Our Perspective

Gender equality: A human right critical for development progress

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In Sonsonate, El Salvador, UNDP promotes women’s economic empowerment as a way of reducing violence. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

This week, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women. The review of this visionary roadmap, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, is an opportunity to celebrate the world’s progress toward ensuring the rights and opportunities of women and girls, and also to renew and reinvigorate commitments to achieve gender equality. One of the great achievements of the Beijing Platform for Action was the clear recognition that women’s rights are human rights. Since that historic gathering in Beijing, when 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists gathered to voice and demonstrate their support for gender equality and women’s empowerment, there has been increasing recognition that gender equality, in addition to being a human right, is also critical to making development progress. If women and girls are not able to fully realize their rights and aspirations in all spheres of life, development will be impeded. Twenty years on, we can see both progress and challenges in the twelve areas of critical concern laid out in the Beijing Platform for Action. Gender parity in... Read more

Why is disaster risk governance so essential?

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In Nepal, UNDP's Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme includes initiatives such as the training of first responder including rope-climbing for emergency response and search and rescue volunteers in flood-prone areas of the country. Photo: UNDP Nepal

It has come as a bit of a surprise to me that the recent UN negotiations on the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction led to serious discussions among member states about whether the term ‘governance’ should be included in the text. I was particularly surprised given that the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005 – 2015 already included the term, and a big portion of the work at country level these last 10-20 years has focused on strengthening governance arrangements for DRR. By the 1990s, numerous countries had established dedicated national disaster management authorities—often with the support of UNDP—and devised corresponding policy, legal and planning frameworks, so as to enable DRR action. At the time, I worked for the UN in the Pacific and saw first-hand how the focus was gradually shifting from emergency preparedness and response to disaster risk reduction. As the understanding of the complex causes of disasters grew, more actors entered the fold, including representatives of academia, NGOs, civil society and local communities. These actors all had a stake in influencing risk levels, and so needed to be a part of the solution. As vulnerability to natural hazards was increasingly understood to be more than just physical... Read more

Bringing about the 'Good Change' (together)

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A woman washes clothes outside her flooded house. Heavy rains in 2013 resulted in floods in 20 provinces throughout the north-west and along the Mekong River in central and southern Cambodia, killing 188 people and affecting more than 1.7 million. Photo: Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom for UNDP

In the last decade, Cambodia has halved its poverty rate and improved the living conditions of its population. Yet because of extreme climate events that regularly descend on the country, Cambodia remains one of the most disaster-vulnerable countries in Southeast Asia. In 2013 alone, losses caused by floods added up to USD $356 million. Disasters are tragic because of the consequences on human life and well-being, but they also present an opportunity to promote what UNDP now calls “risk-informed development.” Various actors and communities can—and should—work more closely together to create effective, multi-disciplinary approaches to respond to disasters and promote disaster risk reduction.   Take the 2013 floods as an example. A combination of heavy rains and the swelling of the Mekong River caused widespread damage to infrastructure and crops. 168 people died, most of them children, and 20 provinces were devastated, with thousands of hectares of rice destroyed and hundreds of kilometers of rural roads badly damaged. Following the floods, the Cambodian government requested that UNDP work with various partners to carry out a Post Flood Early Recover Needs Assessment. Drawing on the expertise of UNDP’s country office, as well as the skills and knowledge of government partners, NGOs, and... Read more

Reducing poverty and building resilience to climate change in Myanmar’s Dry Zone

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A man fills his water container from the Taung Shae village tube well, in the Dry Zone of Central Myanmar. Photo: UNDP Myanmar

In the undulating plains of the Dry Zone of central Myanmar, the Kingdom of Pagan flourished between the 11th and 13th century, largely thanks to productive agriculture supported by skilled water management techniques. Today, if it were not for the hundreds of pagodas that still remain standing, it would be hard to believe that a Kingdom once prospered here. There is little trace of the rich and fertile agricultural land, extensive canals, and abundant water that once existed in the heart of this now Dry Zone. When I arrived in the village of Taung Shae in the Dry Zone, the popping noise of a diesel pump was reverberating in the air.  A water-less community pond, in disrepair with a cracked bottom, illustrates the importance of water infrastructure for this community. But a villager proudly tells me that their tube well is 250 metres deep and now water is available throughout the year.  He says he collects 300 Myanmar Kyat (about US$0.30) per 200 litres from villagers to maintain the pump. In the village of Sin Loo Ey, villagers were busy with shelling peanuts. They tell me that the harvest is not as good as they hoped this year, but not bad... Read more

Zero Discrimination Day: a call for freedom, equality, and inclusion

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At the opening of the BeingLGBT in Asia dialogue, New Zealand parliamentarian Honorable Louisa Wall; Luc Stevens, UN Resident Coordinator, Thailand; Trans activist Geena Rocero; and LGBT activist and TV host Sophon Shimjinda show their support for Zero Discrimination.

