Clark: Cluster Meeting - UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific

Oct 8, 2009

Statement of Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
on the occasion of the 2009 Annual Cluster Meeting of Resident  Representatives/Resident Co-ordinators from UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific
8 October 2009, Bangkok

Welcome to the cluster meeting of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

At the outset, let me express my thanks to the Royal Government of Thailand for agreeing to host both this meeting here in Pattaya, and  the launch of the 2009 Human Development Report on migration which took place in Bangkok on Monday.  We are very appreciative of the hospitality of the government and people of Thailand. 

I am also very grateful that H.E. Mr. Sisoulith, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, has made time to be with us. I recently met with the Deputy Prime Minister in New York when he came to the United Nations General Assembly, and I know that he is a strong supporter of our work. 

I am also pleased that Mr. Asda Jayanama is present with us. As a former Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN, he is very well informed on many of the issues we will be discussing.

Before proceeding any further, can I also express my heartfelt condolences and sympathy to all the peoples and nations of this region who have experienced extraordinarily traumatic natural disasters in recent days.  To our friends in Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga in the South Pacific, our thoughts are with you following the tsunami, as they are with our friends in Indonesia and Bhutan following the earthquakes and in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos,  Cambodia and now India too, following the typhoons and/or flooding.

As well, all our thoughts are with our colleagues in Islamabad and with the families of those killed and injured in this week’s bomb attack on the World Food Programme.

Across these disasters, many lives have been lost; those left behind are in grief, and many have lost their livelihoods.  These are tough times and we have been called on to help. I know that our Resident Co-ordinators, wearing their Humanitarian Co-ordinator hats, and their teams, have been on the front line of the international humanitarian response, and that UNDP will play a key role in co-ordinating recovery from these disasters.

This is my first official visit to the Asia Pacific since becoming the Administrator of UNDP. The regional cluster meeting here has given me the opportunity to meet with our partners in Thailand, with the UN’s regional offices based here, and with you – our senior UNDP leaders from the programme countries in the region.

With my New Zealand background, I am very well aware of the dynamism of the Asia Pacific and of the many human development gains it has made in recent years.

I also know how diverse the region covered by RBAP is – ranging from China and India with the world’s largest populations, to the small island states of the South Pacific.  Here we have net contributing and middle income countries; fourteen least developed countries; and some countries emerging from prolonged conflict, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka.  The development challenges in the region are therefore highly varied.

Your role in leading the UN country teams on the ground and as the UNDP Resident Representatives is vital.

The better co-ordinated the UN development system is, the more strategic, and the more focused it is, and we in UNDP are, the more effective we can be in helping countries meet their development goals.

For UNDP, developing the capacity of our national partners must be at the heart of what we do. That will lock in development gains for the long term.

As you know, I have given a very high priority to the poverty reduction/MDG and environment and sustainable development pillars of our work – and I see them as closely linked.  It is essential that they are well integrated in the development paradigms and strategies of the 21st century.  These are areas where UNDP has a clear mandate and must be a leader.

We are up against timelines – the MDG target dates are scarcely six years away. On climate change the clock is ticking and the adverse effects are being felt  most in developing countries.  A person in a developing country is 79 times as likely to experience a climate disaster as a person in the developed world.

Prior to the global food, fuel, and economic crises, this region was on track to achieve the MDG target for reducing extreme poverty.

According to the World Bank, in East Asia and the Pacific around 500 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2005, largely because of dramatic progress in poverty reduction in China.

So, in East Asia under twenty per cent of the population was living on less than $1.25 a day in 2005, down from nearly 80 per cent in 1981. 

This region has also been on track to meet the MDGs for providing universal access to primary education and reducing gender inequalities in education.  It has also witnessed achievements in stemming the spread of HIV. 

Yet big challenges remain, not least in reducing infant mortality, improving maternal health, and expanding access to clean water and sanitation.

Keeping momentum on internationally agreed development goals throughout the global recession and the many other crises which have affected our world is in itself a challenge.

  On the positive side, the IMF has increased its earlier forecasts for economic growth this year in China and India, and for developing Asian countries as a group.

