Development Co-operation in Times of Crisis

Jun 9, 2010

Helen Clark, Administrator, UNDP

Speech to the Conference on Development Co-operation in Times of Crisis and on Achieving the MDGs

Madrid, Spain

9 June 2010, 10.30am.

My thanks go to the Government of Spain for inviting me to address this important conference. I also congratulate Spain for its determination to make development co-operation a key element in its Presidency of the European Union

Let us imagine, for a moment, the headline which could appear on the cover of El País or the Financial Times the morning after the Millennium Development Goals´ 2015 deadline expires.

That headline could possibly go in one of two directions. Either it could read “Global leaders fail to fulfill promise to the world’s poor”, the kind of headline we are not unused to seeing, or it could convey very different news. It could say “World achieves the MDGs and agrees to make poverty history.”

The direction that headline will take is up to all the stakeholders in development. Its importance cannot be overstated.

That is because the MDGs are the most broadly supported, comprehensive, and specific poverty reduction targets the world has ever established. For the international community, they represent a concerted effort to focus and multiply our individual efforts. They are credited by the United Nations Intellectual History Project with being one of the great ideas to have emanated from the UN system.

For all those living in extreme poverty, reaching the MDGs offers the means to a better life - a life with access to adequate food and income; to basic education and health services; to clean water and sanitation; and to empowerment for women. Put simply, advancing the MDGs will be an important milestone in our quest for a more just and peaceful world.

This year marks a decade of progress toward the MDGs, although that progress has been uneven across the Goals and within regions and nations.  If we are to reach the MDGs by the target date, 2010 must spark five years of accelerated progress.

That progress needs to reach the countries, communities, and marginalized groups which have been left behind – overlooked, bypassed, and unable to benefit from progress made elsewhere.

In just over one hundred days, a special review Summit on the MDGs will convene in New York. The commitment articulated by the European Union nations during the Spanish Presidency will have a significant bearing on the Summit’s prospects for success. What is needed from the New York Summit is agreement by world leaders on a concrete MDG action agenda to reach the Goals by 2015.

While it is clear to all that these are challenging times for both developed and developing countries, my message to you today is that achieving the MDGs is possible.

There is a range of tried and tested policies, which, scaled up and adapted to the national context, can ensure progress. Take, for example, the concerted action by civil society, the private sector, CEOs, philanthropists, political leaders, and the multilateral organizations who have come together in unprecedented ways to expand access to HIV medicines, support mass immunization, and scale up  the distribution of bed nets to prevent the spread of malaria.

Through experience, development practitioners are continually learning what works and why. UNDP strives to capture and share lessons from our day-to-day work with partners around the world.

The MDG Achievement Fund, generously established by the Government of Spain, is an important instrument to this end. In over 120 initiatives in 49 countries, the Fund supports the co-ordination of a range of development partners to speed up MDG progress and tackle inequalities. The results are teaching us a lot about how, for example, to reach vulnerable groups with low cost nutritional supplements, adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change, and ensure that young people’s need for jobs are addressed in development strategies.

With strong global partnerships, with committed leaders, and by applying what we learn and replicating and scaling up what works, we can achieve the MDGs.

Progress to date

The global recession has complicated the road ahead to 2015, but we should not lose sight of the significant and, in some cases, remarkable progress made to date.

I was able to see many examples of progress, during my visit to four countries in Africa in May. Just some of them:

  • Tanzania has increased its net enrolment rate in primary schools by over ninety per cent between 1991 and 2006;
  • Burkina Faso and South Africa have cut in half the proportion of people who lack access to improved drinking water; and
  • Mali is expanding access to energy in rural communities across the country.

Worldwide, the number of children reaching their fifth birthday has increased steadily – although progress is not yet fast enough to meet the target.

Around the world, including in some of the poorest countries there are good examples of impressive results in combating extreme poverty, hunger, and HIV/AIDS.

These successes show that the MDGs are achievable.

