Helen Clark: Statement to the Development Committee

Apr 20, 2013

Statement by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
And Chair of the United Nations Development Group
to the Development Committee
Washington D.C., April 20, 2013

When world leaders signed the UN Millennium Declaration in 2000 they committed to building a world of prosperity, equity, freedom, dignity, and peace, where all children, women, and men were “free from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty”. The Millennium Development Goals set specific targets to meet along the way – including halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day, between 1990 and 2015.

This target was met five years ahead of schedule in 2010. Extreme poverty is in retreat, with rates decreasing in every region. The world has also achieved targets to expand access to improved water sources, improve the lives of slum dwellers, and achieve parity in primary education between girls and boys; and is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school. Child mortality rates have decreased dramatically. In the last decade, eight million AIDS patients have received antiretroviral therapy, with some of the lowest income countries making the greatest strides.

These gains have improved the lives of millions of people, enabling them to pursue a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. By mobilising support, uniting actors, and achieving concrete results, the MDGs raised the expectations and ambitions of people and governments everywhere.

As the world heads into the final 1000 days before the end of 2015, it is time to renew ambitions to tackle the unfinished business of the MDGs. There are goals and targets where the world has made little progress – for example on maternal mortality reduction, universal access to sexual and reproductive health, reducing hunger, and improving sanitation.

Progress to date has not been evenly shared within or across nations. The data presented in countries’ own national MDG Reports point to stark disparities. Countries face the challenges of tackling these disparities and meeting the expectations of citizens in a more unequal and volatile world.

The food, fuel, economic, climatic, political, and security shocks experienced in this century have revealed how fragile hard-won development gains can be. Global economic uncertainty continues, and many countries face lagging growth rates and high unemployment alongside growing global challenges including climate change and inequality.

This backdrop makes the momentum growing among citizens, civil society, and governments worldwide to reinvest in the MDGs and establish an ambitious post-2015 development agenda particularly important. With the right policies and investments, many countries have made dramatic MDG progress in one generation. The power of a clear, far-reaching, and collective vision is clear – to prioritize what drives sustainable human development and spur collective action to address big challenges. The world needs such a vision now more than ever.

MDG success: A critical first step

The more progress there is on achieving the current MDGs, the more confidence there is likely to be in a future global development agenda. Therefore, accelerating progress on the MDGs in their last 1000 days must be a priority. Partners and stakeholders will need to pool their efforts - working closely together at country level, and linking national efforts and global initiatives.

UN Country Teams are now working with governments and other national stakeholders and partners in 46 countries through the MDG Acceleration Framework, to identify bottlenecks standing in the way of lagging MDG targets, and prioritize actions which could remove them.

The MAF works by bringing a wide range of stakeholders together to solve problems and tackle obstacles to progress. It draws on existing evidence, policies, and strategies to devise concrete and prioritized country action plans. In many cases MAF action plans target the inequalities which result in disparities in progress.

For example, in Colombia, the MAF was used in municipalities to respond to local priorities to improve services, increase employment, and address gender discrimination and health shortfalls. In Tajikistan, the MAF helped devise specific solutions for small scale, sustainable energy for rural populations.

Frequently the solutions identified address specific public administration, capacity, and co-ordination bottlenecks which might otherwise have remained invisible; for example, helping to improve accountability systems so that healthcare workers deliver badly needed medicines in rural Uganda, or emphasizing the need to deal with unexploded land mines as an integral part of reaching school enrolment goals in remote areas of Laos.

The UN and the World Bank have thrown their collective weight behind MDG acceleration. With the stepped up engagement of partners and stakeholders, national ownership and leadership, and the combined know-how and expertise of the World Bank and the UN development system, MDG progress can be accelerated in these final 1000 days, giving countries greater confidence in the value of an ambitious and bold post-2015 global development agenda.

Much has been learned from countries’ efforts to achieve the MDGs and accelerate progress. Applying these lessons and employing evidence of what works has never been more important – both to guide action in the next 1000 days and inform the post-2015 development agenda.

The UN development system is working together to document lessons learned in supporting countries to achieve the MDGs. Applying the MAF shows the importance of going beyond technocratic approaches and “quick-wins” which may have limited impact.

Bottom up approaches which empower stakeholders to work across sectors and disciplines to solve problems they care about, and to draw on existing know-how and understandings, are far more likely to lead to lasting and meaningful change. We have also learned to identify what can drive progress across the Goals. It’s never been more clear to so many that empowering women to be full and equal participants in their society, the economy, and governance is a key factor in boosting productivity and growth, improving health and educational attainment, and building more peaceful communities.

A future agenda: Built by people, informed by practice, and shaped by opportunity

The post-2015 framework can be seen as the next stage of implementation of the far-reaching vision contained in the Millennium Declaration, while fully reflecting the new consensus reached by Member States at Rio+20 to pursue sustainable development which advances economic, social, and environmental objectives.

To rise to that challenge, the international community needs to agree on a transformational agenda, which is informed by practice; built from the bottom up, taking into account voices of people from all walks of life; and shaped by the opportunities emerging from our globalized and rapidly changing world.

Two such opportunities are highlighted in this year’s World Bank Global Monitoring Report (GMR) and UNDP’s Human Development Report.

The 2013 GMR, “Rural-Urban Dynamics and the Millennium Development Goals”, highlights the risks and opportunities from urbanization - which is happening on a scale and speed never seen before. The report notes opportunities to drive sustainable development, highlighting that where economic activity is clustered in urban areas , productivity increases and people earn higher incomes. Over eighty per cent of global economic activity takes place in cities. The close proximity of people enhances opportunities for learning and collaboration. Population density makes possible the delivery of more and better services to greater numbers of people at lower costs and with a smaller ecological footprint.

