Helen Clark: Remarks at the Panel on Ensuring that No-one is Left Behind and the Challenge of Countries in Special Situations at the Ministerial Segment of the ECOSOC High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Jul 18, 2016

Almost 900 million people in our world remain extremely poor. Photo: UNDP

•    The goal of “leaving no one behind’ and, in particular, of ‘reaching those furthest behind first’, demonstrates the commitment of the international community to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs. 
•    To achieve that, the multi-dimensional causes of poverty will need to be addressed, and the vulnerabilities of the most marginalized will need to be reduced. For, despite the significant gains of recent decades in lifting incomes and spreading access to education, health, and other services, many people have been left behind because of where they live and who they are. 

•    Almost 900 million people in our world remain extremely poor. That number becomes even larger if we look beyond just income to multi-dimensional poverty measures.  

•    Inequalities will need to be tackled head on to fulfil the commitment of leaving no one behind - across income distribution, gender and other discrimination, and unequal access to the most basic goods and services like food, water, education, and health. Inequalities also extend to access to land and other natural resources, and to political participation and voice.

•    A UNDP study from 2014 showed that more than seventy per cent of people in developing countries are living in societies which are less equal now than they were in 1990 in terms of income, even though many of those countries are now richer.   

•    Clearly progress has not been well distributed within countries; and nor has it been well distributed across countries.  This session, which calls attention to the specific needs of countries in special situations is therefore timely.  

Countries in Special Situations

•    The challenge of Leaving No One Behind is most pronounced for countries in special situations where development challenges may be exacerbated by vulnerabilities related to geography, political conditions, ongoing and historical conflict, or other factors.  For example: 
o    More than two thirds of people in Least Developed Countries live in rural areas. Reaching the “last mile” there will require a significant boost to rural development. UNCTAD estimates that achieving the SDGs would mean 45 per cent more rural children attending primary school. Seventy per cent more rural people would have access to an improved water source, and 250 per cent more would have access to sanitation. Overall, progress on the Istanbul Programme of Action needs to be accelerated.   

o    In Small Island Developing States (SIDS), climate change and environmental hazards pose significant and existential threats. The SAMOA Pathway highlights the interconnectedness of people, planet and prosperity in such settings. SIDS need international support to take on these challenges.

o    Over seventy per cent of the world’s poor currently live in middle income countries. National averages, however, can mask economic and social divides, and structural, environmental and demographic challenges which persist in such settings and create vulnerability. 

o    More than 1.4 billion people, and half of the world’s extremely poor people live in fragile and conflict-affected settings. The number is forecast to grow by a staggering 82 per cent by 2030 if that fragility is not addressed. Around 65 million people in our world are forcibly displaced.

So what is the way forward?

•    The 2030 Agenda is bold in its ambition to achieve sustainable development globally by eradicating extreme poverty, overcoming inequalities, and leaving no one behind. 

•    The challenges of exclusion need to be addressed systematically for countries in special situations by:  

-    First, identifying and helping to address the structural, financial, political, and social drivers of inequality which keep people from improving their quality of life and countries from improving human development outcomes.  

o    The UN Development System has a strong record of working with approaches aimed not only at achieving structural transformation, but also at targeting people at the “last mile,” - the poorest of the poor; the household, sub-national, and small enterprise levels which are under-served and excluded, and those places where development needs are greatest and where resources are the scarcest. 

-    Second, understanding the factors which leave people vulnerable to falling back into poverty (this includes in MICS), and helping to foster sustained development in a world characterized by volatility and shocks arising from economic crises, climate risks, sudden onset natural disasters, disease outbreaks, social tensions, conflicts, and civil unrest.   

-    Third, ‘Leaving no one behind’ also requires working more effectively across the humanitarian, development, political, human rights, and peacebuilding spheres, particularly in crisis and conflict settings where the UN needs to make the protection of those people most at risk its central priority. 

-    Emergency development support is critical in the midst of crises, working alongside humanitarian responses. It can help protect hard-won development gains, and thereby support dignity and resilience. Development planning must also be sensitive to the risk of humanitarian crises, and be responsive to sudden shocks and changes in the needs of vulnerable populations. Across the aid sectors, we need to share our analyses and developed shared vision and approaches. This is the time to change the way we work, and to deliver together across mandates, sectors, and institutional boundaries.

•    The UN will be most helpful to “leaving no one behind” if it embraces joined-up approaches. Already 95 countries – many in special situations and from across all regions – have requested support for mainstreaming the SDGs into national plans, localising the indicators, and strengthening capacities on data, policy, local service delivery, and reporting. 

•    In support of joined up work:
o    The UNDG has agreed on a common approach to SDG mainstreaming, acceleration, and policy support - MAPS. This helps us make the best use of our collective expertise, and can be adapted to all country contexts.

o    To support and incentivize joined up approaches, we are working on setting up a global pooled funding mechanism which would help us resource joint efforts in support of national SDG responses.

o    The UNDG has issued Standard Operating Procedures for UN Country Teams which codify best practices and lessons learned from the Delivering as One approach across programming, operations, leadership, and joint funding.

o    The new generation of UNDAFs will be formulated around a clear identification of those population groups being left furthest behind, and of recognition of their rights to and their need to access social protection, economic opportunity, essential services, and participation in the decision-making processes which impact on their lives.

•    These change initiatives align with and support the global and national SDG agendas. They are a vital contribution to the UN development system lifting its game.

•    Going forward, the “Leave No One Behind” focus leads the UN development system to: 
1)    Support building the capacity of national and subnational governments and other stakeholders to address the social determinants of inequalities and the dynamics of poverty;  
2)    Support improvements in baseline data, indicators and capacities relating to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, drawing on our experience of assessing data ecosystems and partnerships around data at all levels; 
3)    Invest in partnerships which enable the full participation of excluded groups in both advocacy for and implementation of the SDGs; and
4)    Build on initiatives designed to advance the SDGs in countries in special situations through partnerships and compacts with governments.



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