Helen Clark remarks on MDGs

Sep 23, 2009

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
On the occasion of a UNDP-hosted side event “Accelerating Progress on the MDGs: Preparing for 2010”
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
New York


It is a great pleasure to welcome you all today as we seek to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and gear up for the MDG high-level review in 2010.

I am especially delighted that we have such a distinguished group of panellists who have been able to join us, despite all the events during this very busy week in New York.

A special welcome and thanks therefore go to our panellists President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania; Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia; Secretary of State Douglas Alexander of the United Kingdom; and European Commissioner Karel de Gucht.

In 2000 I was one of the heads of government who travelled to the United Nations General Assembly here in New York and signed the Millennium Declaration.  That document enshrined the Millennium Development Goals as the international community’s collective commitment to create a better tomorrow for billions of people.   

The MDGs are enormously important targets, the achievement of which would mean a huge improvement to peoples’ lives – in lifting income, offering both opportunity through education and for better health status, empowering women, tackling deadly and debilitating diseases, nurturing our environment for current and future generations, and forming strong global partnerships for development.

Country by country, many large strides have been taken to meet the MDGs.

Tanzania, for example, has made impressive progress on MDG2. According to a recent UNESCO report, net primary school enrolment there increased from around 50 per cent in 1999 to more than 80 per cent in 2006, cutting the number of children not in school by 3 million.

The same report shows that Ethiopia is also doing a very impressive job at increasing access to education - there, between 1999 and 2006 primary school enrolment more than doubled to 71 per cent.  

From a global perspective, we have been making progress on the MDGs.

The target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015 seems likely to be achieved.

The latest figures on child mortality released by UNICEF estimate that the number of child deaths in 2008 declined to 8.8 million from 12.5 million in 1990, the base line year for the MDGs.

But this is no time for complacency.

It is still unacceptable that so many children die before their fifth birthday, and the global rate of improvement is still insufficient to reach this MDG.

Four years after the target date which was set for reaching gender parity in education, it has yet to be achieved.

No country in sub-Saharan Africa is on course to achieve all the MDGs.

Many middle-income countries lag on individual goals, and are also home to deep pockets of poverty.

In the middle of a global economic crisis, making progress on these goals is of course challenging.  The severe impact of the international recession on developing countries means that we even risk going backwards.  

Accelerating progress on the MDGs will therefore depend on the level of support available to developing countries; and on smart, strategic, and proven policies and the capacity within countries to implement them.

Every day, policy makers can bring about changes for the better, and work to scale-up and implement proven interventions.

Every day, international donors can make decisions about delivering more and better aid for more strategic purposes.  

This will include living up to commitments made on ODA, notably the pledges made at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005. These pledges are annually renewed, and were re-committed again recently in Italy, but they fall far short of delivery, especially for Africa.

In addition, the G-20 meeting later this week must not overlook the needs of the poorest countries which are still in crisis. It is vital that the commitments on financing for the most vulnerable from the G20’s London meeting are met.

UNDP, both as a leading development agency, and through our leadership and co-ordination of other agencies in the UN development system, is working to galvanize support for the MDGs globally.

We see our work on the MDGs as inextricably linked with that on environment, energy, climate-related issues, and sustainable development.
By some estimates, forty per cent of development investment from ODA and concessional lending is sensitive to climate risk. Resilience and adaptation to that risk must therefore be built into development strategies, otherwise precious investments in development could be undercut.
Progress on the MDGs will be reviewed when the General Assembly meets in September of next year. The Secretary-General is calling for that event to be a summit.

We are faced with a choice : will the MDGs become another one of those promise the international community has made, but not kept? Or can we all rise to meet the internationally agreed challenge?

The answer to me is clear : the MDGs must be met, they can be met, and we must do everything we can to ensure that they are met.  The world’s poorest deserve no less.

The six years left to the end of 2015 amount to more than 2,000 precious days, each one with specific possibilities which we can and must use to contribute to achieving the MDGs.

The 2010 MDG review presents a unique opportunity which we must seize to drive such action.

We must ensure that it can provide a turning point for achieving the eight goals, spur collective action, forge strategic partnerships, and build renewed momentum until 2015.

The review must therefore go beyond just describing trends for the MDGs to date. It should also provide us with a clear understanding of what has worked, what has not, and why.

Central to that will be to apply a gender perspective. The empowerment of women, an MDG in its own right, is also critical for reaching the wide range of MDGs.

UNDP will be working with its partners over the coming twelve months to generate renewed political momentum for the MDGs, and to foster a common understanding of the problems, solutions, and actions required to meet them.

Achieving the goals will require strong partnerships; enough dedicated resources; unwavering political leadership; and a long-term strategy to ensure that how we develop and grow is sustainable in every sense.

Let us at today’s event rededicate our efforts to meeting the MDGs. This time next year we must have a clear understanding of the further steps required to meet the goals by 2015.

My colleagues and I at UNDP very much look forward to working closely with each of you in the lead up to the 2010 MDG event and beyond.

Thank you.

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