Helen Clark: Remarks at the DFID MDG Conference

11 Mar 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme at the DFID MDG Conference, “Agenda 2010: The Turning Point on Poverty,” London

Let me begin by thanking Secretary of State Douglas Alexander and DFID for inviting me to speak at this important conference on making 2010 a turning point in the fight against poverty.

This event is one of a number being organized in the run up to the MDG Summit in September in New York. The aim is to build political momentum for the global actions required to achieve the MDGs, the theme of this session.

Today’s conference is well timed to feed into the inter-governmental preparations for the MDG Summit, including the negotiations on the outcome document, which are due to begin in mid-April.

As one who signed the Millennium Declaration, back in 2000, I have never believed that the MDGs were meant to be mere aspirational or stretch targets. The MDGs can be met, and we should do everything possible within our power to ensure that they are.

That’s because the MDGs represent basic development benchmarks, and promise a better life for billions of people. Those people are entitled to believe that the promises of action made in 2000 were promises which were meant to be kept.

At the global level there are positive MDG results to report. There have been sizeable reductions in poverty and child mortality rates, and increases in primary school enrolment and access to clean water.

Many countries, including some of the least developed, have recorded impressive successes. Ethiopia, for example, has tripled the net primary school enrolment ratio since 1990. The under-five mortality rate has fallen by at least forty per cent in Malawi and Niger since 1990. Guatemala increased access to safe water from 79 per cent in 1990 to 96 per cent in 2006.

Yet if we look beneath the progress at the global level, significant challenges to the MDGs remain. Those countries either in or emerging from conflict, and others affected by armed violence, face additional obstacles.

If we set aside for a moment the extraordinary achievement of China in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, the number of people elsewhere living in extreme poverty is actually estimated to have increased between 1990 and 2005 by about 36 million.

The goal towards which there has been the least progress is in reducing maternal mortality. This bears striking witness to the low priority given to meeting the needs of women. UNDP’s Asia Pacific Human Development Report on gender, released on Monday, calls for comprehensive economic, political, and legal reform to support the empowerment of women.

We are also trying to accelerate MDG progress at a time when our world is grappling with the fallout from the global recession, the lingering effects of the food and fuel crises, and devastating natural disasters. Then there is the ongoing climate challenge, and the lack of progress in completing the WTO’s Doha Development Round.

Without strong partnerships for development now, we could go backwards, not forward, on the MDGs. That is already true on hunger. More than a billion people are now estimated to be chronically hungry – around 130 million more than was the case just before the food crisis hit. Fortunately donor attention is being focused again on the importance of agriculture to development, after many years of declining ODA to the sector.

It is UNDP’s belief that with strong political leadership at all levels, backed by evidence-based and well-targeted interventions and adequate resources, the MDGs can be met.

The world abounds with best practice on how to achieve the MDGs – from successful vaccination campaigns for children, to school enrolment schemes for girls, providing skilled attendance at birth, increasing crop yields, and combating the spread of HIV.

I myself saw India’s major rural poverty reduction initiative in action last weekend in Rajasthan, Across India, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, is providing a right to a minimum of 100 days work a year, benefiting some 46 million households.

There is around our world a rich menu of new and innovative policies and technologies to draw on in meeting the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals.

To demonstrate that, to strengthen the political will for MDG achievement, and to support the development of a concrete action agenda for September’s summit, UNDP is working in the following ways :

First, together with others in the UN’s Country Teams, we are helping thirty governments prepare in depth national MDG progress reports. They will highlight the advances which have been made, and look at what has worked and why, while also identifying where more needs to be done.

The aim is to place country-specific, empirical evidence before the Summit, so that there is a strong basis for reaching agreement on the concrete actions needed to speed up MDG progress.

Second, drawing on these country reports, we are working on an international assessment of what it will take to achieve the MDGs. It will examine what needs to be done to scale up proven interventions at the national level, taking into account that many countries are still trying to recover from the recession and other shocks.

We hope this report will be useful to all governments as they strategise on how to meet the MDGs, including in the next G8 and G20 forums. An expert technical advisory panel has been assembled to ensure that it is of the highest quality and pulls together a broad range of perspectives and constituencies.

Third, as part of the UN Development Group, we are bringing together an “MDG breakthrough strategy”, drawing on the country reports and the international assessment to inform the support we can give to programme countries.

