"Meeting the MDGs means offering a better life to billions of people"

17 Jun 2010

Remarks by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the launch of the UNDP report,
What Will It Take to Achieve The Millennium Development Goals? An International Assessment

New York, 17 June 2010

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In just under 100 days, world leaders will gather in New York to attend a special review Summit on the MDGs. The path set at this Summit will help determine the direction which progress on the goals takes.

For those living in poverty, the MDGs have never been abstract or aspirational targets. They have offered a pathway 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. Put simply, advancing the MDGs is an important milestone in our quest for a more just and peaceful world.

So the stakes are high. In September the objective must be for world leaders to agree on a concrete action agenda that can take us successfully to 2015.

There is a range of tried and tested policies which ensure MDG progress. If they are backed by strong global partnerships, the world can achieve the MDGs.

Today we are releasing an International Assessment prepared by UNDP of what it will take to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

Drawing on studies from fifty countries, including from thirty specially commissioned in-depth studies, UNDP’s Assessment identifies what has worked and highlights common constraints on progress, at both the national and international levels. From this analysis, we propose an eight-point action agenda to accelerate and sustain MDG progress over the next five years.

Our hope is that this evidence and this agenda for accelerating the pace of MDG achievement will inform the outcome of the MDG Summit here in New York in September.

Action agenda

While any action agenda must be adapted to each country’s unique context, our analysis and experience, thus far, highlights eight common areas and opportunities for priority action.

First, we 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.

Albania, for example, adopted an additional MDG, MDG 9, to strengthen good governance and improve accountability. This involves reforming state systems of public administration, legislation and policies to enhance their performance and advance development results. 

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.

In the developing world, 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their living. Boosting agricultural production can simultaneously reduce poverty and improve food security. To be more productive, farmers need fertilizer, seeds, extension services, secure land rights, and access to markets.

Ghana offers a good example of what has worked in this area. It has managed, through a nation-wide fertilizer subsidy programme, to increase its food production by 40 percent. This initiative has contributed to the nine percent decline in hunger in Ghana between 2003 and 2005. 

Boosting farm production also requires improvements in rural infrastructure. As well, the conclusion of the global trade round in a way which works for poor people and countries would help.

Recent decades saw a sharp decline in the share of official development assistance going to the agricultural sector. The G8 agreement at L’Aquila last year to invest in Global Food Security, however, was a very positive step away from that trend. It is now imperative that partners deliver on the commitments they made in L’Aquila in a timely fashion.

Third, we must improve opportunities for women and girls:

That will be a powerful driver of MDG progress across all the Goals. The evidence shows that 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, where I have just been, the children of mothers with primary education have a mortality rate of 27 deaths per thousand live births, while for those whose mothers had no education, the rate is 66 per thousand.

The empowerment of women and girls must be a top priority. That must include measures which reduce the burden of domestic activities and free women to generate income, care for their children, and send their girls to school; as well as offering broader political empowerment.

Some countries are tackling the issue through the introduction of constitutional quotas for women. One remarkable case is Rwanda, which has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world —over 50 percent of elected officials in the Chamber of Deputies, 35 percent in the Senate, and 36 percent in the Cabinet.

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

Rapid improvements in both education and health care have occurred where adequate public investment accompanied the elimination of user fees. Countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Nepal, and Tanzania, for example, all experienced surges in primary school enrolment after the elimination of user fees.

New global partnerships have increased mass immunization, the distribution of bed nets, antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS, and skilled attendance at birth.

Vaccination against measles, for example, reached 700 million children globally between 2000 and 2008, reducing deaths by 68 percent over the same period.

We know that these interventions work. Now we need a concerted effort to bring them to scale and ensure that the gains can be sustained, even in times of economic downturn.

Fifth, we need to scale up social protection and employment programmes.

Brazil’s Bolsa Família and Mexico’s Oportunidades cash transfer programmes increased both school enrolment and attendance rates, as well as reduced child labour. Their successes in education were achieved with the help of cash incentives for the enrolment of 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, and maintaining hard won development gains.

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

Expanding energy access has a multiplier effect on MDG attainment. It increases productivity; reduces smoke-related deaths; brings lighting to homes, schools and hospitals; and frees women and girls from time-consuming domestic chores like grinding grain.

Expanding access to energy in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Senegal has created income-generating opportunities for women, while reducing the time they spend on collecting firewood and water and on other 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, improving domestic resource mobilisation is critical for accelerating MDG progress —whether by improving tax collection, broadening the tax base or innovative methods.

Resources also need to be spent well. Countries should be routinely evaluating and adjusting their budgets to maximize the return on their investment of public monies. 

Eighth, the international community does need to deliver on its commitments to provide development assistance as well as improve the predictability and effectiveness of aid.

Well-targeted and predictable aid is a catalyst for meeting the MDGs, and helping countries to build the capacities and programmes they need to attract private investment and the likely new sources of climate finance.

The shortfall between the development assistance projected for 2010 and what was promised at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in 2005 amounts to around 0.05 percent of the combined 2010 Gross National Income of developed countries. This gap can and must be filled, even in these challenging times. Some countries are living up to their commitments, but others are not.

UNDP and the Acceleration Framework

We hope that Member States negotiating the outcome of the MDG Summit will agree on an action agenda which reflects the evidence of what works and includes bold initiatives is the eight priority areas outlined in the international assessment.

UNDP Country Teams are currently piloting an MDG acceleration tool, to work in tandem with this assessment
report. It can help governments, UN Country Teams, and other development partners to identify where the
bottlenecks to progress are and what policies could have the most impact on breaking through them.

During my first year at UNDP, I have been greatly impressed by the ambition of people across the developing world to transform their prospects.

It is important to celebrate MDG achievements. For example, Tanzania has been able to increase its primary school enrolment rate by well over 90 percent since 1991; South Africa has cut in half the proportion of people with access to drinking water; poverty rates in Egypt has fallen by half since 1999; and Bangladesh has reduced the ratio of maternal deaths to live births by 22 percent since 1990.

Thus, progress has been made since the MDGs were launched a decade ago, but that progress has been uneven across the Goals and within regions and nations. If we are to reach the MDGs by 2015, then 2010 must spark five years of accelerated progress.

Of course, the global recession, the food and fuel crises, and the challenges of climate change and of natural disasters generally have complicated the road to 2015. But they do not make the MDGs unobtainable if we collectively determine that we want to achieve them.

So we should not squander the opportunities for progress now by narrowing our ambition and throwing up our hands in despair at the obstacles. Stronger global partnerships can speed up MDG progress. Meeting the MDGs means offering a better life to billions of people. The decisions our countries, communities, and organizations make are critical to realizing the MDG promise.

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