Our Perspective

Sustainable Development

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

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

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

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

How can we save the world’s forests?

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Clearing forests is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Borjomi Forest in Georgia. Photo: UNDP

The crucial role of forests in tackling climate change is high on the agenda this week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Conserving the world’s forests is critical to climate change mitigation. While forests absorb carbon dioxide, when cleared or degraded they become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Over 13 million hectares of forests are still being cleared each year. That’s an area around three times the size of Switzerland. This destruction is contributing up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and threatens our common future. With a global climate agreement scheduled to be finalised at the Paris Climate Conference at the end of the year, keeping up the momentum on forest conservation is essential. We also need to maintain and build upon the progress made last year, including at the UN Climate Summit in New York hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in September, in the COP 20 “Lima Call to Action,” and through the deforestation-free supply chain commitments made by many corporations. I was proud to be involved in the Climate Summit’s forests action area, which UNDP facilitated and which saw the launch of the New York Declaration on Forests (PDF). This process... Read more

Will Cinderella be at the 2015 Development Ball?

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A mother and child visit a doctor at Kalma IDP camp in South Darfur. Public service officials must be given a voice if the post-2015 agenda is to be realized. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/UNAMID

It’s that season again.  Artificially orchestrated good cheer generating excessive consumption followed by a bad headache – and that’s just fiscal policy.  Then at New Year widespread indulgence in resolutions that won’t be kept. It is enough to make anyone a bit gloomy. But, as ever, missing from the dance floor will be the least understood and most under-appreciated people in the whole development enterprise – those dedicated public officials who actually do most of the work.  These unacknowledged heroes who delivered the MDGs, and who will be the rock-bed for implementing the SDGs in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, are  struggling every day to deal with contradictory political instructions and irreconcilable directives, to ‘do more with less’. The morale of public officials almost everywhere around the world has been in decline for thirty years. Derided for decades for lacking the private sector dynamism, these same officials are being told to ensure that public institutions be inclusive, participatory, and accountable; that laws and institutions protect human rights and fundamental freedoms; that everyone be free from fear and violence, without discrimination; that democratic, free, safe, and peaceful societies provide access to fair justice systems, combat corruption and curb illicit financial flows, and the... 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

Climate change and inequalities: How will this impact women?

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Women are key drivers of sustainable development. (Photo: UNDP)

Of all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, one does not get the attention it deserves: exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women. In poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment. Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life. But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful. Just look to Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development. With our support, the association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate. In the process, women... 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

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

A recipe towards a career in international development

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Consider starting with “transportable” skills from one project or one organization to another. Photo: UNDP in Belize

As I am about to transition to independent work from a very rewarding life with UNDP, young professionals often ask for my own recipe towards a fulfilled career in international development. After mentioning that any accomplishment is in the eye of the beholder, I point to the following principles: Prepare for diversity. I was lucky to experience both geographic and functional diversity, but modern careers will include, it seems to me, an even greater mixture of jobs, contracts and organizations than when I started. Consider starting with “transportable” skills from one project or one organization to another. Often these skills are technical, like education, health, logistics, etc. Technical or generalist? A career is a long affair, getting longer and with inevitable ups-and-downs. If we started from a technical background, we may grow into more managerial positions or, as in my case, be a manager who enjoyed picking up specialized skills along the way, but always guided in my choices by what I loved doing. Competencies. To me, the ultimate UNDP competency is what the social enterprise and media platform DEVEX calls “Integrator”, someone who understands multiple specialties and how they impact each other and excels in fostering collaboration between various stakeholders who may not be accustomed to... 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

Eradicating poverty: thinking beyond income

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Many countries have already started taking an important step towards a new way of thinking about poverty. Photo: UNDP in Peru

Today, the 17th of October 2014, marks 21 years since for the first time the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty was celebrated. Notable progress has been made since then. According to World Bank data, among the 115 low-income countries of the world, the proportion of people in extreme poverty (i.e. an income per person per day of US$1.25, adjusted for purchasing power parity) declined from 43.4 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2011; i.e. 912 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty over the past two decades. This drop was mainly concentrated in East Asia and the Pacific, where the incidence of extreme poverty was reduced from 57 to 7.9 percent during the same period (i.e. 750 million people). In Southeast Asia, it dropped from 54.1 to 24.5 percent (221.5 million people). In Latin America and the Caribbean, between 1990 and 2011, the incidence of extreme poverty dropped from 12.2 to 4.6 percent, i.e. 25.5 million Latin Americans no longer live in this extreme condition. Two decades ago, poverty was defined in monetary terms, based on a consensus around the concept that income was an adequate measure to represent wellbeing. Today, it is more readily acknowledged... Read more

