Helen Clark: The Millennium Development Goals - the next five years

Aug 13, 2010

Statement by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
‘The Millennium Development Goals - the next five years’
On the occasion of the 2010 Cathedral Lecture
ChristChurch Cathedral, New Zealand

Thank you for inviting me to address you this evening on a topic which is at the centre of my work as the head of the United Nations Development Programme: “The Millennium Development Goals – the next five years.”

It is a particular pleasure to be delivering this address in Christchurch – a city where so many people and community-based organizations are deeply committed to issues of economic and social justice and development, both in New Zealand and abroad.

In the 21st century, we live in a highly interconnected world.

Trade, instant telecommunications, social networks, and easy travel have helped strengthen bonds, or forge them where none may previously have existed.

Thus, the ties which bind us extend far beyond those defined by geographical boundaries, ethnicity, language, culture, religion, or kinship.

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti we all witnessed how compassion itself transcends borders. It was humbling to see some of the world’s poorest countries dig deep in their pockets to support relief and recovery efforts in Haiti.

Our increasing inter-connection reinforces our interdependence. That has many benefits for nations, but it also exposes them to risks.

The financial collapse in a few markets of the North, for example, ricocheted around the world, hurting most those who had done nothing to cause it.

The cumulative effect of heavy carbon foot prints in industrialized countries has led to changes in our climate which also affect the least developed the most.

The sharp fluctuations in food and fuel prices we witnessed in 2007-2008 caused crises around the globe, and food prices remain high by historical standards.

Many of these crises have challenged developed countries too. New Zealand certainly felt them all – so imagine how much greater the impact has been on poor and less resilient nations.

In my view it is fair and just for the developed world to support the countries and communities least able to recover from recession, adapt to rising sea levels and more frequent adverse weather events, respond to sharp food and fuel price increases, and deal with a range of other disasters and shocks, including the aftermath of conflict.

There is a moral imperative to enable the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world to lead lives with access to adequate food and income, to basic education and health services, to clean water and sanitation, and to empowerment for women.

These were the basic development benchmarks established in the Millennium Development Goals.

Advancing them is an important milestone in our quest for a more just and peaceful world.

Our world simply cannot be at peace with itself when so many of our fellow human beings continue to live in extreme poverty, severely constrained in their efforts to build a better life for themselves and their families.

In the year 2000 I travelled to the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York. There I signed, on behalf of New Zealand, the Millennium Declaration which enshrined the MDGs. I did that in the belief that the eight Goals could and should be met.

For the world’s poor, the MDGs were never abstract or aspirational targets.

They offered hope of a better future. They were a promise that something would be done to make their tomorrow better than their today.

Next month there will be another summit at the UN to review MDG progress, ten years after the Goals were launched.

At UNDP, in 2010, we take a very positive “can do” attitude towards achieving the MDGs. To prepare for the summit we have been working hard to gather the evidence of what has worked, and how barriers can be overcome.

We know that there is a range of tried and tested policies which – adapted to national contexts – will ensure progress where there is the leadership, capacity, and funding to implement them.

We have seen many impressive advances made towards the MDGs over the past decade. Despite recent crises, for example, the developing world as a whole remains on track to achieve the poverty reduction target by 2015.

Major advances have been made in getting children into school in many of the poorest countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa.

Burundi, for instance, affected for so long by conflict, has seen a threefold increase in primary-school enrolment since 1999 after it abolished school fees. Tanzania increased its net enrolment rate in primary schools by ninety per cent between 1991 and 2006, and is well on track to achieve the MDG 2 target on net enrolment in primary school.

Overall, enrolment in primary education has continued to rise, reaching 89 per cent in the developing world. But progress is not yet fast enough to ensure that, by 2015, girls and boys everywhere complete a full course of primary schooling.

There has also been progress towards gender parity in education. In 2008, for instance, there were 96 girls for every 100 boys enroled in primary school, up from 91 girls for every 100 boys in 1999. Yet, gender parity in primary and secondary education – a target which was to be met by 2005 - is still beyond reach for a number of developing countries.

If current trends continue, the world will meet or even exceed the MDG drinking water target by 2015. Progress towards the sanitation target, however – so important for good health – is far too slow.

The spread of HIV appears to have stabilized in most regions. Globally, the data suggest that the spread of HIV peaked in 1996, when 3.5 million people were newly infected. By 2008, that number had dropped to an estimated 2.7 million. But, HIV remains the world’s leading infectious disease killer, and the rate of new HIV infections continues to outstrip the expansion of treatment.