But, I repeat, the progress which has been made, even before a series of crises hit the world, particularly over the past three years, was uneven and too slow to meet the 2015 target date for all the Goals.

Threat of setbacks

The wave of devastating natural disasters, the global recession, the lingering effects of food and fuel crises, and the reality of climate change have shown us how fragile MDG progress can be.

In 2009, for the first time in history, more than a billion people were estimated to have suffered from chronic hunger, around 130 million more than before the food, fuel and economic crises hit. The economic crisis left an estimated fifty million more people in extreme poverty in 2009, and that total is forecast by the World Bank to rise to 64 million by the end of 2010.

In many countries, export prices and volumes declined, remittances dwindled, and tourist flows and foreign direct investment slowed.

While the impact has been a setback to hard fought development gains, it cannot become an excuse for lowering our level of ambition for the MDGs. On the contrary, it makes achieving them more urgent and compelling.

Meeting the MDGs means building fairer and more inclusive and resilient societies – societies which stand a better chance of withstanding such shocks in future.

Preparing for the MDG Summit in September

The MDG Summit in September offers a big opportunity to generate new momentum around the MDGs.

UNDP is helping member states make the most of this opportunity by providing a strong evidence base of what is working to achieve the Goals.

UNDP and other members of UN Country Teams have been working with thirty countries to prepare in depth, national MDG reports to substantiate what is working. Then, drawing on this country level evidence, UNDP is preparing an “International Assessment” of what it will take to achieve the MDGs by 2015. It will identify common and underlying MDG success factors, and highlight recurring national and international constraints on progress.  From this analysis, conclusions will be drawn on the concrete measures which help to accelerate MDG progress.

The assessment is due to be launched shortly, in time to inform negotiations on the Summit outcome document and to complement the Secretary General’s MDG Progress Report, which will offer a target by target account of global progress to date.  

UNDP has also developed a diagnostic framework to help governments and development partners identify the interventions which will have the most impact on achieving the MDGs, and the policies which can sustain hard-won gains. A number of UN Country Teams and programme countries are piloting this tool right now, to validate its effectiveness in accelerating MDG progress globally.

The aim is to make the most of scarce resources, by building strong and broad partnerships around the specific actions which can speed up MDG achievement.

Action agenda

While any action agenda must be adapted to each country’s unique context, our analysis and experience, thus far, highlights eight common areas and opportunities for priority action. I share these with you here as background for your discussions.

First, we all need to support country-led development:

To accelerate and sustain progress, development strategies must be locally-owned and based on broad national consensus. It helps immensely where a country’s institutions are responsive and accountable, and have the capacity to implement MDG policies and programmes.

Development partners can help by supporting inclusive development planning which reflects the perspectives of the poor and marginalized; and also by supporting the strengthening of the local and national capacities needed to mobilise resources, deliver services and make evidence-based policy decisions. UNDP can offer its expertise in helping build the capacity of governments to plan and deliver, and ensure that aid is used effectively.

Second, we need to foster inclusive economic growth:  

Evidence suggests that rapid reductions in poverty and hunger result from economic growth which is job-rich, and which has a specific focus on agriculture in countries where large numbers of people live off the land. A fair distribution of income, assets, and opportunities also helps.

2.5 billion people in the developing world depend on agriculture for their living. Boosting agricultural production can simultaneously reduce poverty and improve food security. To be more productive, farmers need access to quality fertilizers, seeds, and extension services, and they need secure land rights. Farmers and local businesses need better access to markets. That requires improvements in rural infrastructure. A global trade deal which works for poor people and poor countries is also a part of the bigger picture.

In late April, Spain together with the United States, Canada, Korea, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to pool resources to create the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme. Its focus on increasing agricultural productivity and linking farmers to markets is very timely.

Third, we must improve opportunities for women and girls:
That will be a powerful driver of MDG progress across all the Goals.

The empowerment of women and girls must be a top priority. That must include measures which reduce the burden of domestic activities and free women to generate income, care for their children, and send their girls to school; as well as offering broader political empowerment.

