Our Perspective

human development

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

Preparing for disasters must include all citizens, especially the older persons

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On the international day for disaster risk reduction, let’s make sure that we include and empower older persons as well. Photo: UNDP Ukraine

Whenever a disaster occurs, be it Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Sandy here in New York, we stress the need to invest more in disaster preparedness. Early warning systems, contingency planning, evacuation routes and training for response teams – these are all things that can, and should, be set up well in advance of a disaster in order to save lives. However, we need to remember that there is no one-size-fits all approach. Everything we do, from early warning to shelter provision, has to be tailored to the needs and capacities of community members. Older persons in particular are disproportionately impacted by disasters, as they often have limited capacity and less access to available systems. Difficulties in hearing or seeing, for instance, may limit access to emergency announcements; chronic health issues or special needs may delay or prevent escape and evacuation; and an absence of transportation may limit the ability to stock up on food, water and supplies. For older persons unfamiliar or unaware of the gravity of the crisis, there may be reluctance to reach out or seek shelter. So what can we do? First, we can recognize the specific vulnerabilities of the older persons and take measures... Read more

Realizing the rights of indigenous peoples

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photo: Gaëlle Bruneau / UNDP

Indigenous peoples represent more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries, making up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people. Yet, they are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples convened in New York, bringing together Member states and representatives of indigenous peoples in a high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Following the outcomes from the conference, the UN system has been challenged with a tremendous opportunity to ‘deliver as one’ through a proposed system-wide action plan (SWAP) aimed at realising the rights of indigenous peoples. Only through a coherent approach, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, and articulating a common vision, approach and plan of action, can we best harness our resources to establish clear objectives, timelines, indicators and accountability mechanisms. Fostering dialogue and promoting inclusive development planning processes between indigenous peoples, governments and the UN system will continue to be a priority for UNDP. We will build on positive examples of how we have... 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

Translation’s broader purpose

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In Kosovo, a law protects the rights of non-majority communities to get public services in any of the official languages. Photo: UNDP in Kosovo

On 30 September, the world honors translators by celebrating Saint Jerome, the 3rd century Christian priest and patron saint of translators who is credited with translating the Bible into Latin and ushering in a flowering in intellectual activity. This year Saint Jerome’s theme’s is Language Right – Essential to All human Right. The International day of Translation is the opportunity to reflect on the importance of multilingualism and the work of language professionals. Because theirs is a specialized profession which takes place behind the scenes, translators, interpreters, and terminologists are often taken for granted or not given enough credit. Yet they are essential to large international organizations as they make the circulation of ideas possible. As the cornerstone of transparency, multilingualism’s basic purpose is to provide the same information to all people so they can make informed decisions, and be understood in their native language. At UNDP, we offer expert knowledge on sustainable development,  poverty reduction, and crisis prevention that would not be accessible to the public without reliable translation into its official and working languages (English, French, Spanish) and a growing number of official UN languages (Arabic Chinese, Russian). Translation should therefore be treated and thought of as a basic... Read more

Do-it-yourself Sustainable Development: The SDGs go DIY

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Women participate in management training, part of a UNDP programme that aims to enhance the government’s effectiveness in fulfilling their mandate. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

With the proposal for Sustainable Development Goals now available for all members of the General Assembly to consider further, the question on many of our minds is:  where to next?  Once global sustainable development goals are adopted next year, how can we best help governments, citizens, and the private sector take them from aspiration to reality? So far almost 5 million people in almost 100 countries have either voted on their priorities for a new development agenda through the MY World survey or engaged in face-to-face discussions on what is needed to improve their future. As part of our broader work supporting innovation for development (I4D), we are looking for new ways of inspiring action on these priorities. So far, some interesting approaches have emerged: Micro-narratives and qualitative research to learn more about complex issues    The World we Want consultations asked what people need for their future, engaging people who are not usually part of policy debates. For example, people living with disabilities in Belarus and youth at risk in Kyrgyzstan shared their experience through micro-narratives. This data was then used to advocate for policies better suited to meet their needs. In El Salvador the consultations provided data used to advocate... Read more