Deaths of children under five have been reduced from 12.5 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008 – a huge achievement, but progress needs to be faster yet to meet the target of reducing those deaths by two-thirds by 2015.

The need for faster progress holds true for a number of the other MDGs too. Progress has been uneven – within and across countries and regions and across the Goals themselves.

Preliminary new data show signs of progress in reducing maternal deaths. Nonetheless, the rate of reduction is still well short of what is required to meet the MDG target of cutting the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015.

This is a sad reflection of the low priority given to meeting women’s needs in many societies - a reality made all the more acute by the fact that the vast majority of maternal deaths are avoidable.

Now, the multiple crises affecting our world have not made the task of achieving the MDGs any easier.

Newly updated estimates from the World Bank, for example, suggest that the global recession will leave an additional fifty million people in extreme poverty in 2009 and some 64 million in total by the end of 2010, relative to what the numbers would have been without the recession.

In 2009, for the first time in history, more than a billion people are estimated to have suffered from chronic hunger – that is around 130 million more than before the food, fuel and economic crises hit. Awareness is slowly growing of the hunger crisis now affecting millions of people across Niger and elsewhere in the Eastern Sahel.

In February I was in Vanuatu for the “Pacific Conference on the Human Face of the Global Economic Crisis”. It was convened by UNDP and partners to examine the impact of the crisis on the Pacific, and on how best to respond.

Five Pacific Island economies are estimated to have contracted last year, as their income from exports, tourism and remittances fell. Across the Pacific Islands, this threw many more people into poverty.

Challenges stemming from climate change, armed violence, poor governance, and natural disasters can slow or unwind development progress. We have seen this within our own region.

The question we therefore have to answer today – indeed the question which is top of mind every day for UNDP - is: how can we accelerate progress over the next five years to meet the MDGs, even despite the many obstacles in the way?

UNDP’s answer to that question is to be found in the International Assessment we have produced on exactly that topic.

It is based on evidence from around fifty, up-to-date, MDG reports from a broad cross-section of countries. It identifies the underlying drivers of MDG success. It seeks to distil that knowledge into an action agenda for the international community for the next five years.

We show how progress in one area can support and build progress in other areas. We highlight the need to focus on interventions which have an impact across multiple Goals.

While any action agenda must always be adapted to each country’s unique context, we do highlight eight areas for priority action:

1. The need to support country-led development and effective governance.

There is no “one size fits all” template for development success. To accelerate and sustain progress, development strategies must be locally-owned and based on a broad consensus in society. Development is, however, more likely to thrive when a country’s institutions are responsive and accountable. Countries also need the institutional capacity to deliver quality services.

I am often asked what the difference is between being Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of UNDP. The answer I give relates to capacity.

In a developed country like New Zealand, a leader can have a vision, develop a plan to realize it, and generally ensure that the system has the capacity to implement it. In many of the countries in which UNDP works, there are often very good visions and plans, but not always the capacity to deliver. That means that policies are not translated into action.

Changing that is where UNDP comes in. We offer our expertise to build the capacity of governments at all levels to deliver effective policies.

2. Inclusive economic growth is required.

Rapid reductions in poverty and hunger will result when economic growth is job-rich. As well, in those countries where a significant proportion of people live on the land, agricultural and rural sector development is critical.

2.5 billion people in the developing world depend on agriculture for their living. As New Zealand well knows, increasing agricultural production and productivity can be a path to prosperity – and in developing countries it improves local food security too.

To be more productive, farmers need access to quality fertilizers, seeds, extension services, and credit, and they need secure land rights. Farmers and local businesses need better access to markets. That requires improvements in rural infrastructure.

A fair distribution of income, assets and opportunities is also important for poverty reduction, and so would be a global trade deal which works for poor people and poor countries. The current gridlock in the world trade negotiations does nothing for development.

3. Expanding opportunities for women and girls is essential, and is a key part of the MDG breakthrough strategy the world needs.

If we are to build sustainable routes out of poverty, then women too have to be full beneficiaries of and contributors to their country’s progress.

If women are sidelined in development, then countries will struggle to meet development goals.

Yet women always have the capacity to be tremendous agents of change and forces for peace and development.

Interventions must include measures which reduce the burden of domestic activities and free women to generate income, as well as offering broader political empowerment and equal legal rights and status.

