Helen Clark Speaks on the UN and global leadership for development

26 Mar 2010

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
on “A Better Tomorrow: The UN and global leadership for development”
Friday 26 March, 2010
Washington, D.C.

It is a great pleasure for me to accept the invitation of the Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies here at Georgetown University to deliver this year’s ANZAC Lecture.

My thanks also go to the New Zealand and Australian Embassies here in Washington for their support in organizing this event.

In a month from now we will be commemorating ANZAC Day. 25 April is a day of national remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders. Memorial services are held at home and abroad to pay tribute to all who died and all who served in military deployments offshore.

At each service, the bravery and  commitment of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps which fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I is specifically honoured.

That campaign, one of the most grueling ever fought, was the first major battle undertaken by ANZACs, and is considered by many to mark the stirring of a strong national consciousness in both New Zealand and Australia.

That conflict was also remarkable for the respect the opposing sides developed for each other.

Each time we commemorate ANZAC Day, we ensure that we never forget the loss of life and suffering which has taken place on battlefields; and the effect that has had on our families, communities, and countries.

We also reflect on the importance of service, of perseverance, and of mateship. And we acknowledge that the best way to  honour the tremendous sacrifice of those who have fallen, and the courage of all those who have heeded their nation’s call to serve, is by dedicating ourselves to making our world a better and more peaceful place, where differences between and within nations are resolved without recourse to violence.

This is a state of affairs to which all nations should aspire. Resolving conflict, promoting peace and stability, and advocating for social justice and development was something to which I was fully committed during my many years in public office in New Zealand.

It also gets to the essence of why the United Nations, including UNDP, the organization which I am now proud to head, was founded.

Right now the world needs strong global leadership for development, with the UN playing a pivotal role.

The preamble to the UN Charter starts with a clear message about the resounding importance of peace : “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind...”

Written following the devastation caused by two World Wars in three decades, that preamble also spoke about the importance of promoting social progress and better standards of living.

Right now I am particularly focused on the need for advancing development goals on an ongoing basis, and helping to support sustainable peace.

It is a difficult time to be pursing that mission.

Recently, the financial crisis originating in the North evolved into a global recession affecting countries around the world. 

As well, carbon-intensive routes to development in wealthy countries in the past have affected our climate and are impacting on the poorest and most vulnerable the most.

The sharp fluctuations in food and fuel prices we witnessed in 2007-2008 caused crises around the globe, especially across the developing world – and food prices are still high by historical standards.

There are the challenges caused by frequent natural disasters, like the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and Turkey, and the cyclone in Fiji last week.

In some countries, governance is not always conducive to sustaining development momentum. Then, the impasses in world trade and climate negotiations do nothing for development; and nor do the many ongoing conflicts.

In the face of multiple crises, divergent philosophies about what to do, and plentiful tensions, our increasingly multi-polar world often struggles to adapt and to address the issues effectively. So do the institutions designed at the end of World War II.

The many challenges to development present just some of the reasons why the world needs a reinvigorated multilateral system which reflects the realities of the 21st century.

That system must be backed by the strong will of political leaders world-wide, and be based on governance structures which promote inclusive, legitimate, and effective agreements.

That system must be able to support the delivery of improved living standards for the poorest and most vulnerable people and nations.

The ANZAC invasion of Gallipoli occurred long before the establishment of effective multilateral architecture. At its best, such architecture can defuse tension and promote social and economic progress. 

The UN does need reform - for example, to its Security Council - to enhance its ability to lead. Informal arrangements and small groupings are no substitute for a strong UN.

The UN and its funds, programmes, and agencies have unparalleled legitimacy; they are present across the developing world; and together they have expertise cutting across the many aspects of development.

It is important that the UN and its development system are resourced to make a difference in development.

Although the world was interconnected in many ways in 1915 when the ANZACs were transported to the uttermost ends of the world, it is immensely more globalised today.

Our connections and interdependence demand our interaction. Even if we leave aside the strong moral imperative to help those in need, we must acknowledge that what happens “over there” matters “over here” too.

It is not only poor countries which benefit from having vibrant economies and educated and healthy populations; being well governed; and having the ability to trade. 

Developed countries also gain if their neighbours and partners are able to support the fight against climate change; provide their populations with a better life for themselves and their children; and participate fully in the global economy and the global architecture.  

Durable peace, for example, benefits not only the affected citizens, but also those international partners who would otherwise be digging deep to support the victims of war and conflict. 

