Our Perspective

Poverty

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

Let’s #TalkInequality

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A remote village in Kyrgyzstan was hooked up to satellite phone with UNDP's support. (photo: UNDP Kyrgzstan)

Just how bad is global inequality today? Last year, at the launch of UNDP’s Humanity Divided report, Helen Clark noted that the richest eight per cent of the world’s population earns half of the world’s total income: “Not only do 1.2 billion people continue to live on under US $1.25 dollars a day, but inequalities in income and wealth are often compounded by inequalities in access to power, and disparities in health and education.” How did we arrive at this new polarized age and how divided are we in Europe and Central Asia? How might we sustain our development achievements with prosperity for all?  How have globalization and technological growth affected wage and earning inequalities? UNDP’s Dialogue on Inequalities, taking place on 21-22 January in Istanbul, will discuss the threats posed by inequalities – as well as possible ways of addressing them. As issues of inequality move into the spotlight, I’ve taken the liberty of prepping a reading list. What’s the big deal about this Capital book I keep hearing about? The publication of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century made waves in 2014, significantly advancing the discussion of rising inequality around the world. Matt Yglesias offers a “short guide”... Read more

Innovation brings new approaches and integration

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Egyptian youth explore gamification at UNDP Egypt innovation lab. (Photo: UNDP Egypt)

A few years ago, UNDP Egypt began an exciting innovation for development (I4D) journey experimenting with new and creative approaches for development solutions. This approach has become more focused and deliberate with the implementation of UNDP’s Strategic Plan. In undertaking this journey, we are mindful that what we do on innovation must contribute to development results. Innovation just for the sake of it is simply not enough. Innovation is about doing development better, using new approaches to design and achieve lasting results. It is essential if our organization is to keep pace with and lead response to fast changing, dynamic and complex development challenges. We are putting people at the heart of our work, by engaging citizens, policy makers and entrepreneurs. Through design thinking, co-creation, crowdsourcing, story-telling, gamification, open data, and other non-traditional approaches and tools, we can help our national partners to address their development priorities more effectively. In early 2013, our office adopted a portfolio-based approach to our work, breaking down silos and providing more opportunities for joint programmes.  Our I4D team works with all portfolios to embed innovative approaches into our programmes. For instance, with FabLab we are applying design thinking in developing prototypes to adapt public spaces... Read more

Adaptation and attitude are two keys to crisis response

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Sierra Leone has begun to use new, environmentally-friendly sterilizing equipment to help dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated protective equipment and infectious waste generated in treating Ebola patients. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)

I came to Sierra Leone in July 2014 on a temporary assignment as Area Based Development (ABD) Advisor, but when I arrived the Ebola outbreak had reached an unprecedented scale and the delivery of UNDP’s regular programmes was low priority.  UNDP, as a development agency, was not seen as particularly relevant or equipped to deal with a humanitarian crisis.  But UNDP had programmable resources, a strong network of relationships with government and other stakeholders, and a strong desire amongst the staff to help their communities confront Ebola.   A lot of my work at UNDP has been developing and implementing programmes in creative ways and having that experience helped during the Ebola crisis.  I helped the Country Office to reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis. We reached out to our partners and marginalized groups to identify useful interventions that were in dire need. We then reprogrammed UNDP’s work to build on our existing programmes and relationships to address key issues for those not yet reached by existing prevention activities. As a result of this we have been able to: Work in partnership with local partner NGOs and government to train 300 volunteers and communities on Ebola... Read more

How to finance the Post-2015 Development Agenda?

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Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are much more ambitious than their predecessor; the new framework will tackle not only ‘MDG type’ challenges such as poverty eradication, but also issues such as climate change and peace and security. Much more financing – public and private, domestic and external – will clearly need to be mobilized. What’s not clear is where these resources will come from. Most countries agree on the importance of improved domestic resource mobilization – and there has been significant progress over the last decade. But many also emphasise that development aid (ODA) will continue to play an important role post-2015. Donors should therefore honour their commitments. In July 2015, Addis Ababa will host the UN’s 3rd conference on financing for development.  The conference will not just look at different sources of finance. It will also address ‘systemic’ issues such as the international monetary and financial system, debt sustainability, international tax rules and trade. These areas are important ‘enablers’ of development. There’s a lot on the table and the stakes are high; a robust outcome at the Addis Ababa conference will send an important signal of political support for the SDGs. UNDP Administrator Helen Clark made a keynote address at... Read more

Is a world without poverty possible?

