Helen Clark: Statement at the UNDP RBLAC Cluster Meeting

Nov 3, 2009

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of United Nations Development Programme
the occasion of the 2009 Annual Cluster Meeting of Resident Representatives/Resident Co-ordinators from UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean
Tuesday 3 November 2009, Santiago
11.30 am

Welcome to the cluster meeting of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the outset, let me express my thanks to the Government of Chile for hosting this meeting in Santiago.  We are very appreciative of Chile’s hospitality, and of the presence of Foreign Minster Mariano Fernández Amunategui with us today.

It is highly appreciated that this UNDP meeting, should take place in Chile, which since its return to democracy has placed such strong emphasis on advancing human development.

Chile has recorded important progress in reducing poverty and inequality especially in recent years. As well it has expanded access to social services and advanced gender equality.

I hope that UNDP will continue to strengthen its important partnership with Chile, and indeed with all countries of this region, as we seek to achieve our common development goals.

The region covered by RBLAC is a large and diverse one – stretching the huge distance from Mexico and the Caribbean in the North to Argentina and Chile in the south, and in size from the small island states of the Caribbean to the mega-sized nation of Brazil.

Here we have net contributing, and middle and low income countries; and, alas, some countries emerging from conflict. 

The development challenges in the region are therefore highly differentiated.  At UNDP we have to be flexible, and have the capacity to respond to countries’ changing needs and to new challenges and realities.

The role of the Resident Co-ordinators/Resident Representatives is a vital one.  Each one must co-ordinate the efforts of the UN Country Team, and also give strategic leadership to UNDP.

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

This work has taken on a renewed sense of urgency as we seek to help programme countries in an era of multiple crises.

Our job is to support development of the resilience within countries, communities, and families, so that they can better withstand the shocks, which in one form or another, are likely to keep coming in the future.

Until the global recession hit, and notwithstanding the pressures on developing countries of high food and fuel prices and climate volatility, this region was on track to achieve a number of the Millennium Development Goals, including the target for reducing extreme poverty.

Progress averaged across countries, however, disguises important differences both between and within them.

And, the severe impact of the international recession has added extra challenges to achieving the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals. Many of us involved in development are concerned that progress on the MDGs could be reversed.

This region has experienced significant crises in the past. Its recovery from those and its strong economic performance of recent times do leave it better placed to navigate through economic crisis at this time than in the past.

Even so, the region is being negatively affected. The World Bank has estimated that the number of those living in extreme poverty in the region could increase by 2.7 million people this year.  That would erase the gains of 2005-2008, when more than 2.5 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty.

The impacts and severity of the crisis will depend not only on its duration, but also on how governments respond, and on how the international community supports those efforts.

Many of you, both in your UNDP capacity, and as leaders and co-ordinators of other agencies in the UN development system, have been supporting governments with analysis of the impacts of the recession and with formulating appropriate responses.

Such efforts are vital in these times.  We can draw on the collective expertise of the UN development system to provide good policy and technical advice, especially to those countries which have the least ability to cope with the consequences of current crises.

With barely six years left until the 2015 deadline for meeting the MDGs, we would all prefer to be accelerating our efforts on them, rather than losing traction and witnessing reversals of hard-fought development gains.

Making progress on the MDGs in this region, where there is only one LDC and few low income countries will depend overwhelmingly on smart strategies, proven policies, and the capacity within countries to implement them.

Our role at UNDP must be a catalytic one, supporting the step changes in governance and the capacity building required for nations to transform their prospects.

For UNDP, developing the capacity of our national partners must be at the heart of what we do, if development gains are to be locked in for the long term. Our own goal, after all, must surely be to put ourselves out of business eventually because our job is done.

Around the world, programme countries increasingly look to us to provide strategic advice, policy options, and support for building implementation capacity.

The work of our global policy networks, including through the regional service centre in Panama, to create and share knowledge can help those efforts.

We need to be positioned strategically as a development partner which brings true added value. This has particular resonance for this region with its significant number of middle income and net contributing countries. Under current definitions and thresholds, potentially six more countries could soon be ‘graduating’ to net contributing county status.

