Sierra Leone: From 'blood diamonds' to long-lasting development

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Since the civil war, the UN flag has been a symbol of hope for the population in Sierra Leone. Wherever we pass, kids come waving and screaming towards our cars, which have huge UN logos, and adults casually give a thumbs up. (Photo: Silke v. Brockhausen/UNDP)

Our two white UN vehicles are carefully moving down the dusty and bumpy road between Kenema and Koindu in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone. We pass dozens of burnt ruins of what were once sturdy brick and stone homes, some with hundreds of bullet holes in their walls – eerie remnants of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. About 1,200 of former warlord Charles Taylor's rebels launched their devastating campaign here, leading to years of fighting that killed tens of thousands and displaced more than 2 million people (about a third of the population), disrupting nearly every national institution. After more than 15 years of successive peace operations, the last United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office (UNIPSIL), closed at the end of March. Since the civil war, the UN flag has been a symbol of hope for the population in this troubled region. Many of the over 17,000 blue helmets that arrived with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) also helped to restore peace and bring back a sense of security in this district of Kailahun. Wherever we pass, kids come waving and screaming towards our cars with the huge UN logos, and adults... Read more

Dignity and human rights lie at the heart of our work

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Today, the world is joining Rwanda, now a thriving country, to mark the twentieth commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Sadly, the United Nations system and the world couldn’t stop the events unfolding on the ground. Worse, the United Nations could not even save many of its national staff. The consequences of failing to heed the warning signs of the genocide are forever engraved in our minds.  The United Nations and the international system are better prepared to anticipate, prevent, respond to crises and protect their staff. In addition, the world now has important mechanisms to end impunity, including the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, large scale human tragedies are still happening. As we speak, millions are being affected in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, for instance. This is one the reason why UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon launched the “Rights up Front” Action Plan.  In essence, the Rights up Front Action Plan seeks to strengthen the United Nations’ ability to prevent large-scale violations of human rights, particularly in conflict situations. The plan is framed by several guiding concepts: First, the United Nations must respond to the early warning signs of mass... Read more

Stories from Laos: "I'm the first female bomb disposal expert"

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Chantavone Inthavongsy at work. Credit: UXO Lao PDR

During the second Indochina War between 1964 and 1974, more than 2 million tons of bombs, including cluster bombs, along with other ordnance were dropped on my country, leaving a quarter of all villages contaminated with unexploded devices. As a child, I heard many stories of people who had been injured – losing limbs and sometimes their lives. I wanted to do something to help. When I was just 20 years old I trained with UXO Lao, the national clearance operator. They taught me to be part of a team that detects, removes and safely disposes of these dangerous explosive devices. I felt nervous about the job, but I was assured that, as long as we followed instructions, it would be safe. I was the only woman to pass the test and become a team leader straight away! I became responsible for a team of 10 people. We were detecting and destroying unexploded ordnance five days a week in the fields and mountainsides across the province. It provided me with valuable experience and I was very proud of my job. After six years, I was promoted to Senior Explosive Ordnance Deminer and was, until last year, the only fully qualified woman... Read more

Empowering the world’s largest generation of youth | Magdy Martínez-Solimán

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Arab youth volunteering in Syria. (Photo: UNDP)

Our world has 1.8 billion young people. One third of them live in countries that have suffered a violent conflict, and 75 million are unemployed. It is not time for business as usual, and as UNDP is launching its first global Youth Strategy, “Empowered Youth, Sustainable Future," in Tunis, working with young people, particularly those who are in need, is indispensable if we are to achieve sustainable human development. In the Post-2015 Consultations, youth are demanding education, jobs, honest and responsive governments, and participation in decision-making; they have innovative ideas and are willing to engage, even to take risks for the causes they believe in. Young voices not only deserve to be heard — young people need to be listened to and their views must count. Doors need to open up.   UNDP is determined to play its part by strengthening its cooperation with young women and men themselves, their own organisations, other partners in the UN system, governments, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector. In a recent study, we showed how the political representation is systematically much older, in all regions of the world, than the society it represents and rules. The age gap needs to be reduced... Read more

The only way to make real progress against poverty and inequality | Antonio Vigilante