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(Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP in DR Congo)

We all know the world has reached the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. However, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and the prosperous rise of some African nations contrast with the rest of Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with close to half of its population still extremely poor. We need to understand why close to one billion people have been left out of the process. While there are multiple reasons, there are two that require our utmost attention: exclusion and vulnerability to shocks. To eradicate this kind of poverty we need to deal with what I call the challenge of reaching “the last mile” or the suggestion of “Getting Down to Zero.” The last mile exists both in remote rural areas, as well within cities – where the mile is figurative. People also remain poor, or are thrown back into poverty, because of conflicts, natural disasters, or some other shocks which families and communities are just unable to cope with. We can think of the current Ebola outbreak which will erase the gains of peace and development for a generation or more, if we... Read more

National finance helps Asia-Pacific lead the way on Climate Change

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With UNDP's support, rural residents in Bangladesh now have the resources and capacities to build back better and become resilient in the face of environmental threats. Photo credit: UNDP Bangladesh

A vital round of United Nations climate change negotiations is underway in Lima, Peru, from Dec. 1-12. This marks a significant milestone for the crucial Paris Summit on climate change that is a year away. At the climate talks in Lima, climate finance will again be at the forefront of negotiations and key in reaching a new global climate agreement. Initiated at the Secretary General’s Climate Change Summit in September, pledging towards the Green Climate Fund almost reached $10 billion. So far, countries in the Asia Pacific region have received a quarter of all global public climate finance. India and China are the largest recipients. Nineteen dedicated climate funds and initiatives have approved more than $2 billion for projects in the region, since 2003. With many countries in Asia Pacific at the frontline of climate change, bolstering resilience of low lying deltas and small islands, and reducing emissions from fast industrializing nations is a good investment. While this international financing is crucial, for it to have a sustained impact and leverage the investments needed it is also important that planning and budgeting systems are revisited through a climate lens. With the support of the United Nations through the Poverty and Environment... Read more

Ebola: How the rumour mill can churn out fact instead of fiction

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A resident of Waterloo, an Ebola virus hotspot, gets first hand prevention information from one UNDP-supported community volunteer. Photo: H. Uddin/UNDP Sierra Leone

Ebola spreads fast and rumours even faster. In a crisis where information means the difference between life and death, the rumour mill is not helping to end the outbreak. Everyone has a theory about Ebola; some claim they know how to stop it, most claim to know where it came from. Most of the theories contradict reality and serve as a roadblock to eradicating Ebola, like false cures or where donor money is spent. Sierra Leone is a story-telling society, but word of mouth is the best form of communications, particularly when more than 60% of adults are illiterate. In Sierra Leone, secret societies, tacit ethical codes and centuries-long traditions rule the roost. So when some people speak, the country listens.   With this rumour mill comes potential. We, and other UN agencies, NGOs, the Government of Sierra Leone and other stakeholders have made messaging the core of our work. Whether it’s going door-to-door, erecting giant billboards or handing out flyers, getting the right message to everyone is not just about exposure, it’s about trust. Our Ebola community messengers go through their own communities, and speak face-to-face, ensuring they are heard loud and clear. If not, their blue overalls with 117,... Read more

Think tanks supporting South-South Cooperation

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Participants of a UNDP project on family savings and improving diet of poor families in Uruguay and El Salvador using improved equipment to reduce consumption of firewood and increase use of solar power. Photo credit: UNDP

Our new strategic plan champions thought leadership in various areas, including South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSC and TrC). To achieve that vision, we will need to work very closely with think tanks from the global South and open possibilities for cutting edge research, as there is much to be done to help bridge research with policy making and practices on the ground. To start the conversation we presented perspectives from 21 think tanks in the North and South, at a recent partnership-forum we hosted at the Global South-South Development Expo 2014. This outlines emerging trends, roles, good practices and challenges faced by think tanks on SSC and TrC. At the open platform the ensuing discussion revolved around the roles and responsibilities of think tanks in supporting the growth of South-South and Triangular Cooperation and creation of a common research agenda in this area. Panelists from Brazil, China, India and Kenya presented their views on the concepts, principles, practices, and development impacts of SSC and TrC, and outlined steps for moving forward. I would like to share with you some recommendations that emerged from the consultation, and where we could provide further support: Assisting in developing networks for interregional collaboration – a... Read more

