Helen Clark statement on Pacific Night

23 Jun 2009

Statement by Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP on the occasion of Pacific Night, Washington, D.C.

Thank you to all the Ambassadors and Embassy Staff who have generously arranged this evening here at the wonderful National Geographic Society headquarters.  

I am delighted to be with you for this Pacific Night. It brings back so many memories of my home region and many wonderful visits to Pacific Island Forum nations.

In my new capacity at UNDP, an organization which is active in 166 countries around the world, I bring to my work insights on development gained from my Pacific experiences.

UNDP has a strong presence in the Pacific region. We have three country offices – one in Papua New Guinea, and multi-country offices in Samoa and Fiji -- as well as the Suva-based Pacific Centre providing regional programme and policy support.  

Our work helps Pacific nations address development challenges ranging from improving livelihoods, to helping improve the functioning of parliaments, supporting crisis prevention and recovery, and helping tackle climate change which has such potentially devastating consequences for low-lying island states in the region.

These issues are not new to me. My background is one of working for decades on economic and social justice issues, with a strong commitment to sustainable development, the peaceful resolution of conflict, political and social inclusion, and reconciliation.

In 2000, I was one of the world leaders who travelled to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and signed the Millennium Declaration.  My name is on the document that enshrined the Millennium Development Goals as the international community’s collective commitment to reduce poverty by half by 2015.

The opportunity to make a contribution to these goals through UNDP’s development mission is one which motivates me.

UNDP focuses its work in four inter-related areas: poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals; the environment and sustainable development; crisis prevention and recovery; and democratic governance. 

In all UNDP activities we make special efforts to reflect women’s perspectives and address their unique needs. I am the first female Administrator of UNDP. It goes without saying that promoting gender equality is important to me, and must be central to all our work.

I returned over the weekend from my first trip as Administrator to Africa, where I visited Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia.  I wanted to see at first hand the work of our UNDP teams, and those of other UN agencies, on state-building and development in complex environments.  

In Liberia, for example, UNDP is contributing to peace consolidation by assisting authorities to address sexual and gender-based violence; helping curb small arms and light weapons proliferation; and providing livelihood opportunities to communities. All these activities in support of the national authorities, together with those of our UN and other partners, aim to place Liberia firmly on the path to long-term recovery and make a return to conflict less likely.  

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo where UNDP has one of its largest governance programmes, I saw how, as a first step towards holding local elections, the Independent Electoral Commission, supported by the UNDP and the UN Mission to Congo, has begun registering new voters. UNDP is working to promote the rule of law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including in tackling impunity around horrific acts of sexual violence.  

Our work on governance of course extends far beyond Africa. Many eyes here will soon be on the Afghan elections. There, for instance, UNDP played a pivotal role, supporting the 2004 presidential and 2005 parliamentary and provincial council elections.  This year, while operational support is provided by the UN through UNDP, the Independent Electoral Commission is taking the lead in managing the 2009 presidential and provincial elections. This signals a critical shift towards national ownership and delivery, made possible by the concerted efforts of partners – including UNDP and USAID as the largest donor - to develop national capacity.

I hope these few examples provide a glimpse of the potentially game-changing work UNDP carries out, often in the most challenging of circumstances.

As a newcomer to the UN, I am acutely aware that UNDP is one of a number of multilateral agencies with which the US Government and Pacific nations interact. In addition to being UNDP Administrator one of my tasks is to Chair the United Nations Development Group, which endeavours to co-ordinate the UN development system’s funds, programmes, agencies and departments.  Its objective is to deliver more coherent and effective development support to countries.  The UN can be a better partner and be more effective if it is cohesive.

Working together, we can meet our common development objectives, and I am fully committed to forging the best possible relationships with partner governments, civil society, the private sector, and the international financial institutions.

My first visit to Washington D.C. this week as UNDP Administrator is just the start of a long-term and sustained commitment on my part to deepen UNDP's relationship and co-operation with the United States. I aim to make UNDP's work become better known here and elsewhere.

I know this is a difficult time to be pursuing our development mission, in the midst of a global recession which adds to the stress which very high food and energy prices last year had already imposed on many countries.

But out of crisis also comes opportunity to innovate. That is what I plan to do at UNDP as we pursue our goals and support UN reform so that we can deliver better results.

I hope to work closely with many of you here tonight in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you for coming here, and for your attention. Enjoy the rest of the evening.