To meet, and ideally to exceed, the expectations placed on us by our country partners, we must lift our own skills base, and look closely at our capacity to lead development thinking and deliver results. In other words if we seek to support the transformation of developing countries, we must also continually transform ourselves.

All the while we must also keep a strong focus on the internationally agreed development goals which, when achieved, will make such a huge difference to so many people’s lives. This is especially important with regard to our work on the time bound MDGs.

The fairly high income levels in a number of countries in Latin America mask deep pockets of poverty and inequality which still exist.

Achieving the MDGs in this region will require more inclusive growth, equitable delivery of social services, and expanded economic opportunities for marginalized and the vulnerable groups.

As this well informed audience is well aware, the MDGs are themselves highly interconnected. Achieving progress on one helps get traction on the other.

Take promoting gender equality, for example. Not only is that an MDG in its own right, but achieving it is vital for meeting the other MDGs too.  Where MDG progress has been slow so often relates to the low priority given to the needs and status of women. 

In this region UNDP has been very active in addressing challenges related to gender inequality, including violence against women and the need for better balance between work and family life.

I believe it will be critical for gender analysis to be applied in the preparations for the 2010 high level MDG review next year at the UN General Assembly. All development stakeholders need to become more aware of how attending to women’s needs will help achieve a wide range of development goals.

A strong focus on combating the spread of HIV/AIDS will also reinforce progress on other MDGs. Prevention is vital to ensuring a reversal of the spread of the disease. In this region, we must pay special attention to prevention in our work with marginalized groups.

UNDP co-sponsors UNAIDS, and this year we hold the chair of its Committee of Co-Sponsor Organizations.  It is critical that we work closely with other partners in the UN system and beyond to scale up universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support.

More generally, we in UNDP must use our convening and co-ordinating role to support the work of other UN agencies on the MDGs. The mandates of all our agencies relate in one way or another to the MDGs.

The target date of 2015 for the MDGs is now so close that it greatly concentrates the mind on the need for more effective action. As one who went to New York in 2000 as a Head of Government and signed the Millenium Declaration, I feel this acutely!

Our Bureau of Development Policy has been working with a range of UNDP country offices to create an MDG ‘breakthrough strategy’ which would help accelerate progress towards the goals.

In co-ordination with our UN development system partners, we must support countries to identify more precisely their priority MDG sectors where progress is lagging; and support them to develop and implement action plans to meet those goals.

We will need to be specific on what the core packages of services we jointly have available is to support countries in these efforts.

While there is globally a large menu of proven strategies and interventions to draw on, we must also continue to bring new ideas and innovative approaches to the table.

I know the UNDP offices in this region are so often at the cutting edge of development thinking. We have, for example, supported efforts in a number of countries to establish cash transfer programmes, which have proven their worth in addressing poverty. 

With UNDP’s help, the Latin American and Caribbean region has shown strong commitment to the human development approach.   This year alone three regional human development reports have been prepared, focusing on inequality, youth issues, and questions related to citizen security.

I recently launched our global human development report on migration, an issue of great importance to development in this part of the world.

These reports are an integral part of the huge knowledge resource UNDP has developed, and we must make good use of them.

Overall the wider UN can be proud of its track record of generating new ideas with the capacity to change our world for the better.  The UN Intellectual History Project credits the human development report and the MDGs as two examples of such ideas.

We constantly need to be forward thinking. Now it is imperative to provide a new development paradigm which supports countries meeting the internationally agreed goals while also maintaining the integrity of our ecosystems.

This has been a priority for me as your new Administrator – integrating climate and broader environmental considerations into the centre of our development thinking and planning.

By some estimates, forty per cent of  development investment from ODA and concessional lending is sensitive to climate risk.   If that risk is not being factored into future investments, then we are not spending the development dollar responsibly – indeed we are literally pouring a significant proportion of it down the drain.

