head of Government of Morocco has agreed to address this formal opening session of our meeting.  I met with His Excellency yesterday, and was pleased to note the emphasis in his government’s programme on inclusive growth, poverty reduction, education, Health, modernization of the public sector, the rule of law, anti-corruption, and citizen participation.  These are all areas we in the UN development system have the skills and expertise to support.

Transitions in the Arab States

The uprising which led to the fall of the former regime in Tunisia in January last year was the beginning of a dramatic series of events in a number of Arab States, which continue to this day.   People have taken to the streets of towns, and cities to demand reform of political, economic, and social systems.

They have called for fairness, justice, and dignity, for the right to have input into the decisions which impact on their lives, and for their human rights to be upheld.

They want the opportunity to work, to be educated, to have decent services, and to have governments which are honest, responsive, and accountable.

Here in Morocco, the process of change has been overwhelmingly peaceful; significant constitutional changes have been made; and free and fair elections have been held.

Leaders were replaced in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. All four countries are now in various stages of transition – each one unique.

Elsewhere in the region, the uprising in Syria is ongoing with great suffering and loss of life. Bahrain has yet to find a way forward based on dialogue and reconciliation.

Last June in Cairo, UNDP sponsored a significant forum on pathways to democratic transitions.  I said in my speech there that where leaders had fallen, hopes for change were high, but that, inevitably, if transitions elsewhere in the world are any guide, there will be bumps along the road.

Senior representatives of countries from Latin America, Indonesia, and Africa at the forum made similar points – to the effect that change is a process, and that it will develop in its own way in each country.  There are no uniform prescriptions – each transition has its own dynamic.

Reflecting on what has happened, and not only with the benefit of hindsight, change was inevitable – the issue was when it might occur.

UNDP over the past decade has published Arab Human Development Reports which identified significant human development deficits in the region – across governance, living standards, women’s empowerment, rule of law and human rights, access to education and other services, and in human security overall.  Our reports drew attention to the need for change to address these deficits.

Those who filled streets and squares in many parts of the region over the past fifteen months called for that change to come now.  While it is not possible for all aspirations to be realised in the short, or even the medium term, a very important set of dynamics is now at work which has the potential to be transformational for human development in the region.

In this process, many lives have been lost and many injuries sustained by courageous people who took part in and continue to take part in movements for change.  We salute them all, and trust that their personal sacrifice will not be in vain.

I want to pay tribute also to our UN Resident Co-ordinators, their Country Teams, and all our staff – national and international – serving in countries affected by tumultuous events.  I include in these thanks also our colleagues in other parts of the region who work under ongoing conditions of considerable difficulty.  All of you rise to new challenges, do business unusual, and, where regimes have fallen, start down the road of supporting nations in their transitions.

To give a framework for our responses to events in the region, your regional directors came together to work on and commit to a comprehensive strategy.

As nations changed direction, so too did the UN’s development organisations in order to be relevant to new circumstances.

Some nations asked for our support for national dialogue and constitution-making processes; others for electoral expertise.

There were other new entry points for deepening democratic governance and citizen engagement; supporting more equitable, sustainable, and rights-based approaches to development; expanding and improving public services; focusing on the empowerment of women and youth; and building the rule of law.

The challenges are huge, but in the UN development system we relish a challenge, and will do our utmost to support national development strategies and people’s aspirations for a better world wherever we can.

In that process we must build partnerships with the new actors in governments, in politics generally, and in civil society.

By definition, countries in transitions are looking for new ways of doing things.

The range and depth of expertise in the UN development system make us natural partners for supporting comprehensive reform programmes.  With our universal presence and experience of working in developing countries – from those mired in long-running conflict to those recovering from it, and from the least developed to the high middle income countries - we see a wide range of ways of tackling development challenges.

We must be sources of ideas, innovation, and expertise – and we must bring a sense of urgency to the task so that the legitimate desires of the region’s peoples for a better life can be met as quickly as is humanly possible.

Beyond the priority of supporting nations in transitions, there are two other areas of high priority to the United Nations which I wish to highlight briefly:

1. There is still work to be done to reach a number of the Millennium Development Goals in a number of countries.  For example:

• Extreme and absolute poverty persists in parts of the region, along with food insecurity and poor nutrition.

• The goal of universal enrolment in primary schools has not been reached everywhere, and dropout rates can be high.  Realising the region’s potential requires lifting educational access and achievement.

With three years to go before the 2015 target date for the MDGs, there is much we can do with our national partners to achieve the MDGs with equity. I know that all UN Country Teams are dedicated to this task.

2. In the run up to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June, and beyond the Summit, we in the UN’s development organisations must maximize our support for sustainable development across its economic, social, and environmental pillars.

We must be an advocate of integrated policy-making which looks for “triple win” policies.  Areas like energy offer rich opportunities for that: sustainable energy access for all will reduce poverty, reduce the burden on women and children, and have low impact on the environment.

The Arab States region is highly exposed to environmental challenges, ranging from desertification and water scarcity to biodiversity loss and coastal erosion.  Adapting to and mitigating these circumstances is a development challenge to which well co-ordinated UN Country Teams can bring considerable knowledge.

As colleagues, you gather here from countries in very different circumstances. To each of those, we in the UN must respond according to the norms and values of the UN’s Charter, conventions, and protocols, and the mandates of our organisations.  Our aim must be to bring the huge strengths we have to the service of the countries in which we are privileged to work.  This meeting is about sharing our own experiences of how to work effectively in a wide range of contexts, with a focus always on contributing to better development outcomes for the region’s peoples. 

I wish you all a most productive regional meeting.

Leadership
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Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on 17 April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is also the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments working on development issues.