Helen Clark: remarks at luncheon hosted by Portuguese mission

18 Sep 2009

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
On the occasion of a working luncheon hosted by the Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations
“Partnerships for sustainable development in a context of international economic crisis”

It is a great pleasure to be with you this afternoon. My thanks go to Secretary of State Cravinho and Ambassador Cabral for arranging this event.

The Working Group discussion which follows this lunch will be discussing in depth the impact of the economic crisis on developing countries, and the kinds of policy responses which have been implemented and may still be needed in response.

We are all concerned with the impact of the global recession on the least developed countries with the least resources, the least means of protecting themselves, and the fewest options for stimulating their economies. 

The economic crisis for them persists at the same time as the first influenza pandemic in over forty years has been declared, and as we face the huge climate challenge. It follows closely on the high food and fuel prices of last year.

These global problems reflect our interdependence, and they require global solutions, driven by strong partnerships.

More than ever, developing countries need partners who will deliver on resource commitments repeatedly made.

More than ever, our world needs partnerships capable of sealing a climate change deal which is also a good deal for development.

More than ever, we need partnerships which are innovative and well co-ordinated, so that there is no duplication of effort and so that progress made towards one development goal spurs progress towards other goals too.

These are the three kinds of partnerships I will address today.

In today’s interconnected world, we cannot simply draw a line between other people’s troubles and our own. Problems without borders mean that “prosper thy neigbour” policies are more appropriate than “beggar thy neighour” ones.

It is in all our interests that the eight Millennium Development Goals, with their promise of a better tomorrow for billions of people, are met. Only strong and well resourced and co-ordinated partnerships will make that possible.

Achieving the MDGs would reduce poverty and improve nutrition, offer opportunity through education and better health status, enhance the status of women, tackle deadly and debilitating diseases, and protect our environment.

The 2015 target date for achieving the MDGs is fast approaching. Yet without strong partnerships now in support of the least developed countries, the global recession could stall or reverse hard won advances towards the MDGs.

Prior to the recession, there had been significant progress towards a number of the MDGs. That was reflected in the latest UN report, based on data largely collected before the recession’s impacts were felt. It suggested that :

  • the global target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015 was likely to be met;
  • the world is getting closer to meeting the universal primary education target, although too slowly to meet the 2015 deadline;
  • significant progress has been made on reducing infant mortality, but on the present trajectory the 2015 goal would be missed.

But other major challenges remained even before the crisis.

No country in sub-Saharan Africa was on course to achieve all the MDGs.

Four years after the target date, gender parity in education had not been achieved.

And far too little progress had been made on MDG5, seeking to improve maternal health.

Now the recession has added extra challenges. Many developing countries have seen their export revenues crash along with investment and remittances.

The IMF in July revised downward its April projections for growth this year for all developing regions – the only exceptions being the upward revisions for China and India.

In 2007, just before the global food crisis hit, the number of chronically hungry people in developing countries stood at around 850 million. FAO now believes that number will exceed one billion this year.

Worldwide, the number of people who will live in extreme poverty in 2009 is now estimated to be 55 to 90 million higher than was forecast before the recession.

Global unemployment is forecast to continue to increase, perhaps for as long as through to the end of next year. ILO projections from May this year indicate that 200 million workers are at risk of joining the ranks of people living on fewer than $2 per day between 2007 and 2009.

Thus, unless adequate support is provided now, many developing countries will feel the effects of the economic crisis for years to come. 

If children are pulled out of school because of the impact of the crisis on their family, they may never get a second chance in education. Similarly, there would be long-term consequences from worse nutrition for infants and young children where families are poorer and governments cannot budget for social protection.

Profound economic crisis in vulnerable countries can then extend into a humanitarian crisis, and at worst precipitate instability and conflict. The consequences may take years or even decades to remedy, ultimately at a much greater cost to the international community than timely support right now.

We therefore face a situation where those who contributed least, if indeed, anything at all, to the crisis stand to suffer the most from it, both now and in the longer term.

To make matters worse, the countries which are the hardest hit also have the fewest tools at their disposal to respond. Without support, they may not have the budget flexibility to maintain spending on areas critical to achieving the MDGs and reducing the crisis’ impact on the most vulnerable.