A rural community calls for an end to FGM

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Communities in Qena are joining forces with international organizations and civil society to end FGM in Egypt. Photo credit: Jose Sanchez/UNDP Egypt

I recently visited the village of Beir Anbar in the district of Koft, Qena governorate, and listened to the powerful statement this community is conveying to the rest of the country to put an end to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The whole village, from young schoolchildren to village elders came together to denounce FGM as "violent", "wrong" and "harmful". Even today, many girls and young women are subjected to genital mutilation in the name of ‘tradition’. According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, at least 91 percent of Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation. The people of Beir Anbar made it clear that Egyptian girls and women deserve a new tradition – a tradition of protecting and safeguarding their rights. The joint efforts of families, community activists, authorities, development agencies and media are gradually making a difference to phase out this traditional harmful practice. Let us be clear: there is no justification – moral, religious, cultural, medical or otherwise for this practice. ‘Cutting’ demeans, dehumanizes and injures. It is a human rights violation that must be actively opposed until it is ended. As we gathered inside the community centre, a group of... Read more

The way to stop violence against women and girls

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Everyone has a role to play in ending GBV, but with so many actors involved, we need better coordination and communications. Photo credit: UNDP/Pakistan

An average of 1 in 3 women across the world suffer from violence at the hands of a partner, in their lifetime.  Gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affects lower and middle income countries, poorer regions within these countries, and in particular vulnerable groups that include migrants, sex workers, and people living with HIV or disabilities. Earlier this year, I took up the role of UNDP Regional Advisor on GBV in Asia and the Pacific.  Since then, I have had numerous conversations that more or less follow the same pattern: “I cannot believe we still have such high rates of violence around the world, but it all seems so complicated and deep rooted in our societies.  What can we actually do to reduce this violence?”    Recently, I contributed to the Lancet Series on Violence against Women and Girls. This project gave me the opportunity to discuss challenges in the field and exchange ideas for ways forward with some of the world’s most renowned experts on violence against women.  It also gave me time to think about an answer to this question: What can we do to reduce gender-based violence? The resulting five papers in the series present the evidence of which methods... Read more

Ebola - a disease of poverty

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Motorcycle drivers in Monrovia sit on the side of the street, after a ban on motorcycles left them jobless. Due to the Ebola crisis, they can’t find any work. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ UNDP

Recently, I visited Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to better understand the needs of these countries as UNDP helps them deal with the Ebola crisis.  In travelling from Conakry to Monrovia to Freetown, visiting communities and talking to government officials, including the Presidents of Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the Vice President of Liberia, I have seen that Ebola is now testing every aspect of the social fabric. Ebola is shaking institutions and challenging leaders, civilians and medical experts alike.  It is undermining the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and exacerbating poverty and inequality. Everywhere this disease strikes, it is the poorest, living their difficult and deprived lives in Africa’s slums – often among animals, garbage and fumes – who are most vulnerable to this disease. Many of the political leaders I met during this trip cited poverty as the cause of the disease’s spread, and economic recovery as the most pressing need for a long term solution, together with the emergency response to the epidemic.   This message will be repeated today in Washington, at the Global South-South Development Expo. There, people from across the globe will discuss poverty eradication with a special focus on responding to Ebola as... Read more

Shared commitment and collective action are key in fighting corruption

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UNDP in Sudan Organized a Drawing Contest with the Faculty of Fine and Applied Art, University of Sudan as part of an Anti-corruption campaign. Photo credit: UNDP/Sudan

