Helen Clark: “Making the Case for International Development Co-operation”

Mar 5, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
“Making the Case for International Development  Co-operation”
Kenneth and Patricia Mariash Global Issues Dialogue
Calgary, Canada
Tuesday 5 March 2013, 12:15pm


It’s a pleasure to come to Calgary to inaugurate the Kenneth and Patricia Mariash Global Issues Dialogue. My thanks go to the United Nations Association in Canada for their invitation, and to Kenneth and Patricia Mariash for making this annual dialogue possible.  

As the prospects of nations and peoples grow increasingly interconnected, a dialogue series like this one becomes even more important.

With growing interdependence across national boundaries, it is critical to understand global challenges and how they impact on our lives, our communities, our economies, and our countries. Governments have to grapple with responses to these challenges – speaking as a former Prime Minister, I know how important is to have an engaged and informed public which understands the global pressures and context which affect domestic decisions and priorities.

Four years ago, I moved on from leading my country to leading the United Nations Development Programme which works in some 177 developing countries and territories.

Our mission is human development: lifting living standards, creating opportunities, and enabling people to live fulfilling lives.

None of that happens in a vacuum. While money isn’t everything, it certainly helps. Developing nations do need to grow their economies, but it’s also important to apply the fruits of growth in ways which will sustain and improve human wellbeing.

At UNDP we see many of the non-financial constraints on human development – war and conflict, armed violence, low social cohesion, poor governance, corruption, poor enabling environments for trade and investment, and a lack of capacity to drive the development and implementation of strategies which could bring about transformational change.

In a sense our mission is to tackle those non-financial constraints and build the basis for getting traction on development.

Getting that momentum matters to all of us.

We all benefit if developing countries have vibrant economies, are well governed and peaceful, have educated and healthy populations, and can support the fight against climate change by pursuing low carbon routes to development. 

It’s worth noting now, as a number of advanced economies suffer continuing fallout from the global financial and economic crises, that the developing economies and regions, including Africa, have become very important global growth engines. Demand for commodities, goods, and services from growing numbers of people with higher disposable incomes and better prospects has without doubt helped economies like those of your country and mine at a time of sluggish demand from many of the advanced economies.

This really is a significant point to emphasize in making the case for continuing investment in development co-operation. Yes, times are tough in much of the Western world, and budgets for international development are under scrutiny along with everything else. I understand that – I’ve sat in the chair which brings down the gavel on a nation’s budget. But I also know that it’s important to invest in our future growth and prosperity. If major growth prospects are beckoning in the developing world, the efforts we make there to support development not only benefit the citizens of those countries – they will help sustain jobs and living standards in our own.

There is no question in my mind that the long term commitment to development of countries like Canada has made a difference.

Our world has been unprecedented progress on almost every dimension of human well-being. Because bad news sells, we don’t often hear of the successes, but in my job I hear of them every day, and have the privilege of seeing them for myself as I travel.

In 2000, leaders from most of the UN’s Member States went to the Millennium Summit in New York and signed the Millennium Declaration.  I was one of them. What followed was to influence the course of global development for the next fifteen years: the launch of the Millennium Development Goals. Those MDGs galvanized global action around eradicating poverty, educating children, reducing deaths from preventable causes, improving water and sanitation, and protecting the environment.

With little more than one thousand days to go to the MDG target date of 31 December 2015, we see the results of this unprecedented global partnership in many ways. For example

The proportion of people living in extreme poverty, on under $1.25 per day, is now half of what it was in 1990. 

The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, and has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys. 

Spending on vaccines, bed nets, and nutrition has helped push child mortality rates in sub-Saharan countries down by 41 per cent. Children under five years old are now more likely to survive in almost every country in the world

In 2002, there were 300,000 people receiving HIV/AIDS medicine; today the number exceeds eight million and the rate of infection has slowed. In 2010 there were 21 per cent fewer people newly infected by HIV than there were in 1997.