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Fish farmers in rural Cambodia adapt to climate change thanks to a project funded by the European Commission. (Photo: Alejandro Boza/UNDP Cambodia)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of UNDP’s partnership with the European Union. This relationship was forged based on the reality that the only way to make real progress in the fight against poverty and inequality is through coordinated multilateralism – and it has.   In the last decade, the EU has provided 3.3 billion Euros to UNDP activities in 115 countries, bringing about tangible results: • In Pakistan, the UNDP-EU partnership supported about 5.5 million people to rehabilitate 4,000 villages after the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods. Temporary employment benefitted 1.3 million people, 40 percent of which were women. • Elections in 53 countries have been supported by the partnership • 28 countries have been helped to better prepare for natural disasters. • Within the framework of the Poverty Environment Initiative, which supports 24 countries across several regions, the partnership has helped countries incorporate poverty-environment linkages into national development planning. • In the area of climate change, the partnership supports 25 countries to carry out nationally driven climate-change mitigation actions. One of the key factors that make the partnership effective is that the cooperation takes place at multiple levels: policy, advocacy, knowledge-sharing and programmes, each feeding and complementing one... Read more

Innovating for the Rule of Law? | A. H. Monjurul Kabir

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The 'My World, My Georgia' campaign used micro-narratives as a new way to collect and analyze data. Photo: UNDP in Georgia

Law students and legal researchers from the University of Oxford asked me recently whether the rule of law agenda could be more innovative, and I do believe that we need a fundamental transformation in the way we do our rule of law and governance work at all levels. There are many barriers to accessing justice and ensuring rule of law, especially where there are high levels of poverty, exclusion, marginalization and insecurity. Laws and justice institutions – formal and informal – may be biased or discriminatory. Justice and security systems may be ineffective, slow, and untrustworthy. People may lack knowledge about their rights. There may be a culture of impunity for criminal acts. Despite all these, more can be done to ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups benefit from rule of law, legal empowerment and access to justice, which expand their opportunities and choices. Doing more with less is the challenge here. Our traditional structures, systems and processes are proving inadequate to deal with new development challenges. Our justice system is not the most transparent or data-friendly and bringing information to light is no easy task. We are in need of new ideas, resources and unconventional ways of collecting and... Read more

How to enhance the skills of girls, boys and youth | Martín Fuentes

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The Human Development Report Panama highlighted a number of key socio-emotional skills that must be strengthened by parents and families Photo: UNDP Panama

The 2014 Human Development Report Panama discusses early childhood, youth and formation of life skills. This report examines difficult themes, such as job training, family and education, and whether young people study and/or work. One obvious way to approach life skills in many countries in the region would be to focus on job training, either because the productive sectors require a permanent supply of qualified personnel or because a country is strongly committed to a knowledge-based economy. But concern about job training is important but short-sighted; it is more important to train people who are also motivated to work. Indeed, although applied skills are easier to learn, many employers recognize that it is more important to hire individuals who are creative and take initiative, difficult skills to learn. Therefore, it is important to provide good training in the basic skills of "learning how to learn,” — rather than having a wealth of information, it is more important to know what to look for and where, and to be capable of discerning what is relevant. However, beyond seeing training as basic building blocks with which to construct something more complex, there are a number of key socio-emotional skills that cannot be strengthened... Read more

How can advocacy NGOs become more innovative? Your thoughts, please | Duncan Green

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The manager of a milk-chilling centre in India, part of a collaboration between UNDP India and the IKEA Foundation launched in 2009 to help empower women socially, economically and politically. (Photo: Graham Crouch/UNDP)

Innovation. Who could be against it? Not even Kim Jong Un, apparently. People working on aid and development spend an increasing time discussing it – what is it? How do we get more of it? Who is any good at it? Innovation Tourette’s is everywhere. Most of that discussion takes place in areas such as programming (what we do on the ground) or internal management (the unquenchable urge to restructure), drawing on innovation thinking in the private sector, government and academia. But another (increasingly important) area of our work – advocacy/influencing – feels a bit absent from the innovation circus, so I’ve been asked to crowdsource a few ideas. Help me out here. In advocacy, we see plenty of innovation already, in new themes (e.g. a range of tax campaigns in the wake of the financial crisis) and players (online outfits such as Avaaz and change.org). But we also see a fair amount of business as usual: the cycle of policy papers, recommendations, lobby meetings, media work and consultations grinds on, not always to great effect. At a higher level, there is lots of really innovative thinking going on about how to operate in complex systems, but that tends to be... Read more

Democracy: Where are women, youth, indigenous people and people of African descent? | Gerardo Noto

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(Photo: Álvaro Beltrán / UNDP)