This is a call to action, a call against a cancer, a call for health and a call for integrity. In the fight against corruption, everyone has a stake. Businesses, large and small, require an enabling environment to support growth, jobs, trade, and innovation. Only bad business thrives in an atmosphere of traffic of influence, access to privileged information and widespread bribery. That’s the businesses afraid to compete because they can’t win fair and square against the competition. All other businesses, the medium enterprises, the startups, the big ones, the innovators, those who play by the rules need a state to enforce such rules. So the question is: are you afraid to compete or are you happy to play the integrity game? In the midst of increasing pressures on public budgets striving to meet growing demand for more and better public services, the private sector presents models that are tremendously helpful to the public administration. The corporate world brings not only investment finance and capital but also normative frameworks, expertise and knowledge to the fight against corruption. Yet, despite progress, corruption continues to be a major challenge for companies operating both in developed and developing countries. According to the Institute of... Read more

Can business help finance the Post-2015 Agenda? Yes, But…

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A participant at the Latin America regional consultation on 'Engaging with the Private Sector' in Cartagena, Colombia. Photo credit: (AECID)

Diplomats and their governments are in the middle of a huge exercise to update the world's development agenda. Attention has now started to shift from the ‘what' of the agenda to the ‘how' – policy choices, capacities, institutions, and technology to name but a few. Yet where will the hard cash come from to fund these lofty aspirations? Some of the poorest and least developed countries will be looking for a clear commitment from richer countries that they will meet previous commitments on official development assistance (ODA), including the international benchmark of 0.7% of GNI. But the economies of many rich countries are still struggling, and their governments are finding it difficult to justify to domestic taxpayers that their money is being spent abroad rather than at home. At the other end of the spectrum, some governments have emphasized that the private sector will step in and shoulder the burden of financing the new goals and targets. The discussion on the validity or means of this claim has not been very deep. More cynically, some have suggested that focusing on the private sector's role is a deliberate tactic to steer the debate away from aid commitments. But this critical question remains... Read more

The Data Revolution for human development

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A delegation of election management bodies from seven countries in South Asia visited Pune in October to learn more about how India manages elections. Photo credit: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

A World That Counts, the report by the UN Secretary General’s Data Revolution Group, was released recently. The report contains much that is important to global development. But what, I have been pondering, might the data revolution mean for human development and human development reporting in particular? Three ideas occur immediately. First, the importance of data for both decision-making and analytical debate needs no demonstration. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a remarkable example of the power a simple measure can wield to reframe debate towards genuine development outcomes. Now, in a data-rich world one could argue for the index also to include much more that is important to people: measures of voice, equality, sustainability, security, freedom and dignity. All of these would help paint a richer picture of human development. But such data – at least not yet - are not available in most countries. I hope the data revolution will change that. Second, our 700 national human development reports always are built on data, often with disaggregation and innovative analysis. Of course such evidence-based analysis is vital to ensuring the reports’ robustness and usefulness. But I believe that the conversations about what data to use, that are a key... Read more

Ebola response cannot be gender blind

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With borders closed and travel restricted, small holder farmers, mostly women, are hard put to get to community markets to sell their produce. © 2014 Morgana Wingard

Years of combatting HIV, malaria and tuberculosis - all of which have taken a harsh toll on women in sub-Saharan Africa - reveal lessons that, if heeded, could help stem the tide of the Ebola epidemic. There is little doubt that women are at the frontline of the Ebola crisis, as they are most often responsible for caring for sick relatives at home, or likely to be working as nurses, traditional healers and health facility cleaners. There is scant reliable data disaggregated by gender on the current outbreak, but reports suggest it has a particularly destructive impact on women. With medical facilities overwhelmed, expectant mothers are often left without pre-natal care, obstetric services and newborn care.  With borders closed and travel restricted, small holder farmers, mostly women, are hard put to get to community markets to sell their produce.  Isolated by quarantines or orphaned by Ebola, girls and young women are at increased risk of gender-based violence and exploitation. Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of Ebola on women is a first step, but it’s not enough. To succeed, responses must put gender-specific realities and needs front and center. It is critical to recognize and involve women as leaders in their communities. Women... Read more

Innovation: The new currency for emergence in Africa

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In Kenya, M-pesa – a cell phone based peer-to-peer money transfer system – had more than 14 million users in 2011.