Much more deliberate and concerted effort is needed to plan and finance cities, so that they can maximize their potential for green growth and avoid the many risks of unco-ordinated urbanization.  Pollution, urban sprawl, and congestion exact heavy costs on the health and well-being of people, in particular of poor people living in slums, unsafe housing, and unprotected surroundings.

In the UN development system, we look forward to working with the World Bank to make urban management and the legal empowerment of the poor more central to development co-operation. At the same time, our efforts must address the urban bias which depresses rural areas in many countries and aggravates social inequality. 

The 2013 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”, draws attention to emerging economies in the South which are now driving global economic growth and progress, lifting their people from extreme poverty, and propelling billions more into a new global middle class.

The Report argues that the transformation of growing numbers of developing countries into dynamic economies with innovative social policies has already had a significant positive impact on human development progress. It highlights the potential to expand prosperity across the developing world, through growing South-South trade and investment, and by the dissemination of lower cost technologies and know-how.

The report also notes that developing countries increasingly perceive environmental degradation and social inequities as significant barriers to growth and sustainable human development. Social protection systems are being put in place at a rapid pace in some regions. Environmental regulation and higher environmental standards are also spreading.

Both the Human Development Report and the Global Monitoring Report highlight the need to ameliorate and manage risks which, in the short or long run, will undermine development gains. Sustainable development in rapidly urbanizing countries with growing populations requires policies and approaches which confront environmental degradation, expand political participation, manage demographic change, and address inequalities, including, for example, by better connecting economic activity in poor rural areas to the needs of growing cities.  

Emerging views of post-2015 consultations to date

Over 300,000 people have shared their perspectives on what a post-2015 development agenda might look like through UN-facilitated consultations, surveys, virtual discussions, and social media tools. This is an unprecedented effort to hear directly from broad constituencies.

A preliminary report on the consultations to date was published in late March. It suggests that issues encompassed by the MDGs still resonate as essential building blocks for human development.  From poverty reduction to better health and education and gender empowerment, the need to finish the unfinished business of the MDGs is high on peoples’ agendas. This view applies across low- and middle-income countries.

We are also hearing about how the MDGs could be improved, deepened, and refined. There is a call for a focus on quality to supplement the quantitative approach of the MDGs. For example, people say that it’s not just the number of children in schools which matters, but also what children are actually learning while there.

While people reiterate the importance of the MDGs, they are also demanding a more ambitious, universal and transformational development agenda which addresses existing imbalances and inequalities and their root causes.

For example, a call to address structural constraints to job creation and decent work has been heard often in the consultations. It ranked as first priority in many countries in responses to the My World on-line survey about post-2015, and understandably ranked as a high priority among youth. This emphasis on jobs reflects not only concerns about the current global shortfall in decent work, but also a desire for dignity and self-esteem.

The issue of inequality has come through strongly in all the consultations. Marginalized groups feel that they are rendered invisible by MDG aggregate numbers which do not take disparities into account. Thus there is a call both for better statistics and for the disaggregation of data.

Citizens the world over have ranked honest, responsive and accountable government as their third highest priority in the My World survey. This reflects the view that without accountability, equity, and dignity, human development cannot reach its full potential. Democratic and effective governance, the rule of law, combating corruption, and upholding human rights are all important enablers of development.

Many people are also questioning current growth-led models of development, pointing to the depletion of natural resources and growing inequalities. These concerns are also a reflection of the increasingly severe and costly climate-related disasters the world is experiencing.  Drought, floods, and other extreme weather events are stalling and even reversing human development progress.

There is an emerging consensus on the desirability of designing one framework which is aimed at achieving poverty eradication within the context of sustainable development. This reflects the consensus reached at Rio+20, where Member States agreed that sustainable development goals should be made “coherent with and integrated into the UN Development Agenda beyond 2015”.

 It is critical now that development and environment actors engage to ensure that achieving human development and ecosystem integrity are not seen as opposing objectives, but rather as two sides of the same coin. The ultimate goal should be to find ways to make the transition to green and inclusive economies which both lift human development and safeguard ecosystems.

People active in the post-2015 consultations are looking for a measurable global development agenda – after all, the beauty of the MDGs was their measurability and clarity. Yet, at the same time, they are asking for more areas to be covered. In the end choices will have to be made about what included, and what is left out – if there is to be a new clear set of goals and targets around which we can all mobilize.

UN and World Bank collaboration

The UN system works closely with the World Bank to inform and support the efforts of Member States’ to establish a coherent and transformative post-2015 agenda.

The UN welcomes the ambition reflected in the World Bank Group’s  “Common Vision” and looks forward to joint efforts to help countries eradicate extreme poverty, while addressing inequities, and curbing climate change. The UN development system and the World Bank Group have complementary roles. Together we can better support countries to achieve development results, including through specific initiatives which expand and improve universal access to public health, sustainable energy, and education, and build the resilience of countries to disaster and shock.

As the UN Secretary General said recently, “what countries and development actors do in these final 1000 days of the MDGs, to improve the lives of people, will be our collective down-payment, bringing us closer to ending extreme poverty in our time”.

The UN values the World Bank’s support for accelerating MDG progress. Significant unfinished business remains. Projections suggest that in 2015 almost one billion people will still live in extreme poverty. Many still will not have clean water or improved sanitation. Many will still be suffering from hunger, malnutrition, the burden of preventable ill-health, gender discrimination, and more. Such suffering is inconsistent with the vision for equity, freedom, peace, and prosperity of the Millennium Declaration. It is also inconsistent with calls of people around the world for a future free of extreme poverty, discrimination, and environmental degradation; in short a world we all want.  


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