Biodiversity underpins sustainable development

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"Investing in and protecting biodiversity is an investment in the future of the one planet we all share". Photo: Aude rossignol/ UNDP Burundi

Biodiversity and ecosystems provide the basis for all life on earth. Yet rates of deforestation and the degradation of grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems remain alarmingly high. Forests and other ecosystems keep air and drinking water safe. Fertile land provides food and medicine. Marshes and mangroves act as buffers against natural disasters. We depend on nature for survival and it provides a daily lifeline for millions of the world’s poor. A crucial meeting taking place in the Republic of Korea will look into the  future of the wealth of life on earth. Ministers and other representatives from over 190 countries are exploring how best to protect the environment at the 12th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The discussions examine global sustainable development and take stock of progress on conserving, sustaining, and equitably sharing the benefits that biodiversity has to offer. Countries must recommit to meeting the ‘Aichi Targets’ under the Convention on Biological Diversity. These targets were agreed in 2010, and run until 2020. They urge swift action to halt the loss of biodiversity by addressing the causes of this loss, reducing pressure on biodiversity, and promoting its sustainable use.  The Convention also aims to ensure that biodiversity... Read more

Rule of law : The key to the ‘virtuous circle’

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Policemen at General Kaahiye Police Academy in Somalia undergo training in criminal investigation, to equip Mogadishu with a team of police officers that will effectively be able to deal with criminal investigations. Photo: UNSOM

Does rule of law matter for development?  What role should it play in the post-2015 agenda?  It’s an important issue.  We, at UNDP, advocate for strengthened rule of law and access to justice, but the issue is how to get them prioritized among many competing targets and goals for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and get governments to put budgets and political will behind them.  We need to prove that human development can’t be achieved without them. We still have a long way to go to make the case.  One popular argument is that without good rule of law and secure property rights, countries cannot attract the foreign investment they need for growth.  But the empirical foundation for that claim is rather weak.  It seems that the economies of the Asian tigers began to boom long before they established rule of law, with China and Vietnam being just the most recent examples.  More importantly for us, this argument doesn’t help to understand whether rule of law will deliver better outcomes for the poorest and most vulnerable, who are the focus of our work. Recently, I focused on the work of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and in particular their recent book... Read more

Sustainability is the only choice

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Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies, businesses and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric. Photo: UNREDD

The term “sustainability” is increasingly being used among NGOs, governments, public sector and civil society, but unfortunately there is a huge gap between what is being said and what is being done. Looking at the most basic meaning of sustainability - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations - the list of individual, collective, private and public activities that could be considered completely sustainable in this day and age is rather short. Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric; it involves a social change based on an active, forward-thinking approach, which in turn drives a significant increase in the empowerment of all stakeholders. Besides improving their reputation, which also results in better yields and prosperity, both public and private organizations that include sustainability as an inherent part of their operations establish stronger, trust-based links with their stakeholders and partners, thereby ensuring loyalty in the medium and long term. How can we bring these same principles to the field of human development? What impact would this have on our societies? The concept of “strategic planning” has not... Read more

Want to measure peace, governance and the rule of law? Africa may have the answer

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Peace, governance and the rule of law can be and are already being measured in Africa. Photo: UNDP in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As leaders gather in New York to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, Africa’s priorities must be reflected in the outcome. As is the case everywhere, sustainable development in Africa requires peace, governance and the rule of law. Earlier this year, the African Union’s 54 Member States adopted the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda, which emphasises the importance of promoting good and inclusive governance, fighting corruption, increasing transparency and accountability, reinforcing rule of law frameworks, strengthening institutional capacity and addressing the root causes of conflict. Encouragingly, most of these priorities were reflected in the recently agreed Outcome Document of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs. However, if this call to action is to yield meaningful results in Africa we will need better and more reliable data to guide policies, track progress, and underpin transparency and accountability. Much of Africa still has a long way to go in developing such capacity, and gaping data gaps need to be filled in the areas of peace, governance and the rule of law. We will need considerable investment to improve the quality and quantity of statistical data. Such investment should build upon... Read more

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