Children born to women with some formal education are more likely to survive to their fifth birthday, receive adequate nutrition, and be immunized and enrolled in school.
Thus, investment in women and girls is not only the right thing to do, but also will have intergenerational and community-wide benefits.

Fourth, we need to target investments in health and education, in clean water and sanitation, and in the professionals who run these services.

This will not only save lives, but also help to lay the foundation for sustained human development and growth. Healthy and educated people are better able to improve their own lives.

In the coming years, Haiti will undoubtedly gain from the Spanish commitment to water and sanitation. Instruments such as the Spanish Cooperation Fund for Water and the Sanitation Fund for Latin America are important to achieve target 3 of MDG 7.

Rapid improvements in both education and health care have occurred where adequate public investment accompanied the elimination of user fees.  Sustaining these improvements, including in quality, requires long-term commitments to developing effective systems, and institutions, and to skills and professional development.

New global partnerships have increased the uptake of immunization, the distribution of bed nets, and antiretroviral drugs, and the presence of skilled attendants and/or midwives when mothers give birth. We know that these interventions work. Now we need a concerted effort to bring them to scale and ensure that the gains can be sustained, even in times of economic downturn.

Fifth, we need to scale up social protection and employment programmes and other targeted interventions:  

We have seen social protection and cash transfer programmes expand access to nutritional supplements, increase the frequency of health check-ups, and keep children in school.

Rather than being seen as a drain on a nation’s Budget, social protection needs to be seen as a critical investment in building the resilience to cope with present and future shocks.

Sixth, we need to expand access to energy and promote low-carbon development:

Expanding energy access has a multiplier effect on MDG attainment. It increases productivity; reduces smoke-related deaths; brings lighting to homes, schools and hospitals; and frees women and girls from time-consuming domestic chores like grinding grain.

In a carbon-constrained age, growth based on reduced carbon footprints is also vital for all countries. To achieve that, a climate deal which generates significant funding for low-carbon energy and development solutions is essential – and must not be allowed to fall off the international list of priorities.

As a leader in renewable energy, Spain has a wealth of knowledge and know-how to share on mitigation and an active role to play on reaching a climate deal.  

Seventh, countries need be able to mobilise domestic resources to finance the MDGs:

Most of the resources needed to achieve the MDGs have to be raised from and allocated effectively by a country itself.

Thus, improving domestic resource mobilisation is critical to accelerating MDG progress - whether by improving tax collection, broadening the tax base, or through other innovative methods of raising revenue.
Resources also need to be spent well. Countries should be routinely evaluating and adjusting their budgets to maximize the return on their investment of public monies.

Expanding the reach and range of financial services in the developing world is also important for capturing the domestic savings which can spur private sector development from the micro level up.

Eighth, the international community does need to deliver on the ODA commitments it has made and improve the predictability and effectiveness of aid.

Well targeted and predictable ODA is a critical catalyst for meeting the MDGs, and for helping countries to build the capacities they need to design and deliver programmes and attract private investment.

The shortfall between the ODA projected for 2010 and what was promised at Gleneagles in 2005 amounts to around 0.05 percent of the OECD/DAC members’ combined Gross National Income in 2010. This gap can and must be filled, even in these challenging times. Some countries are living up to their commitments, while others are not.

Broad national alliances in support of international co-operation are critical. As the recession continues it is important to preserve the long term vision and political will behind alliances such as the Spanish National Pact Against Poverty. If these alliances hold, the international community can deliver on its commitments between now and 2015.


UNDP will offer its peer-reviewed international assessment of what it will take to reach the MDGs in order to help build agreement on an MDG action agenda from now to 2015.  We look forward to working with Spain and other European Union partners to take that agenda forward.

Through MDG achievement, we have the opportunity to offer a better life to billions of people. We have the opportunity to see headlines in our media which make us proud of what our contribution has supported. The decisions made by the European Union nations, along with many others, are critical to realizing the promise of the MDGs to the world’s poor.


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