In extremis, and as the United States itself sadly knows, weak states can become centres of instability with far-reaching and devastating ripple effects.

Many international commitments to fund and support development have been made.

Ten years ago, most leaders from around the world went to New York to sign the Millennium Declaration.

It enshrined the eight Millennium Development Goals which set targets for reducing poverty and hunger; empowering women; increasing access to essential services like education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation; and forging strong global partnerships for development.

Now, there are around five years left now until the 2015 target date for meeting the goals.

To be sure, progress has been made. To some extent, words have been followed by deeds.

The worldwide target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015 could be achieved.

The world is also getting closer to meeting the universal primary education target. Advances are still too slow, however, to meet the 2015 target, and dropout rates remain high in many countries.

The challenges of meeting the MDGs are most severe in the least developed countries, in a number of small island states, in those vulnerable to natural hazards, and in those either in or emerging from conflict.

The goal towards which there has been the least progress so far is that which seeks to improve maternal health. Based on current trends, that goal will not be met. But doesn’t that have to be a clarion call to action ! We cannot sit by and let dismal trends continue.

It is a global indictment that somewhere in the world a woman dies every minute from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. That is about twenty-five deaths during the course of my remarks today. 

Many of the health issues faced by pregnant women and mothers in labour are preventable or treatable.

I commend President Obama for the enormous commitment embodied in his Global Health Initiative, which stands to have a major impact in this area.

I also acknowledge here the Gates Foundation for its pathbreaking work and leadership on global health and development, as outlined earlier this month by Bill Gates to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

In moving forward to meet the MDGs, we know much about what works.

We have the knowledge, the technology, and the wide menus of possible solutions to a multitude of problems.

We know how to provide skilled attendance at birth, carry out successful vaccination campaigns for children, enrol girls in school, increase crop yields, and combat the spread of HIV.

Yet, we still lack the resources, the capacities, and the partnerships to reach all those in need.  And the needs look set to grow in this era of multiple crises.

Take hunger, for example. The proportion of the hungry in the global population has been increasing over the last few years.  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. 

The economic crisis has impacted on developed and developing countries. But it is many of the countries least responsible for the global recession which are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis – and they have the least ability to respond.

The World Bank estimates that around 64 million more people around the world will be living on under $1.25 a day by the end of this year than would have been the case had there been no economic crisis.

Climate change is another development challenge which hits the poorest the hardest.

The risks of social and political instability will increase in coming decades if climate change provokes large population transfers and growing tensions over the allocation of essential natural resources like water.

To go forward, and not backwards, on the MDGs, the world needs strong global leadership for development, and it needs to support the UN’s comprehensive development work. 

The UN’s impartiality, universal presence, and know-how is hard at work every day across the planet to help countries overcome the many challenges they face and meet the internationally agreed development goals.

Our work is made more difficult by the absence of global deals on climate change and trade – but it must continue and strive for the maximum development impact.

For UNDP, a primary concern is strengthening the national and local capacities which will make countries both better able to achieve their development goals in a sustainable manner, and more stable and resilient to shocks  - whatever their form.

In response to the economic recession, UNDP has been helping many countries to analyze their human development impacts, and advising them on how best to preserve their budgets for basic services, maintain traction towards the MDGs, and identify and invest in new productive sectors.

I recently returned from India, where UNDP has helped design and implement a massive job creation programme.  It provides a right to a minimum of 100 days work a year, which now benefits some 46 million poor rural households. Efforts like these have a big impact on poverty reduction. 

On climate change, UNDP is supporting developing countries to integrate disaster risk reduction, and adaptation and mitigation in their development agendas. That includes strategies to reduce emissions from deforestation.

In the final hours of the Copenhagen Summit, developed countries undertook to provide additional financial resources approaching $30 billion for the period 2010-2012, for adaptation and mitigation. The details of the funding arrangement and the actual pledges remain to be determined.

The least developed and low income countries in particular need significant support, above and beyond existing ODA, to meet the costs of adaptation to climate change.

There is also a need to support developing countries to embark on low carbon paths to development and energy access.

Climate finance applied to these ends will also be supportive of progress towards the MDGs. Adaptation is development. Mitigation is the route to development consistent with maintaining the integrity of our ecosystems.

We are also emphasizing how good governance and peace and stability can support development.

On an ongoing basis, we assist countries to make their governance more accountable, transparent, and responsive. We work on making human rights institutions more effective in around 100 countries, and we support an election somewhere in the world on average every couple of weeks.

UNDP’s work to support recovery from crisis and natural disasters helps bridge the gap between humanitarian assistance and development. 