But, many countries in the region do face significant economic challenges - from reduced domestic revenue streams to governments this year owing to negative or lower growth; from a slowdown in financial inflows, including from remittances; and from reduced demand for exports of goods and services, including tourism. Such countries may need support to maintain budgets for basic services like health and education – which are so vital to meeting the MDGs.

Countries under particular pressure include Fiji, where its Reserve Bank has reported that remittances in 2009 were less than half what they were in 2006.

For the remainder of this year, some countries like Cambodia are expected to register negative growth rates, while others, like Mongolia and Vietnam, are projected to experience sharp growth slowdowns.

The number of unemployed people in Asia increased from 79 million in 2007 to 84 million in 2008, and is projected to increase further to 94 million this year, even with the overall growth outlook for the region on the positive side of the ledger.

Compounding the effects of declining incomes for many of the poorest and most vulnerable people has been the sharp increase in the price of some food staples, such as rice. While prices are down from the peaks of 2008, they remain high in historical terms.

This highlights an emerging challenge for the region: the Asia-Pacific has gone in recent decades from having a trade surplus in agriculture to being a food-grain deficit region.

At this time, accelerating progress on the MDGs in this region and elsewhere will depend on the level of support available to developing countries; and on strategic and proven policies, and the capacity within countries to implement them.

It would be helpful if all donors lived up to their ODA commitments, including the pledges made first at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005, and reaffirmed yet again two weeks ago at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, to double  ODA by 2010 over 2004 levels

It is also important that the commitments on financing for the most vulnerable from the G20’s London meeting are met.

For its part, UNDP must continue to advise on policy responses to the recession and on approaches to strengthen social protection.  We must continue to work with other UN system partners, including the IFIs, in helping to build a more inclusive and greener globalization for the future.

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

We must work to foster virtuous cycles whereby a rising tide of progress towards one MDG lifts progress towards others. Clearly, the MDGs are interconnected.

Take promoting gender equality, for example. Not only is this a goal in its own right, but it is essential to meeting other MDGs too.

A little over half of all adult women in South Asia are literate, one of the lowest such rates in the world. Only seventeen per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women.  The MDGs for universal education and women’s empowerment can’t be met without action with and for women.  That’s why we must seek to promote the advancement of women through all our interventions on the ground.

As well a strong focus on combating the spread of HIV/AIDS will reinforce progress on other MDGs.
UNDP has played a leading role in responding to the epidemic in the Asia-Pacific by addressing legal barriers to effective responses; strengthening the health sector’s capacity to contribute to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment for marginalized populations; and supporting the involvement of community-based organizations in national and local HIV/AIDS responses.

Nevertheless, we can do more.  As a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, and especially as the chair of its Committee of Co-Sponsor Organisations  this year, we must work closely with other UN system partners to scale up universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support.

We in UNDP can use our convening and co-ordinating role to support the work of other UN agencies on the MDGs more generally.

For example, in the area of maternal health, UNDP is not a specialized agency. Yet achievement of MDG5 links closely to our ability to achieve the MDGs for education, children’s health, poverty and hunger reduction, and women’s empowerment.

Then there are the links to be made between our poverty reduction/MDG goals and climate change and sustainable development.

We have to integrate climate change-related considerations into our development thinking and planning and encourage programme countries to do the same.

The science on climate change makes a clear case for urgent mitigation and adaptation efforts worldwide.

Right now, the brunt of climate change is being borne by poor and vulnerable people in developing countries, whether they be in the drylands of Africa, the deltas of Asia, or in the world’s small atoll nations.

For the Pacific Island countries, climate change is not merely an environmental or economic issue – it is about their very survival.  Half of the eight million people in the Pacific live within 1.5 kilometers of the shoreline, which is at risk of coastal depletion from sea level rise.  The island nation of Maldives in the Indian Ocean is similarly at great risk – as are coastal peoples throughout the region.

Overall, climate change is predicted to cause even more intense droughts, heat waves, typhoons, and landslides.

In Southeast Asia, the Asian Development Bank estimates that the total cost of lost agricultural production and other negative impacts from climate change could be as much as around 6.7 per cent of GDP in some countries by the end of the century.

Two weeks ago I attended the Summit on Climate Change convened by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York.  It was an important event aimed at stimulating political commitment at the highest level for a climate deal to be reached.

