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

How do we tell the story of Disaster Risk Reduction?

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Sushma Kandi received a new, stronger home for her and her daughter after the 1999 super-cyclone in Odisha. Photo: Ruhani Kaur/UNDP India.

Capturing the work of disaster risk reduction (DRR) is difficult in the best of times. As in other development fields, jargon has clouded the DRR narrative. Terms like “risk governance,” “resilient recovery” and, my favorite, “comprehensive community based disaster risk management,” have made it a struggle to impress upon non-UN types what it is exactly that we do. This isn't helped by the fact that a lot of what UNDP does is behind the scenes, governance-type work. So many times, after a disaster somewhere, a friend has asked me, "You must be really busy?" Explaining the nuances of pre-disaster DRR can be challenging.  Nuance just isn't an easy sell, and that's the hard truth of our work. Relief agencies can throw bags of food from helicopters and take pictures of it, but what can we do? Snap a picture of the new district disaster management plan?  But while the type of work we do makes communications harder, it doesn’t make it impossible. Our task is to look further down the service line and show how that district plan is helping people on the ground. All of this was very much on my mind as I travelled around south India filming videos... Read more

Building on the Pacific’s culture of resilience

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In Samoa, the problem of coastal erosion and inundation directly impacts people’s livelihood. (Photo: Joe Hitchcock and Luke McPake for UNDP)

When I first arrived in Samoa in 1998, I lived on the larger, less populated and more traditional island of Savaii, where things were ordered and everyone filled a very particular role. For example, to build a canoe, I first needed to find a tree, get permission from a local chief and go to the plantation to cut it down. Then a canoe builder for that area was commissioned and a small dedication ceremony was required before the canoe went to sea. Over time I came to understand the organization of life in Savaii, and how that organization was, in fact, the community’s foundation for resilience. After a cyclone, for example, the community sends young men to gather the fallen coconut for safe drinking water and specific root crops that heavy winds have not damaged. In my 13 years working on climate change and disaster risk management in the Pacific, I have learned that the foundation of resilience for these communities is their culture and way of life. Unlike many in international community, who see climate change and disaster risk management as two separate issues, these communities experience them as a single issue that reaches across all aspects of life. The... Read more

2015 Human Development Report: Rethinking work for human development

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The search for minerals in DR Congo happens in extremely dangerous conditions, without any security and with negative consequences for the environment. Photo: Benoit Almeras/UNDP DRC

From a human development perspective, work, rather than jobs or employment is the relevant concept. A job is a narrow concept with a set of pre-determined time-bound assigned tasks or activities, in an input-output framework with labour as input and a commodity or service as output. Yet, jobs do not encompass creative work (e.g. the work of a writer or a painter), which go beyond defined tasks; they do not account for unpaid care work; they do not focus on voluntary work. Work thus is a broader concept, which encompasses jobs, but goes beyond by including the dimensions mentioned above, all of which are left out of the job framework, but are critical for human development. Work is the means for unleashing human potential, creativity, innovation and spirits. It is essential to make human lives productive, worthwhile and meaningful. It enables people to earn a living, gives them a means to participate in society, provides them with security and gives them a sense of dignity. Work is thus inherently and intrinsically linked to human development. But it is important to recognize that there is no automatic link between work and human development. Nor does every type of work enhance human development.... 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

Bigger cities don’t have to mean bigger risks

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An aerial view of the city of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan's southern Sindh Province, which was heavily affected by countrywide flooding in 2010. (Photo: Amjad Jamal/UN)

The majority of the world’s population is urban, and it’s easy to understand why: Urban settings often offer better economic opportunities and better access to essential services (such as healthcare and education), as well as a wider variety of entertainment and leisure options. But urban environments are also uniquely vulnerable to disasters. Many towns, cities, and urban sprawls stand in coastal zones, on riverbanks, or in mountains– settings that are exposed to geological and hydro-meteorological hazards like earthquakes, storm surges, and cyclones. In addition, rapid urbanization often brings poor land use planning, unsafe construction practices, and damage to natural resources (like waterways and mangroves). Urban centers can suffer from ‘intensive risk,’ because a large number of people, facilities, services, and assets are condensed in one place and at risk of substantial losses and damages from a disaster. As the world becomes more and more urbanized, urban risk reduction becomes more and more of a necessity. The post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction, which will emerge at the upcoming UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, can help elevate this concern at the highest levels and push for disaster risk reduction to be built into urban planning and development.... 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

Let’s #TalkInequality

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

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

Innovation brings new approaches and integration

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

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

Inside UNDP: Lionel Laurens

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Lionel in Freetown.