In 2014, Latin America and the Caribbean will hold seven presidential elections, many of which are to be determined by run-offs. Fortunately, in general, our region has become accustomed to holding transparent elections where citizens can freely express their will in electing their representatives to public office. Empowered citizens demand better institutional quality: they call for more and better representation and participation in the processes of shaping and implementing public policies. From the perspective of a citizens' democracy, which UNDP strongly promotes in Latin America and the Caribbean, the right to elect and be elected is a key dimension of political citizenship. Thus, it is important to take the pulse of various sectors of society who participate in the elections, and how the elected representatives reflect the heterogeneity of our societies. Fortunately, there is good news regarding the exercise of voting rights and gender, as women effectively exercise their right to vote. However, there are still major shortcomings regarding the right to be elected. While the region has shown significant progress in recent decades, increasing from 8.2 per cent women’s representation in national legislatures in 1990 to 20.6 per cent in 2010, on average, there are still deep heterogeneities across countries.... Read more

Is the Global Partnership relevant? | Jérome Sauvage

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A post-2015 consultation with young indigenous Brazilians. (Photo: Juliana Wenceslau)

In Washington, D.C., a number of U.S. Government agencies and think tanks are preparing for the forthcoming Mexico Ministerial Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. At a recent prep meeting, I met enthusiasts and skeptics. The optimists pointed at the progress achieved from Monterrey 2002 to Busan 2011 and how the Paris Declaration started to align programs with developing countries’ priorities. This brought more harmonization and accountability between donor and recipient countries. The process now includes inter-governmental, civil society and private-sector actors and addresses gender equality, climate-change financing and the fight against corruption. The skeptics think that the “aid business” is beyond repair, that the so-called aid effectiveness agenda does not measure "effectiveness" but "efficiency" — looking at bureaucratic processes rather than the actual impact of aid on reducing poverty. One of their spokespersons, American scholar William Easterly, attributes a good share of aid’s failings to a lack of feedback and accountability: “The needs of the poor don’t get met because the poor have little political power with which to make their needs known and they cannot hold anyone accountable to meet those needs.”   But optimists and skeptics seem to agree on one thing: the need to... Read more

Post-2015: On our way to the World We Want | Olav Kjorven

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In South Africa children from the Sivile Primary, Western Cape did a ‘Long Short Walk’ campaign and the MyWorld survey on Mandela Day. Photo: Zenani Mandela campaign 2013.

Within the next fifteen or twenty years we could live in a world where everyone has enough food, access to basic health services, schooling and jobs.   That’s a different world from the one we inhabit today, but I’m optimistic, because a new emerging vision is galvanizing support from governments, business and civil society. My optimism comes from following the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG). The 70 governments in the group held in-depth discussions on how we can transform our economies, societies and environment into a more sustainable system. There is a common understanding between the governments that ambitious targets on providing access to food, education, jobs, health, energy, water and sanitation will be included in the next development goals. There is strong agreement that we need targets to reverse environmental degradation and protect the eco-systems. There is commitment to building just societies for women and girls, and to reverse the trend of rising income inequality. There is also agreement that this agenda needs to be for all countries, North and South. Another reason for optimism is that during each of the sessions of the OWG, the Member States have engaged with world-class experts, civil society and the... Read more

A million voices for education | Corinne Woods

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Girl scouts participating in the MY World survey in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Stanislav Saling / UNDP

If you had to make a guess at the average person’s number one priority for a better life, what would you choose? Good health, a longer life, prosperity? Or all of the above? Because the answer encompasses them all. The answer is education. One of the biggest public opinion polls ever conducted and with the power to shape global policy, the UN-led MY World, is saying just that. A million people out of nearly 1.5 million surveyed say that education is one of their top six priorities for a better world. Because no matter where they live in the world, people know that it is education that makes the real difference to their lives. Whether they are young men in Africa, educated women in Europe or teenagers in Asia, like Pakistan’s Malala, they are dreaming of a chance for everyone to learn, to develop, to realize their potential and overcome their hurdles. Education is the key to fighting discrimination, to improving health and to securing better jobs – and people know it. They don’t need to read the statistics – and there are plenty out there – proving that a better-educated population is healthier, more prosperous, more harmonious. Across the world, in... Read more

100 days after Haiyan, the Philippines transitions to recovery | Jo Scheuer

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UNDP in the Philippines is supporting the people's recovery from the destruction wreaked by Haiyan. Photo: UNDP