The new climate agreement being negotiated needs to be a good deal for development. It needs to support low carbon routes to growth and energy access, and support adaptation and the building of greater resilience to climate change. 

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

A very high priority for us as the UN agency with a climate and development mandate must be to support countries to build the capacity to develop low carbon growth, energy access, and adaptation strategies – and to place them at the heart of their national development plans. 

In this region, we are supporting a programme to strengthen regional capacities to adapt to climate change and increase the use of renewable energy sources.

Over the past four years here we have mobilized more than $270 million to improve the energy efficiency of buildings; produce electricity from biomass, the sun and the wind; and support the sustainable management of forests.

We must now step up our work to help countries develop the capacity to execute their climate strategies – and to access carbon finance. We expect that there will be a lot more funding available – but countries need the capacity to obtain it and spend it well.

We must also maintain our leadership role in supporting developing countries, and small island states in particular, on climate risk management and disaster risk reduction.

UNDP has helped a number of countries in this region respond to natural disasters which have afflicted them, and we have a leading part in recovery processes.

As disasters look set to intensify as a result of climate change, we must ensure that disaster risk reduction is a priority in the national development plans of the future.

This brings me to another important part of the development equation we need to pay close attention to : our work on conflict prevention and recovery.

Promoting peace and stability is vital for development to take root.

When there is not rapid recovery from conflict, the prospect of maintaining new found stability fades. Countries trying to escape from conflict have all too often seen conflict recur.

In countries like Haiti, our role is to support a movement from crisis prevention and humanitarian support to recovery and development.

Our prevention work is likely to grow in importance. The risks of instability around the world may increase in the next few decades as a result of accumulative pressures on developing countries.

In a number of countries in this region, UNDP has supported efforts to enhance social cohesion, including by providing a voice for the participation of indigenous communities.

Growing polarization can also be observed in political systems here. Across the region, sixteen elections are due to be held between 2009 and 2010, seven of which will be to elect new presidents.  The economic crisis and the current electoral cycle could escalate those tensions, which are so often related to unequal citizen participation and distribution of assets and income.

This in turn highlights the importance of UNDP’s substantial work on strengthening governance.

Our efforts to make governance more representative, more participatory, and more effective in the fight against poverty and inequality are important to underpin development progress.

While UNDP is a very large development organization, we are but one of many stakeholders in development. We need effective partnerships with them all: programme countries, donors, other agencies, civil society, and the private sector.

Our world is undergoing significant geopolitical shifts which are also reflected in contributions to development.

The South-South flows of finance, technology, and know-how are now very substantial. Developing countries have so many lessons learned and useful technologies available to assist others in the South to meet their development challenges.

Supporting and facilitating the sharing of South-South experience and knowledge is central to our role at UNDP.

This is highly relevant in the context of the economic crisis where there are, to give just one example, many relevant models of social protection in the South for others to study and adapt to their own contexts.

Increasingly, emerging donors in the South, like Chile, are keen to work with UNDP as they expand their development contributions to others.

At UNDP, we also need to build the best possible collaboration with philanthropic funds and the private sector. Both make a vital contribution to achieving the MDGs and tackling climate change.

We need strong partnerships across the UN Development Group agencies too, if the UN is to remain a relevant contributor of scale in development.

To make the most of the funding available to us, the UN agencies must move even more outside their individual silos to embrace joint programming. Clusters can bring together greater skills and expertise to bear on issues related to the MDGs, social protection, and the environment than agencies operating on their own can.

From what I can see, we are moving fast in this direction. I have recently read the Synthesis of Resident Co-ordinator Annual Reports for 2008 – which outlines the now extensive efforts across many country teams to co-ordinate their activities.

I know that many of you work in resource-constrained environments. I also know that many of you face specific challenges related to working in middle income countries, and those which could soon be ‘graduating’. These are challenges we must work across the UN system to address.
I commend you and your country teams for your creativity and commitment to advancing our development agenda, and I look forward to interacting with each of you in the days ahead.

Let us use this occasion of our regional cluster meeting to generate renewed momentum in our efforts to promote sustainable development.

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