Without question, development assistance focused on achieving the MDGs has played a role in these successes, along with leadership, commitment, and action by developing countries. A recent paper on Disability-Adjusted Life Years by Chris Murray and co-authors suggests that the 32 per cent decline between 1990 and 2010 in the burden from disorders targeted in the MDGs between 1990 and 2010 is largely due to the increased global attention they received.  

But plenty of challenges remain – reducing hunger and poor nutrition, poor sanitation, and high maternal death rates have proved to be among the most difficult MDG targets to reach. As well, the global figures on MDG progress mask large disparities within and across countries.

Achieving the global poverty reduction target, for example, was in no small part due to the phenomenal success of China in lifting hundreds of millions of its people out of extreme poverty.

Projections suggest that in 2015 almost one billion people will still live in extreme poverty. Many still will not have clean water or improved sanitation. Many will still suffer from hunger, malnutrition, the burden of preventable ill-health, gender discrimination, and more. Whether or not global MDG targets are met, this is inconsistent with the vision for dignity, equity, freedom, peace, and prosperity agreed by world leaders in the Millennium Declaration.

To finish the unfinished business of the MDGs, to advance our shared prosperity and wellbeing and to meet new global challenges, the world needs a reinvigorated global development agenda beyond 2015. A lot of effort is going into that right now through global and national consultations on what the agenda should look like.

If the result is another clear set of global targets which are easily communicated, as the MDGs were, then I think there’s a good chance of galvanizing the global community to again.

The good news is that the global community engaged in development co-operation is larger than ever before. Western countries’ official development assistance is substantial, although it has tailed off a little in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The emerging economies are very active in South-South co-operation, as are the major philanthropic foundations and NGOs. Significant private sector players are now very engaged in development too.

Overall, development assistance from developed countries is makes up a relatively small share of the resources invested in development. Resource flows from trade, foreign direct investment, remittances from migrant workers, and domestic resources mobilized from the growth of developing economies themselves make up the largest share of the monies flowing to development.

This makes it all the more important that the official development assistance flowing from advanced economies like Canada is used in  smart and catalytic ways to help developing countries make the transformational change they seek. That can happen in a number of ways. Let me suggest just some:

Building resilience to disaster

When humanitarian crises arise, the world is generous. Starvation was averted in Africa’s Sahel last year and most of the Horn of Africa the year before because of timely responses to severe drought and food shortage. Resources, not least from Canada, have flowed to Haiti in the aftermath of severe weather events and the massive 2010 earthquake.

What is important is for the investment not to end when the relief phase is over, or to be confined to the very important humanitarian needs. Each of those crises, and many others like them, are crises augmented by underdevelopment; for example, in the case of drought where lack of water infrastructure and social protection schemes leave communities very vulnerable. The phenomenon of climate change will deliver more extreme weather events more often, so the need to invest in adaptation and resilience to those events is pressing.

A year ago I visited Niger with the UN’s Emergency Relief Co-ordinator to see how the severe drought was affecting communities. We saw the stark difference there between the village we visited with a large reservoir and a well, and the ones without. Building resilience to drought is not rocket science, but it does require investments on a scale which are often beyond the reach of poor countries’ own resources.

Investments in building resilience can be made during the humanitarian relief phase if the relief is timely. Community work schemes can employ people on basic infrastructural work which will lay the ground for greater resilience in the future. UNDP followed that approach even in the difficult circumstances of Somalia during the 2011 drought, and since the earthquake in Haiti where more than 400,000 temporary jobs were created – forty per cent of them for women.

Drought-prone Niger in Africa’s Sahel region is now a particularly rewarding place in which to work as its government is committed to building resilience to future extreme weather events. Prior to the 2012 drought, Niger’s new early warning system alerted the international community to its likely needs. As well the country is working on reforestation, and working with UNDP and FAO and others on more basic infrastructure, and support for small holder farmers. I am confident that if Niger pursues the good plans it has, it can become a food secure nation.