February 16th marks 100 days since Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. The emergency response is almost over and the beginning of long-term recovery has begun. I have been to the Philippines twice since Haiyan struck. In the early days, I went to help coordinate the response to this tragedy. Just recently I returned, to advise on the transition to long-term recovery. The progress over 100 days has been remarkable. Immediately after the storm, UNDP began helping the government prepare for recovery. For example, only weeks after Haiyan, we facilitated a visit to the Philippines from the Government of Indonesia, bringing Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who led the reconstruction effort in Aceh-Nias after the 2004 Tsunami. He attended a Philippines cabinet meeting on recovery, sharing with his colleagues the challenges and lessons learned from Indonesia. This visit may have been low-key – but was very valuable to the Philippines authorities – and it led to UNDP experts starting to work with the government to plan, prepare and budget the recovery. But attention must now shift beyond the first 100 days and focus on the future. It is essential that we build resilience into the new cities that rise from the rubble. Disaster risk reduction... Read more

Transgender visibility: The 'AIDS Tchê' initiative in Brazil | Angela Pires

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Transgender activists in downtown Porto Alegre, Brazil, during a mobilization campaign for civil registry change and LGBT rights. Photo: Daniel de Castro/UNDP Brazil.

The Week of Transgender Visibility recently took place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, with three days of events and initiatives supported within the AIDS Tchê initiative, part of a UN Integrated Plan designed to support the poorest and most remote areas of the country. Porto Alegre is the Brazilian city with the highest incidence rate of AIDS: 99.8  per 100,000, while the national average is 17.9. A recent study from one of the city’s hospitals indicates that seroprevalence among transgender women in Porto Alegre is quite high. "If you look at the data for transgender women living in the metropolitan area of ​​Porto Alegre, we see that transgender women have a 14.5 times greater risk for HIV infection. These findings leave transgender women among the most vulnerable groups to the epidemic," says researcher Brandelli Angelo Costa. Stigma and discrimination against transgender people are regarded as the main fuel for such increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. The violence against their daily basic expression of self leaves them out of the development process, undermines their life choices and excludes them from enjoying basic needs such as formal education, work and health care. As with homophobic violence, transphobic violence remains rampant in Brazil and throughout the... Read more

Growth with inclusion, a four-point plan for Africa | Abdoulaye Mar Dieye

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Developing agriculture, which employs up to 60 percent of Africa’s workforce (most of it women), can be an effective way to reduce poverty in rural areas. (Photo: UNDP in Burundi)

Avoiding conflict and reducing poverty in Africa will require sustained efforts to promote inclusive development. First, the continent faces the challenge of building economies that can create jobs and more equal opportunities for all. In many countries, better managing revenues from extractive resources holds the key to economic diversification and investing back into communities through quality infrastructure and social services. In addition, developing agriculture, which employs up to 60 percent of Africa’s workforce (most of it women), can be another effective way to reduce poverty in rural areas, where many marginalized groups live. Second, securing equal political representation for disenfranchised populations is critical to ensuring they can participate in key decisions and enjoy the same levels of development at the national and the local level. When elections take place, political inclusion can also prevent vote-rigging, “winner takes all” politics and electoral violence, while involving youth is particularly important-to-avoid conflict. In Kenya, for example, the principles of equality and non-discrimination are now enshrined in the Constitution, attempting to eliminate the ethnic and regional tensions which fuelled the post-election violence of 2007. Third, countries in Africa must equip themselves with effective national and grassroots mechanisms to build social cohesion and prevent conflict. Such... Read more

A joint endeavor: Reflections on the political feasibility of inequality reduction | Selim Jahan

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A Somali woman draws water from a man-made pond dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. (Photo: UNDP Somalia)

Inequalities have come to occupy center stage in many discussions on development in general and the Post-2015 Agenda in particular. This is not surprising. Deprivation in the midst of plenty remains the daily reality for hundreds of millions of households around the world. And at the same time, a host of economic, social and cultural factors perpetuate the disadvantage experienced by a range of discriminated-against groups – from women to people with disabilities, and from ethnic minorities to people living in rural communities, just to mention some. Despite impressive economic progress, humanity remains deeply divided.   To advance the debate on the causes and effects of inequality as well as ways in which it could be reduced, the UNDP Poverty Practice has produced a report addressing a number of these issues. Among them is the question of the political feasibility of inequality reduction, on which I will focus here. A global survey of 375 policy-makers from 15 countries conducted for the report shows that policy-makers all over the world see the reduction of inequality as a major policy priority. However, as a result of deeply entrenched vested interests, policy-makers are also faced with significant constraints on their ability to address inequality... Read more

Saving the imperiled Hamouns of Eastern Iran | Gary Lewis

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The UNDP-supported Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project aims to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of Iran’s system of wetland protected areas as a tool for conserving globally significant biodiversity. Photo: UNDP/Iran