Zero Discrimination Day is an international call for freedom, equality and ending exclusion. This day, and every other day, for effective HIV and development responses we must work towards creating a world that is free from stigma and discrimination. Intolerance is often fueled by and mirrored in harmful laws, policies and practices – laws, policies and practices that are not founded on human rights but based on moral judgment, fear and misinformation. These laws, policies and practices exclude or punish those that are marginalized. They perpetuate stigma and discrimination by dehumanizing and criminalizing those who are most vulnerable and they place a disproportionate burden on those affected by HIV such as sex workers, people who use drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. In a number of countries, discriminatory laws criminalize transgender people on the basis of their gender identity. These laws, which often reflect the social marginalization of transgender people, do not recognize their existence. Without legal recognition and access to justice, transgender people are unable to get official documentation with their names and sex reflecting their gender identity. Without the accurate identification, they are unable to access even the most basic of services that they are... Read more

Inside UNDP: Jennifer Topping

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UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Mozambique Jennifer Topping with kids in Zambezia Camp. Photo: UNICEF in Mozambique

1. Who are you? My name is Jennifer Topping.   I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada.  My father died when I was young and my mother raised our family of 5 children on her own – with unrelenting grace, humour, resilience and commitment to our education.  I know that’s where my strength as a woman and as a leader comes from. 2. What do you do for work? I am the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Mozambique. I have the daily privilege and challenge of leading a coordinated effort of 22 UN Agencies delivering a $700 million multi-year programme in one of the poorest and most rapidly developing countries in the world. 3. How long have you worked for UNDP? How did you end up working for UNDP? Where were you before? I joined UNDP in 1988 as a Junior Professional Officer funded by Canada.   I was completing my graduate studies when I learned of the JPO programme, supported by the government of Canada for young Canadians to get experience in international development and the UN.  Within a year of applying, I found myself in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen as a P1 programme officer, with a... Read more

Involving the private sector in managing climate change and disasters

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Like most small island nations, Vanuatu's coastal zone is the country’s hub of economic activity. In order to protect the economies of small islands, it is imperative to enhance the adaptive capacity of coastal zones. Photo: UNDP

In January 2014, I was in Tonga working with the Government on recovery efforts following Tropical Cyclone Ian. While there, I heard about Digicel’s interest in supporting the recovery effort at the community level. This piqued my interest about the prospects for Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) and how they could work in the Pacific around the topic of Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management (CCDRM). Why don’t governments and development partners work more closely with private sector? Why aren’t such working arrangements part of everyday business? The impacts of climate change and disasters are ultimately development issues – and managing them should involve the public and private sectors, as well as communities. I started a dialogue with Digicel in their regional office in Fiji. At first it was challenging; it was as though we spoke different languages. However, after our second meeting with Digicel’s team in Suva and their colleagues in Vanuatu, it became very clear that we wanted the same things. We not only shared common goals, but those goals were surprisingly simple to achieve. I realized that the private sector could offer governments a far more cost-effective way of raising the awareness of remote island communities about the threat of cyclones.... Read more

Can data better focus risk reduction strategies?

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Monsoon rains and tropical storms bring terrible flooding to Cambodia, but lighting strikes rank as the second highest cause of mortality in disaster-related deaths. Photo: OCHA/Andrew Pendleton

It’s widely known that floods are a major cause of mortality in Cambodia. Nearly 53 percent of total disaster-related deaths between 1996 and 2013 were caused by recurring floods. What’s less well-known is that during the same period, 35 percent of disaster-related deaths were due to lightning, the second-highest cause of mortality in Cambodia. Understanding the impacts of disasters, their frequency, intensity and recurrence patterns are key to addressing them systematically. In Cambodia, such analysis has been possible with the use of data provided by CamDi (Cambodia Disaster Loss and Damage database), an online system established by the National Committee of Disaster Management in partnership with UNDP. In July 2014, CamDi, with English and Khmer interface, was launched by the Government of Cambodia and an analytical report was shared with all line ministries and provincial agencies, as well as with the donor community, international non-government organizations and other relevant groups.   I remember my initial consultations and discussions with the government and stakeholders. At the time, we were largely focused on flood-related issues, and lightning, seen as an isolated event, went unmentioned. Exhaustive disaster data collection, however, revealed the team the severity of the impact of lightning on the lives of... Read more

