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