Pakistan’s investment in resilience is the ultimate win-win

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The provision of basic social services empowers people to live the lives they value. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

In the last 2 decades, most countries have registered significant improvements in human development. Now, vulnerability and the impact of crises and disasters are undermining the hard won progress or slowing down its growth.  The annual growth in Human Development Index (HDI) value has declined in Pakistan from 2 percent in 2000-2008 to almost zero during 2008-13.  The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 launch in Pakistan demonstrates that progress cannot be sustained without building resilience. The report highlights two crucial types of vulnerabilities influencing human capabilities: life cycle and structural vulnerabilities. Life cycle vulnerabilities are the result of peoples’ life histories, with past outcomes influencing present exposure to and ways of coping with vulnerabilities. Unfortunately in Pakistan, vulnerabilities at the early stage of the life cycle are the highest. The structural vulnerabilities are generated from social, legal institutions, power structures, political traditions and socio-cultural norms. Structural vulnerabilities are manifested through deep inequalities and widespread poverty. In Pakistan, 44.2 percent of the households live in poverty, according to the multidimensional poverty index. There are at least five lessons from the report and global experience which are central for Pakistan’s future: The provision of basic social services empowers people to live... Read more

Crowdfunding for development: fad or future?

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Children picking olives at Ostrog Primary School which was made energy independent, through a crowfunding campaign supported by UNDP and the Kaštela Energy Cooperative. Photo: Marina Kelava/UNDP Croatia

Steady growth and, for now, no end of the trend in sight: the crowdfunding market keeps expanding across the globe. Crowdfunding describes the practice of securing funding for a specific project or business venture by a dispersed group of people with some shared interests, “the crowd”. Most crowdfunding initiatives are dependent on whether they raise the targeted amount from the crowd. If the funding goal is not met, the project will not take off. It thus differs to charitable donations which usually support the respective organization’s general mission without knowing exactly how the money will be spent. UNDP has been experimenting with philanthropic crowdfunding and has had some early successes. For example, colleagues in Croatia successfully raised $10,000 for an energy-independent school in Croatia. The sum might be fairly small but the experience showed: crowdfunding can create a buzz for development work and social causes as the unwritten rules of crowdfunding require development organizations to communicate constantly and in a non-technical jargon what concretely was achieved. UNDP has also had some experience ‘failing’ with crowdfunding initiatives. As the saying goes: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”. Based on lessons thus far, we developed guidance document for UNDP... Read more

For a more resilient Latin America and the Caribbean

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Countries of the region must reduce their vulnerabilities and strengthen their resilience to financial crises and natural disasters. Photo: UNDP/Peru

As we lost Gabriel Garcia Marquez this year I’m reminded of his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 1982: "Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.” He was right. In the last 30 years Latin America and the Caribbean has undergone tremendous transformations. Democracy has consolidated in the vast majority of countries and men, women, children, youth and the elderly have experienced major improvements in health, education and access to economic resources, the dimensions which compose the Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of well-being of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Latin America and the Caribbean today has the highest HDI compared to other developing regions. And while income inequality has increased in other regions of the world, ours has managed to reduce the gap, mainly due to the expansion of education and public transfers to the poor. In the last decade, poverty has been reduced in the region by almost half, and the middle class rose from 22 percent of the population in 2000 to 34 percent in 2012, according to new UNDP figures. Despite these achievements, a... Read more

Engaging with parliamentarians on HIV and the law

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A DOCTOR PROVIDING HIV COUNSELING AND TESTING TO A WOMAN IN RUMBEK, LAKES STATE, SOUTH SUDAN. PHOTO: MARGUERITE NOWAK/ UNDP IN SOUTH SUDAN

