The Data Revolution for human development

12 Nov 2014 by Selim Jahan, Director, Human Development Report Office

 A delegation of election management bodies from seven countries in South Asia visited Pune in October to learn more about how India manages elections. Photo credit: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India
A World That Counts, the report by the UN Secretary General’s Data Revolution Group, was released recently. The report contains much that is important to global development. But what, I have been pondering, might the data revolution mean for human development and human development reporting in particular? Three ideas occur immediately. First, the importance of data for both decision-making and analytical debate needs no demonstration. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a remarkable example of the power a simple measure can wield to reframe debate towards genuine development outcomes. Now, in a data-rich world one could argue for the index also to include much more that is important to people: measures of voice, equality, sustainability, security, freedom and dignity. All of these would help paint a richer picture of human development. But such data – at least not yet - are not available in most countries. I hope the data revolution will change that. Second, our 700 national human development reports always are built on data, often with disaggregation and innovative analysis. Of course such evidence-based analysis is vital to ensuring the reports’ robustness and usefulness. But I believe that the conversations about what data to use, that are a key … Read more

Tobacco and public health: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

30 Oct 2014 by Dudley Tarlton, programme specialist for HIV, health and development, UNDP in Geneva.

A young man smokes in Timor-Leste.Health systems in lower and middle-income countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the rise in tobacco consumption. Photo: UNDP in Lebanon.
Tobacco poses challenges to various dimensions of human development, from public health to poverty reduction, gender equality and environmental sustainability. As the market for tobacco products declines in the developed world, multinational corporations have turned their sights to lower- and middle-income countries. But the health systems in these countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the increased burden that results from the rise in tobacco consumption. To make matters worse, the tobacco industry’s practices in these countries are often in direct contradiction to laws and policies meant to protect public health: - paying policymakers to block or water down tobacco control laws; - influencing science and providing biased expert opinion in public and government forums - delaying measures such as graphical pictorial warnings on cigarette packs; - offering to draft countries’ national non-communicable disease strategies, so that they focus more on increasing physical activity rather than reducing tobacco consumption. While tobacco industry interference in policymaking is a long-standing problem, the trend has been picking up steam in developing countries, with WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan stating that “the wolf is no longer bothering to wear sheep’s clothing.”  However, countries working to protect their citizens’ health … Read more

Loud and clear: Rethinking service design in Georgia

24 Oct 2014 by Sophie Tchitchinadze, Communications Analyst, UNDP Georgia

woman at a workshop in GeorgiaPeople living with speech or hearing impairments now have more options to contact the emergency hotline. Photo: David Khizanishvili, UNDP Georgia.
On the heels of SHIFT, UNDP's Week of Innovation Action, we tried to answer some basic questions: Why do we need it all? Why should we do innovation work in development? We got our answers after a design thinking session with the national emergency hotline in Georgia.  112 is one of the most dialled phone numbers in Georgia. In 2013 alone, they received over 8 million calls. Their website lists emergency services available for children, with a video tour, and frequently asked questions for those who may need immediate help. They provide everything for everyone – except for those who cannot hear or speak.  This is because 112 is only reachable through a voice call. Those living with speech or hearing impairments simply don’t have options. To change this, 112 teamed up with our office in Georgia and the Swedish Government  to prepare a new service design – one that would be truly universal. Earlier this year, the 112 team travelled to Ireland to examine how new technology can make emergency services more accessible for the hearing and speech impaired. This was followed by a three-day design thinking workshop that brought together people with disabilities, tech specialists and civil society organizations. … Read more