The strategy will include an acceleration framework to help countries identify constraints to MDG progress and address them through proven interventions. It will provide support for governments looking to make MDG progress sustainable through long-term development planning, policy reforms, and strengthened institutions.

We are enormously grateful for DFID’s support for this major work plan, and look forward to working closely with DFID teams in headquarters and on the ground, and indeed with other partners, in advancing it.

UNDP has also been part of the preparation of the Secretary General’s report to the General Assembly on the MDGs which will be officially launched next week, entitled “Keeping the Promise” : A forward looking review to promote an agreed action agenda to achieve the MDGs by 2015.
Today I offer the following observations on what can drive MDG progress :

First : it is time for donors to fulfill the ODA commitments they have made. That includes the promise made by the G8 at Gleneagles to double ODA to Africa by 2010 over 2004 levels. That pledge is far short of delivery. Money isn’t everything, but it does help.

Second, lasting development results call for strong national leadership and ownership, where developing countries drive their own development solutions.

Development will thrive where there is wise leadership investing in people, institutions and infrastructure. It will thrive particularly where domestic resources are allocated effectively and where governments are responsive, transparent, and accountable to their citizens.

Third, for ODA to be effective, it needs to be catalytic in supporting developing countries to access the best strategic and policy advice possible, and building the capacity to deliver.

A small project approach to development by partners will not contribute to bringing about the systemic and transformational change to which developing countries aspire.

We encourage development partners in 2010 and beyond to focus on supporting the strengthening of the national institutions and systems which are needed to implement policies, deliver services, and sustain economic growth.

With well designed policies and programmes, countries can attract private investment, and, increasingly, the new sources of climate finance which will be available too.

Fourth, and very importantly, more investments need be targeted at meeting the needs and priorities of women and girls. I believe that almost any investment we make in women and girls will have multiplier effects across the MDGs, such are the synergies and interconnections between them.

Providing a woman with just one extra year of schooling means that the children she has will be less likely to die in infancy or suffer from illness or hunger.

Meeting a woman’s need for sexual and reproductive health services increases her chances of finishing her education, and breaking out of poverty.

Enabling women to hold land title and to inherit gives them the status in their family and community and the economic base from which to transform their own and their children’s prospects.

The MDG Summit needs to have an acute focus on achieving gender equality. We cannot accelerate MDG progress if fifty per cent of the population is sidelined.
I was in India two days ago when one house of its Parliament made the decision, by a huge majority, to reserve one-third of Parliament’s seats for women. This represents a huge step forward in giving women the voice in decision-making which is so critical for ensuring that women’s needs get the attention they deserve.

Fifth, the process of tackling climate change presents opportunities for developing countries.

In the final hours of the Copenhagen Summit, developed countries committed to provide additional financial resources of around $30 billion for the period 2010-2012 for support for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The details of the funding arrangement and the actual pledges remain to be determined. What is clear, though, is that increased climate financing has the potential to help put countries on a sustainable development path. When a climate agreement is reached, significantly larger funding will be available.

Development partners need to support programme countries to adapt to climate change; to pursue low carbon growth and access to energy strategies; and to advocate for these efforts being at the very center of national development plans. Climate finance applied to these ends will be supportive of the achievement of the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals.

Sixth, MDG 8 needs to be given a new lease of life. The world needs new and stronger partnerships for development.

These partnerships must go beyond traditional development co-operation frameworks and reflect both new geopolitical realities, including the growing role of South-South co-operation, and the reach and expertise of global NGOs, the mega-philanthropic funds, and the private sector.

There needs to be a greater recognition of the importance of South-South exchanges of experiences and technology to help countries identify the most appropriate solutions to their development challenges.

Meeting the MDGs will require ‘business unusual’ on the part of all stakeholders in development, and requires us all to pull in the same direction. This is not the time for turf battles or for duplication of effort – there is more than enough work for all of us to do.

Today’s gathering offers a chance to build a renewed and shared consensus around the concrete measures needed to meet the MDGs. There are some 193 days remaining until the September Summit.

In a speech in New York more than five years ago, Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned that “the Millennium Development Goals — a commitment backed by a timetable — are now being downgraded from a pledge to just a possibility to just words.”

We cannot let that happen. We have five years left to 2015. We have time to act to meet the Goals.

If we form strong global partnerships, if we advocate for what works, if we support people of vision and action, we can make a difference. We need the September Summit to be a call for action and indeed a turning point in the fight against poverty.