Across Africa, many nations are aspiring to become emerging countries. Beyond growth, they want to transform and diversify their economies, rapidly improve the standards of living of their people, and assert internationally their economic and political clout. As participants in the African Economic Conference concluded, innovation is necessary to achieving that objective. Why? First, because high economic growth can only be sustained with innovation. With diminishing returns, jobs and livelihoods will only continue to grow if more productive sectors are sought. And only innovation – understood as the application of new and existing knowledge to improve processes – can do that systematically. For instance, when irrigation and fertilizer use improved in Asia in the 1960s, crops grew bigger and leafier, but yields didn’t increase. However, with the help of science and technology, Asia eventually experienced the Green Revolution. Despite impressive efforts in countries like Ethiopia, a similar breakthrough is needed in Africa. Boosting agricultural productivity will require adopting new practices. Innovation also matters in the delivery of social services and often requires low-tech interventions. For instance, in Senegal, between 2005 and 2010, the under-five mortality rate declined by almost 10 percent a year while India took 25 years to achieve similar... Read more

Finding durable solutions for urban settings in Haiti

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The government of Haiti and its people have made extraordinary efforts to recover from their traumatic experience. Photo: UNDP in Haiti.

For those who arrived in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the images of destruction in the capital city will be probably remain in our minds forever. They are in mine: at least 200,000 people dead and over a million displaced, thousands of buildings collapsed, houses damaged everywhere, economies disrupted, basic services interrupted, and tents and camps mushrooming in every small plaza or area where rubble had barely been removed. The earthquake took place in a very specific context, aggravated by pre-existing conditions:  lack of adequate housing, land tenure issues, and disorganized rural-urban migration patterns. Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes for durable solutions in urban settings. One time initiatives may be effective – such as emptying the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps - but affected families need sustainable solutions. Affordable housing, basic services and income generating activities are some of the key components of any programme promoting the return from IDP camps. The government of Haiti and its people, men and women, have made extraordinary efforts to recover from such a traumatic experience. From the 1.5 million displaced after the earthquake, only 80,000 remain.  The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose from $1,548 to $1,602 per capita between... Read more

Tobacco and public health: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

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Health systems in lower and middle-income countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the rise in tobacco consumption. Photo: UNDP in Lebanon.

Tobacco poses challenges to various dimensions of human development, from public health to poverty reduction, gender equality and environmental sustainability. As the market for tobacco products declines in the developed world, multinational corporations have turned their sights to lower- and middle-income countries. But the health systems in these countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the increased burden that results from the rise in tobacco consumption. To make matters worse, the tobacco industry’s practices in these countries are often in direct contradiction to laws and policies meant to protect public health: - paying policymakers to block or water down tobacco control laws; - influencing science and providing biased expert opinion in public and government forums - delaying measures such as graphical pictorial warnings on cigarette packs; - offering to draft countries’ national non-communicable disease strategies, so that they focus more on increasing physical activity rather than reducing tobacco consumption. While tobacco industry interference in policymaking is a long-standing problem, the trend has been picking up steam in developing countries, with WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan stating that “the wolf is no longer bothering to wear sheep’s clothing.”  However, countries working to protect their citizens’ health... Read more

Loud and clear: Rethinking service design in Georgia

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People living with speech or hearing impairments now have more options to contact the emergency hotline. Photo: David Khizanishvili, UNDP Georgia.

On the heels of SHIFT, UNDP's Week of Innovation Action, we tried to answer some basic questions: Why do we need it all? Why should we do innovation work in development? We got our answers after a design thinking session with the national emergency hotline in Georgia.  112 is one of the most dialled phone numbers in Georgia. In 2013 alone, they received over 8 million calls. Their website lists emergency services available for children, with a video tour, and frequently asked questions for those who may need immediate help. They provide everything for everyone – except for those who cannot hear or speak.  This is because 112 is only reachable through a voice call. Those living with speech or hearing impairments simply don’t have options. To change this, 112 teamed up with our office in Georgia and the Swedish Government  to prepare a new service design – one that would be truly universal. Earlier this year, the 112 team travelled to Ireland to examine how new technology can make emergency services more accessible for the hearing and speech impaired. This was followed by a three-day design thinking workshop that brought together people with disabilities, tech specialists and civil society organizations.... Read more

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