Hence the need for that first partnership I mentioned, the partnership which delivers on commitments made.

There is some empirical evidence, based on data from previous crises and recoveries, that increases in ODA after economic slowdowns have helped countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate recovery.

We at UNDP believe that the G8 must fulfil its regularly-proclaimed Gleneagles ODA commitments, which included a doubling of aid to Africa by 2010 over 2004 levels. These were recently reaffirmed yet again in Italy, but still remain far short of delivery – for Africa in particular.

UNDP and the IMF have been working closely with African countries and their multilateral partners to develop “Gleneagles Scenarios”. These demonstrate the development results which could be obtained with ODA scaled up to the levels pledged by the G8. We will soon begin a process of seeking resource mobilization around these country specific scenarios.

Next week I will accompany the Secretary-General to the G-20 meeting at Pittsburgh.  There, the agenda is rightly forward looking, on the basis that the international financial system has indeed stabilized. Yet the G-20 must not overlook the needs of the poorest countries which are still in crisis. It is vital that the commitments on financing for the most vulnerable from the G20’s London meeting are met.

But development assistance is of course not a cure-all. ODA at its best can help build and strengthen the capacities and institutions which make sustainable development possible, and, hence the circumstances in which aid, country by country, can be scaled down and eventually ended altogether. 

Meeting the MDGs and promoting sustainable development will also depend on good governance, and on making the right investments in people, policies, and infrastructure to stimulate growth and advance equity. 

This calls for determined national leadership and strong capacities, supported by ODA, and for developing countries to give MDG achievement and sustainable development a central role in their development strategies.

The second type of partnership I want to address is that which brings all stakeholders together to meet the climate challenge.

While climate change affects all of us, it does hit the poorest and most vulnerable first and hardest.

Climate variability and change considerations must be brought into the centre of development strategies, so that the way we live and grow is in better balance with the ecosystem of our planet.

While climate change presents great challenges, finding solutions to the problems also presents opportunities.

The financing which will need to flow from a new climate agreement will be significant. Applied to low carbon growth pathways, increasing access to energy, and to adaptation, it will be very positive for sustainable development.

Addressing climate change, generating sustainable economic growth, and advancing towards the MDGs can, and should, go hand-in-hand.

UNDP is totally committed to supporting programme countries respond to the climate challenges they face. This includes supporting them to analyse and articulate their needs in the climate negotiations, and to develop their capacity to access carbon finance now and in the future.

No one actor can overcome the global challenges our world faces. No one actor can achieve the MDGs, tackle climate change, or stimulate economic growth. But we can do together what we cannot do alone.

Development partnerships in the 21st century will be very different from those of thirty years ago.

Committed developed country donors and NGOs are still with us. Increasingly the private sector has taken an interest, and there are new mega philanthropic funds, and global vertical funds.

As well, South-South flows of finance, technology, and know-how are very substantial. Developing countries have so many lessons learned and useful technologies available to assist others in the South to meet their development challenges. 

Part of our role at UNDP is to support the sharing of this experience and knowledge. That is relevant in the context of economic crisis where there are, for example, relevant models of social protection in the South for others to study.

UNDP, through its convening power, its persistent presence in developing countries during good times and bad, and its strong interactions with governments and civil society, can bring resources and expertise from different partners together.

It is imperative too that all parts of the UN development system work coherently and effectively together to support each other’s mandates. 

While UNDP does not have any particular specialization in the area of maternal health, for example, through our convening and co-ordinating role we can support those agencies which do.

We need to be promoting virtuous circles whereby a rising tide of progress towards one MDG helps spur progress towards other MDGs too.

The economic crisis has made it more difficult to achieve the MDGs. But we cannot be resigned to letting these goals become simply another promise the international community has made but has not kept.

At this time of economic crisis, and in light of the other challenges our world faces, we need renewed and more strategic and innovative partnerships for development.

Coupled with unwavering leadership, political commitment, and dedicated resources, I believe we can bring about lasting improvements in the lives of poor and vulnerable people around the world.

Thank you.