Advancing Innovative Development and Aid Strategies in the Asia-Pacific

Jun 16, 2010

Helen Clark, Administrator, UNDP
Speech by Video (live) to the LOWY Institute Conference
On 16 -18 June 2010 Sydney, Australia

“Advancing Innovative Development and Aid Strategies in the Asia-Pacific: Accelerating the Millennium Development Goals”

16 June 6:45pm (NY time) 8:45am 17 June (Sydney time)

Check Against Delivery

It is a pleasure to join you today from New York. I would like to congratulate the Lowy Institute for dedicating this conference to the timely topic of speeding up progress on achieving the MDGs, and for bringing together a stimulating programme and range of speakers.

It’s now ten years since most of the world’s Heads of State and Government, including me at the time, travelled to New York for the UN’s Millennium Summit.

Enshrined in the Summit’s Declaration were the MDGs, since named by the UN Intellectual History project as one of the great ideas to emanate from the UN since its foundation.  That is because the MDGs are the most broadly supported, comprehensive, and specific poverty reduction targets the world has ever established.

For the estimated 900 million people living in extreme poverty (on under $1.25 a day) in the Asia Pacific region, the MDGs offer the means to a better life - a life with access to adequate food and income; to basic education and health services; to clean water and sanitation; and to empowerment for women.

The many success stories we see around the world on the MDGs show us that achieving them is possible.

Extreme poverty in East Asia and Pacific – which was the world’s poorest region in 1981 – fell from nearly eighty per cent of the population surviving on under $1.25 per day in 1981 to seventeen per cent in 2005.

Many countries have also made great progress in reducing gender disparities in education, containing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and expanding access to safe drinking water.

However, in other countries and towards many targets, progress has been too slow and uneven.  

Across Central, South, East Asia and the Pacific, many have prospered while more than one in four people remain in extreme poverty. MDG achievement needs also to reach the countries, communities, and marginalized groups which have been overlooked, bypassed, and unable to benefit from the progress made around them.

It is critical now to inject momentum and a sense of urgency into achieving the MDGs.

In September, a special review Summit on the MDGs will convene in New York.

World leaders can take the opportunity there to agree on a concrete action agenda for MDG success by 2015.  The voices, advocacy, and networks of civil society, including all represented at this conference today, need to be heard in support of a successful outcome.

UNDP’s contribution to the preparation of the Summit is to build a strong evidence base of what is working to achieve the MDGs, and to advocate for those approaches to be implemented more widely.

Drawing on evidence from thirty specially commissioned in-depth MDG country reports, UNDP has prepared an “International Assessment” of what it will take to achieve the MDGs by 2015. It identifies common and underlying MDG success factors, and highlights recurring national and international constraints on progress. From this analysis, conclusions are drawn on the concrete measures which help to accelerate MDG progress.

I will be releasing the assessment tomorrow, in time to inform negotiations on the MDG Summit outcome document, inform the G8 leaders’ meeting in Canada, and complement the Secretary-General’s MDG progress report which will offer a target by target account of global progress to date.

Meanwhile, on the ground, UN Country Teams are taking every opportunity to help their partners speed up MDG progress.

UNDP has developed a diagnostic tool to help governments, UN Country Teams, and other development partners identify the interventions which will have the most impact and the policies which can sustain hard-won gains.

The aim is to make the most of scarce resources, by bringing development partners together in support of the specific actions which can speed up MDG achievement.

Action agenda

While any action agenda must be adapted to each country’s unique context, our analysis and experience highlights eight areas for priority action. I share these with you as background for your discussions.

First, we all need to support country-led development:

To accelerate and sustain progress, development strategies must be locally-owned and based on broad national consensus.
It helps immensely where a country’s institutions are responsive and accountable, and have the capacity to implement MDG policies and programmes.

Development partners can help by supporting inclusive development planning which reflects the perspectives of the poor and marginalized; and also by supporting the strengthening of the local and national capacities needed to mobilise resources, deliver services, and make evidence-based policy decisions.

Second, we need to foster inclusive economic growth:  

Evidence suggests that rapid reductions in poverty and hunger result from economic growth which is job-rich, and which has a specific focus on agriculture in countries where large numbers of people live on the land. A fair distribution of income, assets, and opportunities also helps.

2.5 billion people in the developing world depend on agriculture for their living. Boosting agricultural production can simultaneously reduce poverty and improve food security. To be more productive, farmers need access to quality fertilizers, seeds, and extension services, and they need secure land rights. Farmers and local businesses need better access to markets. That requires improvements in rural infrastructure. A global trade deal which works for poor people and poor countries is also a part of the bigger picture.