Do-it-yourself Sustainable Development: The SDGs go DIY

25 Sep 2014 by Magdy Martínez-Solimán

Women participate in management training in BangladeshWomen participate in management training, part of a UNDP programme that aims to enhance the government’s effectiveness in fulfilling their mandate. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh
With the proposal for Sustainable Development Goals now available for all members of the General Assembly to consider further, the question on many of our minds is:  where to next?  Once global sustainable development goals are adopted next year, how can we best help governments, citizens, and the private sector take them from aspiration to reality? So far almost 5 million people in almost 100 countries have either voted on their priorities for a new development agenda through the MY World survey or engaged in face-to-face discussions on what is needed to improve their future. As part of our broader work supporting innovation for development (I4D), we are looking for new ways of inspiring action on these priorities. So far, some interesting approaches have emerged: Micro-narratives and qualitative research to learn more about complex issues    The World we Want consultations asked what people need for their future, engaging people who are not usually part of policy debates. For example, people living with disabilities in Belarus and youth at risk in Kyrgyzstan shared their experience through micro-narratives. This data was then used to advocate for policies better suited to meet their needs. In El Salvador the consultations provided data used to advocate … Read more

Reversing the “Silent Earthquake of the Century”

24 Sep 2014 by Gary Lewis, Resident Coordinator, IR Iran

woman sitting in a desert in IranThe Carbon Sequestration Project's achievements prove that degraded lands can be economically and feasibly restored by, and for, local communities. Photo: Sadaf Nikzad/UNDP Iran
According to climate change predictions, the Middle East faces a hotter, drier future. Iran sits at the very centre of the Middle East.  About 80 per cent of its surface is already arid or semi-arid, and the challenge of desertification is literally creeping up on us.  Some have called it “The Silent Earthquake of the Century”. In many parts of Iran this has been caused by sheep herders letting their flocks overgraze the land.  Sometimes it is caused by villagers breaking off rangeland shrubs for firewood. Because much of this problem is man-made, it can be fixed. To re-green desert rangelands, what you need is to replant. Shrubs saplings are incubated and watered until they are ready to be transplanted into holes dug by the community.  When hundreds of thousands of these shrubs grow over hectares, this creates a small biosphere which allows other vegetation and wildlife to return.  Such newly-greened biospheres sustain people’s livelihoods in a number of ways. But, in order for these areas not to be overgrazed again or used for fuel-wood, you need the ‘buy-in’ of the community to preserve and protect them. I have seen this process at work successfully with the “Carbon Project”, a community-development-plus-environmental … Read more

The intertwining nature of national and international agendas

22 Sep 2014 by Jose Dallo

children studying in ParaguayParaguay is working towards inclusive development and improving the living conditions of people in extreme poverty. Photo: UNDP Paraguay
Following more than a year of intense consultations and discussion, the Open Work Group (OWG) finalized a draft Post-2015 development agenda - an agenda to be examined by the UN General Assembly in New York. The OWG agenda sets out 17 objectives and 169 goals as key elements defining development on the international arena in the near future. The OWG proposal is quite ambitious in nature and constitutes a marked departure from the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): for instance, definition of the issue of inequality is very explicit, and there is an objective dealing with the promotion of peace and good governance for all countries. In August, I attended a retreat on the Post-2015 agenda organized by the Government of Paraguay. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with the Technical Planning Secretariat invited all government entities operating in the country to come and discuss the drafting of the proposals, as well as similarities between the OWG (the international agenda) and the draft National Plan currently under debate in the country. More than fifty institutions attended the meeting. The workshop enabled participants to confirm the similarity of both proposals, as well as to further reinforce action taken by the Paraguayan government … Read more

Pakistan’s investment in resilience is the ultimate win-win

19 Sep 2014 by Marc-André Franche, Country Director

Pakistani man smilingThe provision of basic social services empowers people to live the lives they value. Photo: UNDP Pakistan
In the last 2 decades, most countries have registered significant improvements in human development. Now, vulnerability and the impact of crises and disasters are undermining the hard won progress or slowing down its growth.  The annual growth in Human Development Index (HDI) value has declined in Pakistan from 2 percent in 2000-2008 to almost zero during 2008-13.  The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 launch in Pakistan demonstrates that progress cannot be sustained without building resilience. The report highlights two crucial types of vulnerabilities influencing human capabilities: life cycle and structural vulnerabilities. Life cycle vulnerabilities are the result of peoples’ life histories, with past outcomes influencing present exposure to and ways of coping with vulnerabilities. Unfortunately in Pakistan, vulnerabilities at the early stage of the life cycle are the highest. The structural vulnerabilities are generated from social, legal institutions, power structures, political traditions and socio-cultural norms. Structural vulnerabilities are manifested through deep inequalities and widespread poverty. In Pakistan, 44.2 percent of the households live in poverty, according to the multidimensional poverty index. There are at least five lessons from the report and global experience which are central for Pakistan’s future: The provision of basic social services empowers people to live … Read more