In the case of Haiti, the country lacked resilience to the major earthquakes it can expect from time to time – not only along its southern coast as in 2010, but also along its northern coastline. The recovery of Port-au-Prince and other affected towns needs to be based on building back better with strengthened construction, so that lives and livelihoods can be saved next time. UNDP is involved in support for home building where grants are made only for quality building supplies and where the homebuilder has had basic training.

Other least developed countries like Haiti also face huge risk from earthquakes. Nepal is an example – the current building stock in Kathmandu is such that significant loss of life could be anticipated with a major shake. As in Haiti, preventive measures are needed, including through better building codes which are enforced.

But that brings me to another significant area of opportunity for smart and catalytic aid:

Investing in better governance for development and resilience.

Effective governance drives development. Governments need to be able to make quality decisions and implement them. That requires capacity to plan, legislate, regulate, raise and allocate resources, and deliver. That is as relevant to building resilience to natural hazards as it is to attracting investment in basic infrastructure like energy. Poor governance lies at the heart of the non-financial constraints which hold back development.  

Take, for example, the huge challenge of rolling out energy access to the 2.3 billion or more people who use traditional biomass for cooking and heating. On the surface, there is a huge business opportunity here – to be part of building the infrastructure which can deliver modern energy services to all. But to make that happen, enabling environments capable of attracting investment have to be built – and that means developing all those capacities required for effective governance.

There are significant amounts of private capital looking for good investments – and there are growing pools of climate finance available to developing countries. Creating the enabling environments and skills to attract finance for development, including for climate change adaptation and mitigation, is a priority in UNDP’s work.

Investing in women and girls

Investing in opportunities for and the empowerment of women and girls is not only the right thing to do – it has huge multiplier effects for development. As Hillary Clinton once said, it’s smart economics. Why would a country not want to maximize the potential of half its population? More action on gender equality and empowerment would enable faster progress to be made across the MDGs targets. I note here that in New Zealand we once calculated that a significant reason for our GDP per capita being rather lower than that of Scandinavia, related to the lower participation of women in the formal workforce. Women’s economic empowerment and participation lifts whole nations – developed and developing.

Canada is a strong supporter of gender equality and empowerment in its aid programme – this is indeed money well spent. A girl who has the opportunity to complete her education is less likely to be married young, is less at risk from dying in pregnancy and childbirth, and is likely to have more economic independence and choice over the life she leads. The survival prospects of children also improve with the rising level of women’s education.

Investing in long term peace and stability

A significant amount of official development assistance is now directed to countries considered fragile – some of them mired in conflict, and others attempting to recover from it.

In these countries a cluster of problems often needs to be addressed – including poor governance, lack of social cohesion, conflict over resources, including land and water, and grinding poverty. Addressing the drivers of conflict is a development function, and one my own organisation, UNDP is very engaged in.

This matters to all of us. In weak states where, for example, the reach of government is limited – if it exists at all, the citizens suffer. It is no coincidence that not one of the fifty states identified by the World Bank as burdened by fragility has achieved or will achieve a single Millennium Development Goal by 2015.

But weak states not only harm their own citizens. In the absence of the rule of law and effective governance, they may harbour groups capable of inflicting and motivating damage far away. Think of the destruction of the World Trade Centre and the bombings in London, Madrid, and elsewhere. Think of the international drug and criminal syndicates which base themselves in weak states. The absence of the rule of law and effective governance is a threat to us all.


In these few words today, I’ve set out to make the broader case for development. Peace, prosperity, and the rule of law matter to us all. There are good investments to be made in development which tackle the root causes of conflict, instability, and poverty. Canada has been a very important partner to many, including UNDP, in making these investments – and globally we see the results in higher levels of income, education, and health status than ever before. Development has huge net benefits for our whole world, and it’s important to stay the course.

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