We work in crisis and post-crisis countries around the world, from Liberia to Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to Georgia, Sudan, Timor-Leste, and many more.

In the case of countries emerging or recovering from conflict, we see across the world today how important it is for the benefits of peace to result in tangible improvements in people’s lives as early as possible.

That substantially increases the chances for sustainable peace — and reduces the risk of a relapse into conflict. Where those benefits are not obvious to the people concerned, the dangers of renewed conflict emerge.

That is why we work to increase access to justice; provide livelihoods; and disarm, demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate former combatants.

In some forty countries we help eliminate the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war, to make the environment safer for reconstruction and development.

These days, the scourge of war occurs less frequently between states, which was the primary focus of the UN Charter, but within states. 

Where violence and conflict rage, development cannot get traction. For very good reason war is often described as “development in reverse”.

Preventing the unraveling of nations into civil and ethnic conflicts and collapse is a challenge. 

UNDP takes this work very seriously. In the two years prior to the appalling post-election violence in Kenya, we had provided support to local peace committees in parts of the country. When violence erupted, some of the well-established committees managed to keep their localities relatively calm – thereby thoroughly demonstrating their worth.

We work with other agencies to combat sexual and gender-based violence. For far too many women, war does not end when a peace agreement is reached.

Backed by strong Security Council mandates, the UN is on a mission to provide justice and security for women, involve women in peace processes, and promote women as leaders of recovery after conflict.

In Haiti, following the earthquake, we have launched a large scale cash-for-work programme, which puts money in people’s pockets and tackles essential work like rubble removal and salvaging items for reuse.

Donors to Haiti will reconvene next Wednesday to decide on an action plan to guide reconstruction and development.

Fundamental to a sustained recovery in Haiti is a determination to build back better to save lives and build greater resilience to future disasters.

UNDP also has leadership a role in the convening and co-ordinating of other UN development agencies.

It is a priority for me to ensure that all parts of the UN development system work together to support each other’s mandates. 

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

Commensurate with the demands of today’s world, UN mandates, including that of UNDP, must be backed up by support and resources.

And promises made must be kept.

In September at the UN there will be a special MDG review summit in New York. It presents a major opportunity to generate renewed commitment to reach the goals, and identify remaining gaps in MDG achievement and how best to fill them.

Crucial to keeping the MDG promise is the provision of resources and official development assistance.

On paper, pledges have repeatedly been made to provide more support for development. But their translation into ‘checks deposited’ for development trails far behind.

Donor countries themselves are under fiscal stress, with few guarantees that aid budgets will be maintained when they begin exiting from their fiscal stimulus packages.

Those donors which have maintained their commitments in these austere times are to be commended.  I applaud the commitment by the United States Administration last year to double this country’s ODA by 2015.

Moving forward, leadership for development requires all donors to fulfill the ODA commitments they have made to help developing countries drive their own development solutions.

Making the right investments in people, institutions, and infrastructure will make such a difference for the better.  So will the effective allocation of domestic resources, and having governments which are responsive, transparent, and accountable to their citizens.

Leadership for development also means acting on issues of global significance.

We must also not lose sight of the eighth MDG, the one focused on global partnerships for development. 

In our fast-changing world, partnerships and leadership for development from non-traditional quarters are needed.

South-South co-operation, the very large scale philanthropic initiatives, dynamic civil society participation, and more interest from the private sector are all playing a part in meeting development goals.

In the future, increasing amounts of expertise and funding which developing countries need is likely to come from within the global South. 

The UN development system is well placed to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and expertise within the South. That is central to our work.

So is collaborating with the philanthropic funds and civil society organizations, and with those in the private sector who want to pursue inclusive business strategies which deliver for development. There are many examples of where companies have successfully integrated the poor into their business models to create wealth and spark social change.

If stakeholders in development can work together effectively, we can ensure that development supports the advancement of peace and stability, and that peace in turn contributes to development.

The UN is vital to making that happen, through its roles as a convener of nations, a contributor of big ideas with global reach, and a mobiliser of collective international will and commitment to act for peace and development.

2015 is not only our target date to achieve the MDGs.  It will also mark 100 years since the Gallipoli invasion, when so many lives were lost and so much pain and destruction was wrought. 

It is my sincere hope that, on ANZAC day five years from now, the world will also have met the MDGs, and be firmly set on a sustainable path to development, stability, and peace.

If global leadership can bring that about, that will be the best tribute we could pay to those who have fallen, and to all those who have served.