The Ebola crisis: reversing development gains in Liberia

15 Sep 2014 by Antonio Vigilante, Deputy Special Representative for Recovery and Governance

Monrovia, Liberia Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: UNDP
As the Ebola crisis continues to take a toll on people’s lives and livelihoods in West Africa, the focus is increasingly not just on the health aspects of the crisis, but also on its social and economic consequences. Sure, the human and medical aspects of the crisis are still on the front burner, as they should be. The public health care system has all but collapsed, while the number of Ebola cases is increasing exponentially. Before the current crisis, Liberia’s economy experienced impressive growth rates of up to 8.7 per cent (2013). Future growth figures will now have to be revised, as economic activities have slowed down dramatically in most sectors. But the impressive recent growth in Liberia has not been equitable or inclusive. About 57 per cent of the country’s approximately 4 million inhabitants live below the poverty line and 48 per cent live in conditions of extreme poverty. The lack of equitable, inclusive development means that more than half of the country’s population—especially women and children--is particularly vulnerable to shocks and crises, ultimately making the whole country less robust, less stable, and less able to handle a crisis of any magnitude. Reduced tax revenues as a result of reduced … Read more

Africa is transforming itself: How do we turn intentions into reality?

08 Aug 2014 by Juergen Nagler, Programme Specialist

Children in DRC help a stuck carBetter investment in infrastructure could help Africa's transformation. Photo: Benoit Almeras Martino/UNDP DRC
Recently I attended an event from the Global Compact, a UN initiative to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. Entitled "Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership", it was held for the first time in Africa, bringing over 300 participants together from businesses, Global Compact networks, UN agencies and governments. Africa's economic transformation with various partners from China, Europe and the US was among the key topics discussed. But, while multinational companies do play a role, it is increasingly clear that African policy makers and business people are setting the continent’s agenda. Participants largely agreed that Africa’s transformation requires investment in better infrastructure, education, skills, jobs, policies and more. The WHAT was better articulated than the HOW. Africa is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing regions, with 4.8 percent growth in 2014 and over 5 percent in 2015, according to the recent African Economic Outlook 2014. However, this transformation goes well beyond economic growth. Development practitioners talk more and more about ‘inclusive growth’, agreeing that businesses should go beyond philanthropy and corporate social responsibility towards making their core activities better suited for societies and the environment.  As UNDP's Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, Eugene Owusu stated: "Inclusive … Read more

Turning subsistence farmers into market suppliers in Africa

18 Jul 2014 by Pascale Bonzom, Programme Specialist

woman farmer in UgandaDespite agriculture being a major source of income in Africa, smallholder farmers face many challenges. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC
As I sat down for my first dinner in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after a bit more than one year since my last visit, I suddenly remembered that something is very wrong with food prices here. How can a simple margarita pizza with only cheese, tomato, oil and flour, be USD 20? How can local fish be USD 30? Admittedly I did not eat in the cheapest local restaurant, yet the prices are 4 to 5 times more expensive in comparison to similar dishes in Addis Ababa, where I live. Indeed, food in the DRC is at least twice as expensive as the average world food price for basic commodities. Why is that? A combination of poor farmer productivity, lack of infrastructure and a difficult business environment, mean that the cost of producing goods and taking them to markets is high, and imports are often more readily available or cheaper than local products. In 2008, Bralima, one of DRC’s leading brewers, sourced 16% of its rice from outside the country, due to its inability to source it from the local market. With 80 million ha of arable land and 90 percent of it not cultivated, DRC offers huge untapped … Read more