Lionel Laurens, from France, is a development practitioner who has worked for UNDP for 10 years.  He’s driven by a desire to contribute to a more equal world by working with people to be in control of their own development in their own environment. 1.    What do you do for work? I’m currently the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) Immediate Response Coordinator for UNDP in Sierra Leone. I help reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis by reaching out to the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society and creating partnerships with these groups to raise their awareness of Ebola and adopt safe behaviours. 2.    Where were you before? I started working for UNDP in Lao PDR with the National Rural Development Programme. After that I worked in Afghanistan managing the National ABD Programme and in Iraq, first managing the Local ABD Programme, and then a sub-cluster of programmes covering poverty reduction and MDGs, essential service delivery, inclusive growth and private sector development. 3.    What types of assignments do you do most frequently? I spend a lot of my time working with programme teams, government counterparts, communities and other key stakeholders to develop a shared vision, formulate strategies... Read more

Adaptation and attitude are two keys to crisis response

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

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

Five years on, Haiti builds back better

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(Photo: UNDP/Haiti)

Five years after the earthquake that devastated the country, Haiti celebrates major development gains while acknowledging that immense challenges still remain. In spite of the political and structural fragility, social and economic progress is evident. Like many countries, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have galvanized positive action in Haiti. The country has steadily boosted the net enrollment rate in primary education from 47 percent in 1993 to 88 percent in 2011 and achieved equal participation of boys and girls. The number of underweight children under five years old has been halved, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has stabilized, and nearly 70 percent of households now have access to an improved source of water. Clearly, however, much remains to be done. Six million Haitians (60 percent of the population) still live on less than $2.50 a day. And while women head almost 50 percent of households, they hold only 4 percent of parliamentary seats. Deforestation and the loss of biodiversity are also continuing challenges, and the condition of poor urban slums, which house at least 62 percent of city dwellers, remains worrisome. Yet, despite these challenges, Haiti’s progress must be commended. First, this progress takes place in spite of the devastating 2010 earthquake... Read more

Ebola: Recovery needs to start now

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A worker poses for the camera at a dressing station in Freetown, Sierra Leone. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)

The social and economic impact of the Ebola crisis will be felt up to a decade after the disease has been eradicated. In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, virtually every sector has suffered as a result of the epidemic. For example, based on UNDP’s most recent estimates, Liberia could experience negative GDP growth for the first time since the war ended 11 years ago, reaching -1.8 percent. In all three countries, air traffic is down, mining and palm oil concessions have been badly affected, and so have farming and small trade, crippled by quarantines and movement restrictions. The crisis is impairing the ability of governments to raise taxes and invest in infrastructure and social services. For instance, more than 800,000 women will give birth during the next 12 months. But with the severe shortage of health facilities and professionals, compounded by the fear of getting infected in a clinic, many could die without proper care. Millions of children are out of school because their classes have shut down. Whereas life before Ebola was starting to improve following years of crisis and political conflict, people are now struggling again with uncertainty. Besides the personal loss, the immense majority are finding it difficult... 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

Lessons from the past help to prepare for the future

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We have seen that involving communities in the recovery process brings special commitment and speeds up recovery. UNDP Photo

In China there is an old proverb that goes: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” Helping countries better deal with disasters has long been part of our mandate. But that objective took on new urgency following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Since then we have worked closely with governments in Asia and the Pacific to try to better protect communities, and provide those at risk with early warnings about approaching disasters. We have drawn on our  experience and encouraged South-South cooperation, for example, by facilitating a visit of experts from the Indonesian government – who managed the Banda Aceh reconstruction – to the Philippines so they could share expertise and ideas. These types of exchanges, support, training, and education have had an impact. Most recently, in the case of Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) - while not as strong as Haiyan – preparedness and planning was reported to have played a vital role in saving lives, when the typhoon made multiple landfalls on the East coast of the Philippines. In recent years we have witnessed, when cyclones and storm surges have hit-... Read more

How to finance the Post-2015 Development Agenda?

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Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts and lessons learned on key financing for development issues, in the run-up to the UN’s Financing for Development conference in July.   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... 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

Is a world without poverty possible?

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

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

Collaboration must be at the heart of climate action and sustainable development

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UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visits a fair organized by the Small Grants Programme of the Global Environment Facility and UNDP at the COP20 in Lima, Peru. (Photo: UNDP/Peru)

We have unprecedented opportunities – now and in 2015 – to strengthen co-operation on tackling climate change. On the one hand current climate change talks in Lima should advance negotiations on the new global climate deal, to be agreed in Paris at the end of 2015. On the other hand, discussions are currently taking place at the UN in New York for a “post-2015” development agenda, in which tackling environmental degradation will be prominent. Also, at Sendai in Japan next March, the UN 3rd World Conference on Disaster Reduction will address issues directly related to adaptation to climate change. These are crucial opportunities, since climate change poses a pressing challenge for advancing poverty reduction in developing countries. Also, the most recent report by the international scientific advisory panel on climate change, known as the IPCC, reminds us that the poorest and most vulnerable people bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. Meeting this challenge head on will require collaboration across the public and private sectors and the full engagement of civil society and indigenous peoples. From my work as Administrator of UNDP, an organization which supports more than 140 countries to design and implement their own solutions to climate... Read more