Our Perspective

human development

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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