Investments in women and girls are not just the right thing to do. They also have benefits across generations, and will drive progress across all the MDGs.

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

That saves lives, and it ays the foundations for inclusive and sustained economic growth. Healthy and educated people are simply better able to improve their own lives.

Sustaining these improvements, including in quality, requires long-term commitments to developing effective systems, and institutions, as well as 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.

5. We need to increase the reach and scope of social protection and employment programmes and other targeted interventions. These can be enormously helpful in fighting poverty and developing resilience to present and future shocks.

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.

6. Expanding access to energy is so important: it increases productivity; brings lighting to homes, schools, and hospitals; and frees women and girls from time-consuming domestic chores like grinding grain.

In West Africa, as I saw for myself earlier this year, UNDP has worked with partners to bring generators to villages. This has had a tremendous impact, particularly for women, as it reduces the time they spend on backbreaking domestic chores and gives more time and opportunity to generate income.

At the same time, sustainable growth cannot be achieved if the ability of tomorrow’s generations to live and grow is compromised by the way we choose to live and grow today.

Growth based on reduced carbon footprints is vital for our shared planet.

To achieve that, a climate deal which generates significant funding for low-carbon energy and development solutions is essential.

7. Many of the resources needed to achieve the MDGs have to be raised within developing countries themselves. That means having effective and fair tax collection systems. Countries with a heavy dependence on the extractive industries need to be able to generate revenue from those sectors.

Limited 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.

8. The international community must deliver on its ODA commitments.

Well targeted and predictable ODA is a critical catalyst for meeting the MDGs, and for helping countries to develop the capacities and programmes needed to meet the Goals and to attract private investment and the new sources of climate finance.

Unfortunately, adjusted for growth, ODA delivery by the end of 2010 is projected by the OECD to be 38 per cent short of the increase promised at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in 2005.

Looking to September, it is to be hoped that the UN’s Member States negotiating the Summit’s outcome document will be able to agree on a bold action agenda which reflects the evidence of what works and includes bold initiatives in the priority action areas UNDP has identified.

Meeting the MDGs has undoubtedly become harder in this era of multiple crises. It demands a stepped up response at the very time when the traditional donor countries are most hard pressed.

But the global community must not turn its back on development now.

It should not narrow its ambition, or renege on promises made.

Rather, in this time of great need, we have to redouble our efforts to reach the MDGs and advance the broader development agenda.

What better return on an investment can there be than in contributing to the health and education of communities living in extreme poverty? When we look at the size of bank bailouts in recent years, how can we say that the cost of increasing access to water and sanitation and of providing access to HIV/AIDS prevention services and treatment is too high ?

In these straitened times, we need to make the most of scarce resources. We need to concentrate on what works, and replicate proven interventions. And we need stronger global partnerships which can speed up MDG progress and offer a better life to billions of people across the globe.

Tackling the multiple challenges our world faces today requires strong action not only on the part of actors like governments, the UN, civil society, philanthropists, and the private sector.
It also requires the active engagement of all citizens – like all of us gathered here tonight. This can take the form of contributing time or money to worthy causes, advocating for development, calling on governments to fulfill their pledges, and holding them to account.
Since I became Administrator of UNDP, my email and Facebook pages have been inundated with emails from New Zealanders committed to making a difference for the better. Many have developed projects or ideas to tackle some of the pressing development challenges our world faces and to help countries meet the MDGs.
I give just two of many examples.

  • Project Mutima in Zambia which began here in Christchurch is mobilizing to take a New Zealand cardiac specialist team to Lusaka to perform life-saving heart-valve procedures on young people whose hearts have been damaged by rheumatic fever. Our Kiwi team is donating their time by taking annual leave and will help more than fifty young Zambians.
  • The Aotearoa Development Co-operative formed by two young Aucklanders to provide microcredit in the north of Myanmar. These young men in 2006 put aside $100 a week from their earnings to start the scheme. The micro bank they kick started now has 200 clients and six different products. At the new Zealand end, the organization is run by volunteers.

It is this spirit of solidarity and this kind of commitment to social justice which, globally, can make such a difference for the better in the fight against poverty.

Let the five years left to meet the MDGs be a clarion call to action. Let us use each day between now and the 2015 deadline to make choices which can and do make a difference for the better, and persuade others to do the same. Let 2015 itself be a year of promises kept.

The poorest and most vulnerable – those who brimmed with hope back in 2000 - deserve nothing less.

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