I have been working for several years with policy- and law-makers to support a rights-based response to HIV and contribute to stemming the tide of the epidemic. This work often requires raising highly controversial and discomfiting issues such as class, sexuality, gender and stigmatized behaviors such as drug use. It also involves the most marginalized society groups– sex workers, transgender people, homosexual men and drug users. Often, parliamentarians are not fully informed of the complex factors that allow HIV to spread and thrive within communities, particularly the ways in which marginalization, disempowerment, stigma and discrimination contribute to making people vulnerable. But I have witnessed how individuals in positions of influence – lawmakers, judges, the police – can drive advancements in the law that protect those affected by HIV and benefit society at large. Concerted efforts at engaging parliamentarians on human rights issues can lead to tangible change, although it is often a slow and onerous process. We, at UNDP, play a pivotal role in engaging governments and building capacity of government actors on many development issues, including on HIV and the crucial need for rights-based legal approaches in addressing the epidemic. Our support of the Global Commission on HIV and the... Read more

Africa is transforming itself: How do we turn intentions into reality?

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Better investment in infrastructure could help Africa's transformation. Photo: Benoit Almeras Martino/UNDP DRC

Recently I attended an event from the Global Compact, a UN initiative to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. Entitled "Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership", it was held for the first time in Africa, bringing over 300 participants together from businesses, Global Compact networks, UN agencies and governments. Africa's economic transformation with various partners from China, Europe and the US was among the key topics discussed. But, while multinational companies do play a role, it is increasingly clear that African policy makers and business people are setting the continent’s agenda. Participants largely agreed that Africa’s transformation requires investment in better infrastructure, education, skills, jobs, policies and more. The WHAT was better articulated than the HOW. Africa is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing regions, with 4.8 percent growth in 2014 and over 5 percent in 2015, according to the recent African Economic Outlook 2014. However, this transformation goes well beyond economic growth. Development practitioners talk more and more about ‘inclusive growth’, agreeing that businesses should go beyond philanthropy and corporate social responsibility towards making their core activities better suited for societies and the environment.  As UNDP's Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, Eugene Owusu stated: "Inclusive... Read more

Making sense of the world we live in: The development contribution

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South Sudanese refugees in a Refugee Settlement in Northern Uganda. Photo: F. NOY/ UNHCR

It’s hard to remember a time when more crises were jostling for space in the headline news, or when the world’s leading diplomats, like Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN Secretary General, were engaged in shuttle diplomacy on so many issues simultaneously. Top of mind by late last month were the conflicts in Gaza and eastern Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Mali, Nigeria. Meeting the costs of humanitarian relief is proving overwhelming. By the end of June this year, UN coordinated appeals for humanitarian crises had already reached $16.4 billion. This was before the latest conflict in Gaza began, and before a lot of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Could more be done to anticipate, prevent, or mitigate these traumatic events? The short answer is – yes and there is a compelling need to try to get ahead of the curve of future crises and disasters, to avert huge and costly development setbacks and lives lost.   Rough estimates suggest that for every dollar spent in disaster preparedness and mitigation, seven dollars will be saved when disaster strikes. It is also true that spending in fragile states which have been or still are immersed in conflict does... Read more

Measuring human progress in the 21st Century

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Workers at the at Santo Nino dumpsite in Tacloban, Philippines, six months after Haiyan. Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP Philippines

Few, if any, statistical constructs have had a greater influence on the modern world than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And 2014 marks the eightieth anniversary of its creation. As every economist knows, GDP summarizes total economic activity. It was developed by Simon Kuznets, a Russian-American economist and statistician, as a way to better understand the American economy during the great depression. Not only was Kuznets a brilliant economist (he went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1971), he was also an astute judge of humanity, or at least the potential for people to misuse numbers: when he introduced GDP to the US Congress he warned specifically against using it as a measure of wellbeing: “the welfare of a nation can”, he wrote, “scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”. And this is because, as hopefully every economist also knows, it is easy to construct examples of undesirable social or environmental phenomena (crime sprees, oil slicks or hurricanes for instance) that can generate both an increase in GDP and a decrease in wellbeing. But despite Kuznets’s warnings, in both the US and many other countries, the pursuit of economic growth and a rising GDP quickly became a dominant mantra... Read more

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