Payment of Ebola Response Workers - a moral imperative and a practical collaboration

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An Ebola casefinder, supported by UNDP in Liberia.

Ebola Response Workers (ERWs), mostly nationals of the epicenter countries Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, have been the cornerstone upon which the response has rested.  As the Time Person of the Year Award 2014 recognized, these workers have been at the frontlines: transporting the sick, caring for patients, tracing and monitoring the exposed, attending to the deceased, and providing security and coordination at all levels. A number of ERWs were already public employees (health sector workers, hospital staff, or district medical officers) at the outbreak of the crisis. But at the height of the crisis, as causalities mounted, many more were hired to work as part of the emergency response, supporting contact tracing, safe burials and community mobilization amongst other functions. Regardless of their status, these workers took on their responsibilities expecting at best modest compensation. By October 2014, when medical evidence indicated the risk of an exponential expansion of infections, many workers had, however, gone without pay for months. Whilst resources were available, reliable payment platforms able to manage large scale coordinated payments to individuals were not. Government payroll only covered existing civil servants, banking sector penetration was weak, and mobile payments had only been used for small scale pilots... Read more

It’s time to listen to the poor

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A fisherman in the Gulf of Fonseca Basin in El Salvador. Employment, education, health, food security, safety and housing must be given priority in order to alleviate poverty in El Salvador. Photo: UNDP El Salvador

Listening to the poor deepens the wisdom of nations. “We must look at things from the perspective of those who are directly affected,” advises Mahbub ul Haq, founder of the Human Development Index. On this basis, UNDP, with the help of TECHO, conducted fieldwork in 20 poor communities in El Salvador  and recently published its findings in the report Poverty in El Salvador from the Perspective of its Protagonists (link in Spanish). Contrary to what public opinion polls reveal, when poorer communities themselves were asked to identify the country’s main problem, their response was the poverty in which they live. When asked what “living in poverty” meant to them, most people agreed on three points: “Look at what we eat,” said a woman, referring to her diet, which consists of salt, tortillas, beans and rice. She noted that her family was often unable to eat three times a day and had to skip meals. “When things become serious, even if I can’t eat, I try to make sure that at least my children can.” “Look at where we live,” commented another woman, referring to the many structural problems visible in the floor, roof and walls of her home, and deploring the... Read more

Bridging the gap: How the SDG Fund is paving the way for a post-2015 agenda

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Photo: UNDP/Peru

We are fast approaching this September’s Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with world leaders debating the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the United Nations Open Working Group. The post-2015 development agenda will focus primarily on strengthening opportunities to reduce poverty and marginalisation in ways that are sustainable from an economic, social and environmental standpoint. The SDG Fund, created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with an initial contribution from the government of Spain, has been designed to smoothen the transition from the Millennium Development Goals phase into the future Sustainable Development Goals. The rationale of the joint programme initiative is to enhance the development impact of technical assistance by combining inputs from various UN entities, each contributing according to its specific expertise and bringing their respective national partners on board. To illustrate, we are currently implementing joint programmes in 18 countries addressing challenges of inclusive economic growth for poverty eradication, food security and nutrition as well as water and sanitation. The majority of our budget is invested in sustainable development on the ground and is directly improving the lives of more than one million people in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Arab States and Africa. National... Read more

The Human Development Index – what it is and what it is not

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A UNDP project helped construct a girls’ primary school in Panjpai, Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

A concept is always broader than any of its proposed measures. Any suggested measure cannot fully capture the richness, the breadth and the depth of the concept itself. This is true of the notion of human development as well. There are two types of measures for human development: The breadth measure, termed Human Development Accounting, encompass all indicators related to human development assessments. The focus measures, or composite indices, concentrates on some basic dimensions of human development. Human Development Accounting is required to make a comprehensive assessment of human development conditions in any society, but it does not provide a single number to synthesize the state of affairs. Composite indicesprovide a single number, but cannot provide a comprehensive picture of the state of human development. Focus measures are extremely good for advocacy, for initiating healthy competition among societies and for raising awareness, but not in providing a comprehensive picture. It is in these perspectives that the Human Development Index (HDI) was constructed. Three things prompted to come up with such a measure: First, The HDI captures these basic dimensions of human development: lead a long and healthy life, to acquire knowledge and to have access to resources needed for a decent... Read more

On the road to Sendai, UNDP draws on 10 years of experience

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With UNDP support, first aid and emergency response trainings are part of Kazakhstan's comprehensive disaster risk reduction and management strategy. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

Over the last 8-months I attended negotiations to agree on a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action a 10-year plan to make the world safer from disasters. The clear message I've taken from this is that it’s time to shift attention away from rhetoric and advocacy, and towards concrete, country-level action. Making this happen means accepting the fact that disaster risk reduction (DRR) is one and the same as development. And doing risk reduction right means doing development right. Put simply – we might not stop the storm, but we can stop the storm from destroying lives and livelihoods if we build the right houses, in the right places, with the right materials. We are well aware of this fact at UNDP, and have used to it guide our efforts.  Over the last 10 years we’ve been in the trenches with our country level partners and have done everything from passing laws to improving building codes. What we’ve learned in the process is that everything is connected:  law, training, building, it’s all one long thread of risk-informed development. Our new infographic report highlights this and the numbers speak for themselves: We invested at least US$1.7 billion—as much as US$200 a... Read more

Women have a role in Disaster Risk Reduction

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Syphom Village Disaster Management Committee members stand in front of the market that burned down (and has since been completely rebuilt). Photo: UNDP in Lao PDR

Women are a vital piece of the planning process for disaster risk mitigation and response, enhancing disaster planning with different perspectives that often focus on community needs and vulnerable groups. As a Disaster Risk Management Specialist for UNDP Lao PDR, I spent 13 months training district and provincial government officials in community based disaster risk reduction.  In a nation where 80 per cent of the population is dependent on subsistence agriculture for survival, natural disasters cause loss of lives, income and communal assets, and destroy livelihoods.  Extreme recurrent disasters consistently take their toll. The Village Disaster Management Committee (VDMC) is the result of community-led, local disaster risk management systems implemented by UNDP’s Integrated Disaster and Climate Risk Management Project and the Government of Lao PDR.  The goal of the committee is to spread disaster preparedness information, create a functioning early warning system, and plan activities that could reduce disaster risk. Women play an important role in the process. We’ve noticed that many women in our VDMCs are especially proactive. They understand the consequences disasters have on their villages and the potential long term impacts, and they really want to make a difference for the future of their children and their communities.... Read more

Whatever you call it, violence against women is never acceptable

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Although local activists continue their efforts to stop the tradition of bride kidnapping, more work is needed to make a difference. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Along with the beauty of its mountainous landscapes, one of the first things associated with Kyrgyzstan is the cruel phenomenon of bride kidnapping. This ritual involves ambushing a young woman and detaining her until she agrees to marry her kidnapper. I read a lot of sad stories about this practice coming from different countries in Central Asia and Africa, as well as trite justifications based on culture and poor economic conditions. But perhaps the most striking story I’ve heard is the personal account of a young woman I will call Roza. Roza has been kidnapped twice, first at the age of 19, then at 23. In both cases she clearly remembers the applause welcoming the kidnapper when he brought her home. It was as though they were heroes coming back from a victorious battle. She was the spoils. The first time, Roza was taken to a nicely set room and offered tea and plov while her potential mother-in-law praised the virtues of her son – “a hard worker and mild person”. Roza stubbornly refused the marriage. Many other female relatives joined the effort, the discussions eventually becoming very tense with shouting and threats. After a long night, she was eventually allowed... Read more

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