“Angels will kiss the hands of those who help us,” the man said. The face behind the handshake was grizzled and weathered with  leathery skin that bespoke years of harshness. The fisherman’s eyes welled with suppressed tears. He yearned for a time when his life was one of plenty.  Lakes brimmed with water and fish, his children were happy, and life was good. He wanted me to tell the world about the desperate conditions in Iran’s harshest, poorest region: the Hamoun wetlands of Sistan. “Wetlands” is really not the right word for these parched lands. There is little gainful employment, and more than half the residents get by on welfare delivered through the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (IKRF), a parastatal organization.   They were mainly fisher folk, though almost all are now unemployed, living amid the decayed ruins of ghost-like villages built alongside once-thriving lakes. Hamouns comprise three large wetland areas covering 5,660 square kilometers.  Two-thirds of these wetlands are located in Iran, linked and fed by water from Afghanistan’s Helmand River. Twenty years ago, most of this area was green, and the lake teemed with fish. The wetlands also supported agriculture and water buffalo herds, providing a livelihood for thousands... Read more

What can the US learn from Latin America’s declining inequality? | Heraldo Muñoz

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An artisan from the northern province of Salta using locally produced materials. Photo: UNDP Argentina

As the debate about inequality grows in the U.S., what lessons can be drawn from Latin America, which — although still highly unequal — is the only region that managed to reduce income inequality in the last decade? Despite being the world’s largest economy, the U.S. is the most unequal among the industrialized countries. In 1979, the top 20 percent of Americans received 43 percent of income, while the top 1 percent got 9 percent. Today, however, the top 20 percent of the population captures over 50 percent of pre-tax income, while the top 1 percent receives nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, Latin America has steadily become more middle-income while reducing poverty.In16 of 17 countries there has been a significant decline in income inequality over the past 10 years. How did they do it? First, nearly half of the decline in inequality can be explained by improvements in household labour income. Economic growth created greater demand for domestic goods, moving more people into the labor force, driving wage increases. This helped reduce the wage gap between college-educated workers and those without a degree. In the U.S., this education gap has increased in recent years. Second, Latin America leads the world in social... Read more

To tackle AIDS and poverty, empower women and girls | David Wilson & Jeni Klugman

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A woman being tested for HIV/AIDS at a Prevention care and treatment center in Burkina Faso. Photo: Giacomo Pirozzi and UNDP Burkina Faso

"You cannot eat a sweet with the wrapping," young men from South Africa told researchers as part of a recent World Bank study, explaining why they refuse to wear condoms despite a high and well-known risk of HIV. Men often don’t see condoms as manly, and women feel unable to insist. What does this mean? A 2011 Gallup poll of 19 sub-Saharan African countries, home to more than two-thirds of the world's HIV-infected population, found most adults know how to prevent the spread of HIV. But while 72 percent agreed people should use condoms every time they have sex, only 40 percent said they ever had. Social norms such as these help explain why AIDS disproportionately affects women in many countries. Empowering women and challenging these norms is vital to tackling the epidemic, with broader dividends in the fight to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. AIDS, like poverty, demands action and innovation on multiple fronts with women and girls in mind, from public transport to policing: During the ‘World We Want’ global conversation on post-2015 development goals, a young mother from Papua New Guinea described sometimes skipping HIV treatment because she fears being raped or attacked during her long... Read more

The 'foreign-aid-doesn’t-work' argument | Jérome Sauvage

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A Hmong woman and her baby in the village of Sin Chai. Vietnam is an example of how successful foreign aid interventions can transform a country. Photo: Kibae Park/UN

Since my arrival in the United States one year ago, I have come across authors such as Roger Riddell who ask pointed questions to those responsible for aid programs. There is an energetic and well-established body of literature that is skeptical of bilateral and multilateral aid. Here in Washington, I appreciate how USAID focused more on evidence-based reporting whilst we at UNDP are sharing our results much better (as our top IATI rating demonstrates), one person and one country at a time. Yet a significant piece of evidence is often missing in our demonstrations: the very countries that successfully emerged out of poverty. I just returned to Vietnam over the New Year holidays. Hanoi was my first post with UNDP. Then, in 1985, the country’s devastation from the war was everywhere. UNDP joined a small group of donors supporting various rehabilitation projects, notably in the coffee and rubber sectors. Today, Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer after Brazil (OK, mainly Robusta) and is likely to become the world’s third-biggest rubber producer.  Although our presence needed much justifying internationally, we stayed, were able to support the reform process the moment it began, and later on advised the country’s leadership in its negotiations... Read more