Helen Clark: Remarks on "Achieving MDGs through Partnership in Asia"

21 Sep 2010

Opening Remarks for Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

On the occasion of the MDG Summit side event: Achieving MDGs through Partnership: Sharing the experience and challenges of Asia

21 September 3:00pm-3:30pm, New York

It is 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 Millennium Declaration were the MDGs, 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 - under $1.25 a day - in the Asia-Pacific region, the MDGs offer a pathway to a better life - a life with access to adequate food and income, basic education and health services, clean water and sanitation, and to empowerment for women.*

Success stories from around the world have shown us that achieving the MDGs is possible. I am pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the experiences of Asia, as the successes there have been many and remarkable.    

The East Asia-Pacific region was the world’s poorest region in 1981 – barely three decades ago. Between 1981 and 2005, extreme poverty – defined as the proportion of the population surviving on under $1.25 per day - fell from nearly eighty per cent to seventeen per cent. That is a huge accomplishment.

The region’s successes and remaining challenges are well captured by the Asia-Pacific MDG Report for 2010 and 2011. UNDP has been pleased to collaborate with the Asian Development Bank and the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific on its preparation.

This year’s report highlights the good progress of many Asia - Pacific countries in reducing gender disparities in education, containing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and expanding access to safe drinking water.

Progress in other areas, however, such as those covering the maternal mortality, sanitation, and environmental targets, has been too slow and uneven to meet the MDGs in many countries.

While many in the Asia-Pacific region have prospered, more than one in four people are estimated to remain in extreme poverty. Approximately 600 million people in Asia Pacific are estimated by the FAO to face chronic hunger; and new information from the FAO suggests that 65 per cent of the world’s hungry people live in only seven countries, of which five are in Asia.

It is vital now that MDG achievement extends to the countries, communities, and marginalized groups which have been unable to benefit from the progress made around them to date.

This event emphasizes the importance of achieving the MDGs through partnership. This is critical to MDG achievement everywhere – and not least in the Asia Pacific region with its resources, expertise, and opportunities.

No one actor can meet the MDGs alone.  In the five years remaining before the 2015 target date, we must work together – governments, multilateral agencies, the private sector, NGOs, foundations, and civil society.

The MDGs are all inter-linked – progress in one can spur progress on others. We can each bring our comparative advantage to where it will have the greatest impact across all the Goals.

The evidence on what drives MDG access, captured in UNDP’s International Assessment, suggests a set of priorities:

First, we all need to back country-level development. National ownership and broader consensus within countries on development priorities are critical. Many countries in the Asia – Pacific have prepared MDG-consistent development strategies in recent years which deserve support.

Second, we need to foster models of inclusive economic growth which reach those missing out on national progress – whether they be in rural areas, informal urban settlements, or in otherwise marginalized communities.  Focusing on the most impoverished can lead to quick to quick and cost-effective improvements, in health indicators in particular.  

Third, women are a powerful driver of MDG progress - across all the goals. The empowerment of women and girls and investment in opportunities for them must be a top priority. In Asia-Pacific, women own only seven per cent of arable land. In Asia they occupy a little more than eighteen per cent of seats in national parliaments, and just over thirteen per cent in the Pacific. Economic and political opportunities for women must be expanded, along with legal reforms which promote gender equality.

Fourth, adequate investments are needed in health and education, in clean water and sanitation, and in those who run these services.

Fifth, we need to scale-up social protection and employment programmes.  In the Asia-Pacific, only thirty per cent of the region’s older persons receive pensions, and households face the world’s highest rates of out-of-pocket health care costs . In an effort to boost their domestic economies, a number of Asian countries are now introducing innovative health insurance and employment programmes. Examples include Thailand’s universal health insurance and India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme.

Sixth, we need to expand access to energy and promote low-carbon development. Access to energy brings many benefits, not least in reducing the burden of women’s domestic work. In Nepal, for example, UNDP is working with the government on a Rural Energy Development Programme which uses a community-based approach to enhance the livelihoods of people living in remote, hilly villages.

Seventh, countries need to boost domestic resource mobilization through effective tax collection, improve the quality of public spending, and devise ways of applying domestic savings to invest in the public good.

Eighth, the international community must deliver on its Official Development Assistance commitments, and improve the predictability and effectiveness of aid. International development assistance has played an important role in achieving the MDGs to date, and well-targeted and co-ordinated ODA will help accelerate achievement.  

It is not possible to solve global issues without the active engagement and contribution of the Asia-Pacific. The global economic crisis has shown how important this region is in pulling the world economy out of global recession.

UNDP values its partnerships for development in the Asia Pacific region, and we want to enhance them to accelerate progress on the MDGs over the next five years.


*See,Chapter One, the ESCAP ADB UNDP 2010/2011 Asia-Pacific MDG report: Paths to 2015, page 4, “Between 1990 and 2008, countries in Asia and the Pacific reduced the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day from 1.5 billion to 947 million –all the more impressive given that over the same period the region’s population increased by some 800 million.”