Good governance for disaster recovery

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Heavy rains in Haiti's northern city of Cap Haitian left streets, homes and fields flooded and hundreds of people homeless and up to 15 people dead. Photo: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

In 2007, when I began my career with UNDP in Ecuador, I thought I knew the ins and outs of disaster recovery. I had the technical background as a civil engineer, researcher and professor of earthquake engineering. A year after starting at UNDP, a major challenge arrived: intense and concentrated rains battered Ecuador’s entire coast for four months. Thirteen provinces were reporting major damage, with some urban centers remaining under water for two months and landslides closing roads and leaving many communities completely isolated. Two percent of the Ecuadorian population was affected, with damages accounting for nearly 2.5 percent of the country’s GDP that year. I received a crash course in the complexity of recovery. Before a single shovel could hit the ground or a brick laid, dozens of meetings and consultations had to be held and dozens of plans formulated. While we had created a recovery strategy based on four pillars (social, productive, infrastructure, and environment and sanitation) and three cross-cutting elements (institutional reform, community participation, and land use and planning), we still had to implement an extremely complex, comprehensive recovery plan: arranging and channeling funding; establishing ad-hoc implementation bodies; putting line ministries and regional development entities in charge of... Read more

Peaceful Societies Need Security Reforms

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In Haiti, UNDP has contributed to the professionalisation of 2,700 people in areas critical for recovery and development, including vocational training for all judicial actors (judges, registrars, police officers).

For societies to be inclusive, they need to be peaceful and safe for all. They need to be safe for those who most need protection. They need to be safe for women. Last week, the Group of Friends of Security Sector Reform (SSR), and its Slovakia and South Africa co-chairs, convened a meeting to discuss how national governments can enable reform, with the United Nations supporting them in their efforts.   In April 2014, with support from more than 40 Member States, the Security Council unanimously passed the first-ever stand-alone resolution (2151) on security sector reform.  This highlights the broad political support for such reform and its links to crisis management, post-conflict stabilization and sustainable development. The latest report of the Secretary-General on SSR emphasizes community and citizen security.  This is where we see strong linkages to the post-2015 Development Agenda and where Member States, within the context of the Open Working Group, have placed rightful emphasis on violence reduction and accountable, responsive governance. 2015 marks the 10 year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  Security for women is part of our quest for gender equality.  We continue to see unacceptably high levels of sexual violence... Read more

Innovative public-private partnerships are key to Post-2015 success

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Kazakhstan produces 343,000 tonnes of electronic waste each year. Through a public-private partnership the country is now making positive changes to their e-waste disposal. Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan making changes to e-waste disposal through an unusual public-private partnership

In a world where links between countries are greater and faster than ever, disasters that once might have had only local effects now increasingly have international ramifications. The effects from the tsunami/meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima reactor, for example, had devastating local consequences, but also impacted communities and economies thousands of miles away. In such an interconnected world, with impacts that touch upon all of society, locally and internationally, we need equally all-embracing approaches. While challenging, an increasingly interlinked world also provides unprecedented opportunities to reduce risk. Countries that might have once been at a dire disadvantage from a skills and knowledge perspective now have the ability to draw upon international resources. And the private sector—which operates in perhaps an even more hyper-connected environment than governments—can be called on to provide expertise. Our goal then, as we move into the post-2015 context, is to learn how to tap into these areas and to make use of innovative partnerships that draw on specific strengths and address identifiable gaps. The Get Airports Ready for Disasters (GARD) programme, a joint venture between UNDP and Deutsche Post DHL, stands as an example of such innovation. The programme joins the logistics expertise of DPDHL with the governance... Read more

Technological hazards: From risk reduction to recovery

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Chernobyl exclusion zone in the town of Prypiat, Ukraine. Most of the Chernobyl-affected areas suffer from high unemployment and poverty, while residents suffer from victim syndrome, a dependency culture, and lack the information. Photo: UNDP in Ukraine

This past December marked the 30th Anniversary of the Bhopal disaster—3,000 people were killed and another 170,000 injured when a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked chemical substances into the air. Regarded by many as one of history’s worst industrial accidents, Bhopal remains a horrific reminder of risks we continue to face today in an ever-industrializing world. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 192 technological disasters were reported worldwide in 2013.  Technological hazards are expected to grow as urbanization and industrialization spread, and as climate change brings increasingly unpredictable threats to technological infrastructure. To date, no global agreement is in place for preventing and preparing for technological disasters. While there are a number of regional and sectoral frameworks, as well as mechanisms and policies to address various types of technological disasters, we lack an overarching framework that is equipped to address the sheer complexity of issues and diversity of actors involved. The post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) offers a unique opportunity to address precisely this, and it gives us a real opportunity to strengthen national coordination and legislative frameworks, and to expand the capacities of all stakeholders for all risks, including technological ones. If... Read more

Infrastructure for Development: Show me the Money!