Concerted efforts will still be needed in the few weeks remaining until the Copenhagen summit for progress to be made there.

For a new climate agreement to be reached, it will need to be a good deal for development.

It needs to  support low carbon routes to growth and energy access, and support adaptation and build greater resilience to climate change and variability. 

For developing countries, funding will be critical.

“Business as usual” models of economic growth have had a heavy carbon footprint. In Asia, rapid population growth, fast economic development, and urbanization have led to increased energy needs and a corresponding increase in greenhouse gases emissions.

This makes it imperative that greener pathways to development are adopted here and elsewhere. It will take significant new resources and technology transfer to provide such alternatives. They are available, but the full mitigation cost cannot be met by developing countries alone.

The same applies to adaptation.  The poorest and most vulnerable countries will need significant support which goes above and beyond existing ODA to meet these costs.


Preliminary findings of a World Bank study estimate that adapting to the impacts of climate change will cost between $75-100 billion per year in the developing world between 2010 and 2050.


But if countries do not adapt, climate change could reverse development gains and undermine efforts to achieve the MDGs.   By some estimates, forty per cent of development investment from ODA and concessional lending is sensitive to climate risk.   If that risk isn’t being factored into future investments, then we are literally pouring money down the drain.

There is no simple choice to be made between fostering growth and development or protecting our climate and ecosystems.  Both objectives are necessary, and compatible.

Planet Earth is the only planet we have to live on. How we all live and develop in the future must be consistent with keeping our ecosystems in better balance.

UNDP has a number of important roles to play in supporting developing countries in the current negotiations for a new climate agreement – and beyond.

We can assist countries to develop low carbon growth, energy access, and adaptation strategies – and to place them at the heart of their national development plans.

We can help countries develop the capacity to execute these strategies – and to access carbon finance now and in the future.

We can increase the support we give to the least developed countries and to small island states in particular on climate risk management and disaster risk reduction.

According to a UN report, nearly seventy per cent of all lives lost worldwide because of natural disasters occur within this region.

In the last few weeks alone there were the earthquakes in Bhutan; the typhoons which struck the Philippines, Vietnam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Cambodia; and the tsunami which hit Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. This week millions of people in India have been affected by flooding in what are being described as the worst floods in a hundred years.  These disasters have caused so much devastation and loss of life.

As UNDP, and UN Country Team leaders, you have been working with governments in the region to strengthen their capacity to prepare for, and manage and recover from disasters.

We know what preventive measures need to be taken for effective risk management, and we know that they save lives.  Such measures must be given high priority in national development plans and actions, so that risk can be reduced for vulnerable communities.

We must also continue to build on our impressive work on crisis prevention and recovery.


In countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan, our role is to support a movement from crisis prevention and humanitarian support to recovery and development.

I want to acknowledge also the substantial work programme of UNDP on strengthening governance.

Our interventions in areas from access to justice; to combating corruption; strengthening national human rights and electoral institutions; decentralization; and ensuring that parliaments play their role of scrutiny well is important, and it underpins development progress.

Overall, efforts to reduce poverty and tackle the tough environmental challenges faced are likely to be more sustainable when government at all levels is responsive, transparent, and accountable to its citizens.

UNDP is a highly decentralized organization. To ensure that our knowledge and experiences flow more seamlessly, a new web-based system called “Teamworks” is being developed. Much has been done in earlier years with knowledge networks, but this new system should help us do more to fully connect with each other, and share lessons learned and best practice more systematically.

Overwhelmingly the relevant experiences to be shared are those from elsewhere in the South.  I see UNDP playing a key role in facilitating the transfer of knowledge within the South, and in developing new partnerships with those nations of the South which are themselves heavily engaged in development co-operation.

My experiences over the five and a half months I have been at UNDP have deepened my conviction that this organisation and the wider UN development system have a vital role to play in support of development.

I thank you and your teams for your dedication and commitment to that task.

I am well aware that many of you work in challenging circumstances, and that you have multiple hats to wear which compete for your attention.

I look forward to interacting with each of you, and hope that you will return to your host countries after this meeting even more energised to advance our common development goals.

Thank you.

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