Third, we must improve opportunities for women and girls:
That will be a powerful driver of MDG progress across all the Goals.

The number of women who die in childbirth remains too high across the Asia Pacific, and progress on reducing the numbers has been slow. The region is at serious risk of not meeting MDG Five, on maternal health.

Concerted action is needed, in particular, to advance gender equality in South Asia and the Pacific - where too many women lack opportunities to access quality health care, education, and decent work. Customary laws, traditional practices, and constitutional provisions also often relegate women to subordinate status. Addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment on a broad front is necessary to get good results for women across the MDGs, including that on maternal health.

Investment in women and girls is not only the right thing to do, but also has intergenerational benefits.

Children born to women with some formal education are more likely to survive to their fifth birthday, receive adequate nutrition, and be immunized and enrolled in school.
In Viet Nam, for example, the children of mothers with primary education have a mortality rate of 27 deaths per one thousand live births, while for those whose mothers had no education the rate is 66 per thousand.

Fourth, we need to target investments in health and education, in clean water and sanitation, and in the professionals who run these services.

This will not only save lives, but also help to lay the foundation for sustained human development and growth. Healthy and educated people are better able to improve their own lives.

Rapid improvements in both education and health care have occurred where adequate public investment accompanied the elimination of user fees. Sustaining these improvements, including in quality, requires long-term commitments to developing effective systems, institutions, and people.

Fifth, we need to scale up social protection and employment programmes and other targeted interventions:  

We have seen social protection and cash transfer programmes expand access to nutritional supplements, increase the frequency of health check-ups, and keep children in school.

Rather than being seen as a drain on a nation’s budget, social protection needs to be seen as a critical investment in building the resilience to cope with present and future shocks.

Home grown social protection systems, such as India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme, Thailand’s health insurance scheme, China’s rural pension plan, and “cash for work” programmes in Tonga, Samoa, and Mongolia can help expand opportunities, build domestic demand, and spur human development.  

Sixth, we need to expand access to energy and promote low-carbon development:

Expanding energy access has a multiplier effect across the MDGs. It increases productivity; reduces smoke-related deaths; brings lighting to homes, schools and hospitals; and frees women and girls from time-consuming domestic chores.

In a carbon-constrained age, growth based on reduced carbon footprints is also vital for all countries. To achieve that, a climate deal which generates significant funding for low-carbon energy and development solutions is essential – and must not be allowed to fall off the international list of priorities.

Seventh, countries need be able to mobilise domestic resources to finance the MDGs:

Most of the resources needed to achieve the MDGs need to be raised from and allocated effectively by a country itself.

Thus, improving domestic resource mobilisation is critical to accelerating MDG progress - whether by improving tax collection, broadening the tax base, or through other innovative methods of raising revenue. Measures must also be in place to ensure that resources are spent well.

Expanding the reach and range of financial services is also important for capturing the domestic savings which can spur private sector development from the micro level up. In this respect, UNDP is pleased to be working with partners in a number of Pacific countries to enable citizens to use their mobile phones to connect them to the formal financial sector. Remittance transfers via mobile phone, for example, can greatly reduce transaction costs, enabling more money to be actually received by families back home.

Eighth, the international community does need to deliver on the ODA commitments it has made and improve the predictability and effectiveness of aid.

Well targeted and predictable ODA is a critical catalyst for meeting the MDGs, and for helping countries to build the capacities and programmes they need to develop programmes and attract private investment.

The shortfall between the ODA projected for 2010 and what was promised by the G8 at Gleneagles in 2005 amounts to around 0.05 percent of the OECD/DAC Members’ combined Gross National Income in 2010. This gap can and must be filled, even in these challenging times. Some countries are living up to their commitments, while others are not.  It should be noted that Australia has been growing its aid budget steadily and is making a big contribution to development in the Asia Pacific and beyond.


UNDP is offering its international assessment of what it will take to reach the MDGs to help build agreement on an action agenda from now to 2015.

MDG achievement offers the promise of a better life to billions of people. To make good on this promise, we cannot narrow our ambition, throw up our hands in despair, or minimize the extent of the challenges we face.

With targeted action, strong partnerships, and committed leadership, the world can achieve the MDGs.  I look forward to your engagement, support, and concerted effort in helping to meet the MDG promise.


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