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A Renewable energy generation project, implemented by UNDP and funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), installed solar panels in schools and maternity clinics in Gaza. Photo: UNDP/PAPP

According to the Oxford University Said Business School, we are facing an unprecedented infrastructure mega-project investment era, amounting to 6-9 trillion US$ annually, or 8% of the global GDP. Whether it involves revamping old infrastructure, developing new sources of energy, providing access to social services and utilities to more people (with the paradigm of universal access in sight) or developing our communications infrastructure, it is easy to be in favour of more, and better, infrastructural development. The issue is not for poor countries alone to struggle with. President Obama wants to upgrade the US roads, bridges and ports by imposing new taxes on overseas earnings by American companies. Little can be said against infrastructure as a public good. The problem is how to interest private finance in that public good.       As the Secretary-General said in his post-2015 agenda Synthesis Report last December, “Urgent action is needed to mobilise, redirect, and unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources to deliver on sustainable development objectives.” Infrastructure makes life better, economies more competitive, and while being built, offers jobs to the value chain. On the other side, however, infrastructure also massively consumes cement and increases emissions. It is one... Read more

Inside UNDP: Iman Al Husseini

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Iman Husseini briefing the Administrator, during her visit in February 2014, on infrastructure projects in Gaza. Photo: UNDP/PAPP

1. Who are you? I was raised with my two brothers in Kuwait. My father used to tell me when I was young: ”Since you are in the middle of your brothers you are the best, as the best bead in the necklace is always in the middle.” My family was a great support and driving force for me in my career. It is part of my nature to always challenge myself. 2. What do you do for work? I am a Programme Specialist at the UNDP Gaza Office, heading the infrastructure team that implements a variety of projects in sectors such as housing, water, sewage, job creation, energy, health, and education. 3. Where were you before? I started my career as an assistant site engineer at a large consultancy office in Kuwait.  As a woman, I was not used to climbing walls or trees or walking on wood beams in construction sites.  Being one of five pioneer female engineers working for the company, the resident engineer was counting on my failure to leave the site.  I took up the challenge, killed my fears, and trained myself with the site supervisor’s help. Upon my return to Gaza, I joined UNRWA in... Read more

How do we tell the story of Disaster Risk Reduction?

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Sushma Kandi received a new, stronger home for her and her daughter after the 1999 super-cyclone in Odisha. Photo: Ruhani Kaur/UNDP India.

Capturing the work of disaster risk reduction (DRR) is difficult in the best of times. As in other development fields, jargon has clouded the DRR narrative. Terms like “risk governance,” “resilient recovery” and, my favorite, “comprehensive community based disaster risk management,” have made it a struggle to impress upon non-UN types what it is exactly that we do. This isn't helped by the fact that a lot of what UNDP does is behind the scenes, governance-type work. So many times, after a disaster somewhere, a friend has asked me, "You must be really busy?" Explaining the nuances of pre-disaster DRR can be challenging.  Nuance just isn't an easy sell, and that's the hard truth of our work. Relief agencies can throw bags of food from helicopters and take pictures of it, but what can we do? Snap a picture of the new district disaster management plan?  But while the type of work we do makes communications harder, it doesn’t make it impossible. Our task is to look further down the service line and show how that district plan is helping people on the ground. All of this was very much on my mind as I travelled around south India filming videos... Read more

Building on the Pacific’s culture of resilience

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In Samoa, the problem of coastal erosion and inundation directly impacts people’s livelihood. (Photo: Joe Hitchcock and Luke McPake for UNDP)

When I first arrived in Samoa in 1998, I lived on the larger, less populated and more traditional island of Savaii, where things were ordered and everyone filled a very particular role. For example, to build a canoe, I first needed to find a tree, get permission from a local chief and go to the plantation to cut it down. Then a canoe builder for that area was commissioned and a small dedication ceremony was required before the canoe went to sea. Over time I came to understand the organization of life in Savaii, and how that organization was, in fact, the community’s foundation for resilience. After a cyclone, for example, the community sends young men to gather the fallen coconut for safe drinking water and specific root crops that heavy winds have not damaged. In my 13 years working on climate change and disaster risk management in the Pacific, I have learned that the foundation of resilience for these communities is their culture and way of life. Unlike many in international community, who see climate change and disaster risk management as two separate issues, these communities experience them as a single issue that reaches across all aspects of life. The... Read more

