Rebeca Grynspan: Transition and Progress: MDGs in Europe and Asia

Sep 22, 2010

Opening Remarks by Ms. Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator

Turkish Center 22 September 6.30-7.30pm

Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, Mr. Undersecretary, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to start by expressing my appreciation to the Government of Turkey for the generous hosting of this meeting, which takes place at a critical juncture: on the final evening of the MDG Summit.

I know that this event follows a much larger MDG conference held in Turkey last June, which was an excellent example of how countries facing similar challenges can share and learn from each other.

In 2000, when world leaders signed on to the Millennium Declaration and committed to the Millennium Development Goals, the eight Goals stood out as the international community’s pledge to significantly improve the lives of the world’s poor.

They were, and still are, the most comprehensive and universally agreed development goals.

Over the ten years that have passed, the goals have already proven their worth as a basis for international development co-operation: they have galvanized unprecedented efforts to tackle poverty, illiteracy, ill-health, HIV/AIDS, and gender inequality; they have provided strong motivation for large increases in development assistance; and they have backed efforts towards debt relief and international trade reform.
For the past three days, world leaders have reviewed the 10 year progress on the MDGs and discussed the way forward to guide action to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

Tonight they will adopt the Outcome Document of this MDG Summit, which calls for concerted action to accelerate progress on the MDGs in the next five years.

The Europe and Central Asia region has made impressive strides towards the MDGs over the last decade. It is fitting that this event should be hosted by Turkey who has achieved so much in a short time, particularly when it comes to maternal and child health.

As Mr. Patrice Robineau, on behalf of the UNECE, will share with us shortly, the report on “the MDGs in Europe and Central Asia: Achievements, Challenges, and the Way forward” shows that great progress has been made on many fronts - although progress has been uneven between and within countries and challenges certainly remain.

There is no doubt that due to its history and its diversity the region has a unique position vis-a-vis MDG achievement.

The starting point – the transition in the 1990’s - was tumultuous time for much of the region.

While many countries came from high levels of human development, early transition saw widespread and deep setbacks in social welfare and income levels owing to the recession that gripped most of the region through that period. As you well know, even the very question of finding comparable data created huge challenges in newly independent states.

Throughout the transition period, the region’s leaders took on the challenge of creating new institutional structures, opening markets, and advancing democratic reforms.

This experience distinguishes the region from other parts of the world.  

The enormous diversity within region is also something that is important to note.

Gross national income ranges from 600 USD per capita to over 24,000 USD. While some countries suffer from high rates of poverty and food insecurity, others have already gained, or are on their way towards, membership of the European Union.

Likewise, the economic base greatly varies among countries in the region, with a few countries being richly endowed with energy and other natural resources, while others rely on services, construction, and a recovery in agriculture and manufacturing to fuel growth.

It is for these reasons that Europe and Central Asia’s experience in overcoming the last hurdles of MDG achievement should be shared widely.  

Indeed, both through its history, as well as its diversity, the region brings to the table a number of lessons which can benefit global development efforts.

Let me share with you few of them:

First, as a region dominated by middle income countries, you have very relevant knowledge and experience to share with those countries that are aspiring to reach middle income status.

I have long advocated for the important role that middle income countries can play in the development dialogue.

This dialogue should not only be between the traditionally rich countries of the North and the very poor countries of the South.

Rather it should be a dialogue across the development spectrum, where indeed the middle income countries are often with the most recent experience of breaking out of poverty and hence perhaps the most relevant lessons to share.

In particular, countries in this region have the unique experience of massive overhaul of institutional frameworks, and an intimate knowledge of what it takes to re-build them.

This is an important experience which could undoubtedly be of great use for countries that are struggling with institutional change, not least when coupled with other complex challenges, such as low levels of infrastructure and human development.

Second, the impact of the financial crisis, in terms of GDP decline, was greater in this region than any other, and your policy makers have made wise choices in facing it.  

On the whole, the region has put into practice a sensible approach of maintaining - not cutting - social budgets in times of crisis, yet preserving prudent fiscal frameworks.

The lessons emerging from these policy choices are certainly of value to policy makers across regions.

The third important message that comes from the region, and that is very common in MICs, is the need to design policies and programmes that not only will fight poverty but also inequality and reach marginalized and excluded groups that suffer discrimination due to race, ethnicity, religion, place of residence, gender or disabilities.

As the region’s emerging economies advance, there is a strong regional awareness of the fact that poverty is not only about economics and that, in fact, economic growth is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for advancing human development.

Kazakhstan, for example, provides an interesting model on how to ensure access to education for hard-to-reach groups and Ukraine has recently launched a reform programme to ensure that the poorest and most needy populations benefit from social assistance. Turkey’s policy makers have also shown us that partnerships with civil society can be essential in order for policies to become reality on the ground.

Realizing the MDGs is about choices, the UN family is well placed to support countries in making those choices- in diagnostics that fully reflect reality, in determining which policies will yield the best impact, and in implementing programmes to ensure faster progress and sustain hard-won gains.

The three lessons that I have listed are only few of many that come from the Europe and Central Asia Region – some of which we will hear about from our distinguished panel tonight.

Sharing lessons and good practices,   as we are doing tonight, can make an important contribution to MDG achievement in the region – and even more widely. Let us make sure that we continue our dialogue and our concerted efforts towards 2015.

I wish you a fruitful discussion.

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