2015 Human Development Report: Rethinking work for human development

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The search for minerals in DR Congo happens in extremely dangerous conditions, without any security and with negative consequences for the environment. Photo: Benoit Almeras/UNDP DRC

From a human development perspective, work, rather than jobs or employment is the relevant concept. A job is a narrow concept with a set of pre-determined time-bound assigned tasks or activities, in an input-output framework with labour as input and a commodity or service as output. Yet, jobs do not encompass creative work (e.g. the work of a writer or a painter), which go beyond defined tasks; they do not account for unpaid care work; they do not focus on voluntary work. Work thus is a broader concept, which encompasses jobs, but goes beyond by including the dimensions mentioned above, all of which are left out of the job framework, but are critical for human development. Work is the means for unleashing human potential, creativity, innovation and spirits. It is essential to make human lives productive, worthwhile and meaningful. It enables people to earn a living, gives them a means to participate in society, provides them with security and gives them a sense of dignity. Work is thus inherently and intrinsically linked to human development. But it is important to recognize that there is no automatic link between work and human development. Nor does every type of work enhance human development.... Read more

2015: Many things could go well!

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The 3x6 approach in Burundi allows people, through an integrated approach to control the development process themselves. (Photo: UNDP Burundi)

This year is iconic, and has been branded as a year of opportunity. Like Y2K, it could be an annus mirabilis (year of miracles). UNDP can make a serious contribution: the Strategic Plan (2014-2017) is designed to chart the way forward in the major conferences ahead, and in the final definition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 2015 is the European Year of Development, the UN’s 70th Anniversary and the 20th Anniversary of Beijing (the platform to advance women’s rights).  In 2015, the African Union Summit will focus on Ebola and beyond, and the Turkish G20 Presidency priorities are focused on Inclusivity, Implementation and Investment for growth. We are on the road to Sendai for the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), to Addis for the 3rd Conference on Financing for Development (FfD). The events complement each other leading to the General Assembly (GA) on Post 2015 and the CoP21 in Paris. UNDP is ready for the challenge. It is strong, fit, and cost-effective. It is state of the art in development thinking and is in the lead of the UN Development System. What will be our key messages? I suggest the following five: UNDP is ready to support... Read more

Bigger cities don’t have to mean bigger risks

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An aerial view of the city of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan's southern Sindh Province, which was heavily affected by countrywide flooding in 2010. (Photo: Amjad Jamal/UN)

The majority of the world’s population is urban, and it’s easy to understand why: Urban settings often offer better economic opportunities and better access to essential services (such as healthcare and education), as well as a wider variety of entertainment and leisure options. But urban environments are also uniquely vulnerable to disasters. Many towns, cities, and urban sprawls stand in coastal zones, on riverbanks, or in mountains– settings that are exposed to geological and hydro-meteorological hazards like earthquakes, storm surges, and cyclones. In addition, rapid urbanization often brings poor land use planning, unsafe construction practices, and damage to natural resources (like waterways and mangroves). Urban centers can suffer from ‘intensive risk,’ because a large number of people, facilities, services, and assets are condensed in one place and at risk of substantial losses and damages from a disaster. As the world becomes more and more urbanized, urban risk reduction becomes more and more of a necessity. The post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, which will emerge at the upcoming UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, can help elevate this concern at the highest levels and push for disaster risk reduction to be built into urban planning and development.... Read more

What can be done to ensure global agreements include and are relevant to Small Island Developing States?

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New irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. (Photo: UNDP)

Today the United Nations and observers marked the official closing of the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a reflection of a global agreement by governments to put these countries, small dots as they are on a global map, in the spotlight for all to see their development challenges and realities in the 21st Century. In this year, 2015, when so many global development processes are coming to a head, including efforts to define and mobilize financing for development, agree a new disaster risk reduction framework in Sendai, and adopt the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, as well as a new climate change agreement in Paris under the UNFCCCC, the question to be asked is for SIDS is, what can be done to ensure that these global agreements include, and are relevant to SIDS, their size, circumstances and capacities? These countries, which represent over one-quarter of the UN membership, together with their many partners, gathered in Samoa last September for the Third International Conference on SIDS, a once-in-a-decade opportunity, to present their aspirations for the future.  The voices of islanders are a clarion call to the international community: addressing their sustainable development needs goes hand in hand... Read more

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