Helen Clark: Development Challenges in Asia Pacific

08 Nov 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

Statement for the 2013 Annual Cluster Meeting

UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific 

Hanoi, Viet Nam

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the 2013 cluster meeting of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. I would like to thank the Government of Viet Nam and H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam for the warm hospitality they have extended to us.


Can I also greet the UNDP colleagues who have travelled from many different countries to participate in this meeting. I am confident that the outcome of our discussions and your contributions over the next three days will ensure that UNDP continues to be relevant to our partner countries in the Asia-Pacific region.


In my remarks this morning, I will focus on the evolving development landscape in Asia and the Pacific, and how UNDP’s new strategic plan positions us to support countries to meet their development priorities and address emerging challenges.


The development context in Asia-Pacific  

UNDP’s 2013 global Human Development Report, “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”, documents the transformation of a number of developing countries, including Viet Nam, into dynamic economies with rising human development and with growing geopolitical influence.


The Asia-Pacific has been the most economically dynamic region in the world over the last two decades. According to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, “Developing Asia” grew an at average of eight per cent annually from 2000-2013, a faster rate than for any other region and well above global growth of a little under four per cent per year over the same period.[1]


The region’s importance to the world economy has, as a result, also increased substantially. In 2012, Asia-Pacific’s developing countries were responsible for 25 per cent of global GDP in PPP terms, an increase from fourteen per cent in 2000.[2]


The region has also achieved the world’s largest reductions in global poverty, enabling Millennium Development Goal One on halving global poverty from 1990 levels by 2015 to be met five years ahead of schedule. The number of people living below $1.25 per day in Asia-Pacific fell from 1.3 billion to 750 million between 2000 and 2010, a decrease from forty per cent to 21 per cent of the region’s population.[3]


Nine countries in the region moved from “low-income” to “middle income” status during this time, including Viet Nam. In 2000, fifteen out of 36 UNDP programme countries in the region were LICs. Now there are only six.


Yet, while we have witnessed an economic miracle in the Asia-Pacific, it is clear that we have not yet seen a complete transformation towards a sustainable development path. More attention needs to be paid to social and environmental indicators too. 


The 2013 Human Development Report suggests that to sustain human development progress in the South, action is needed to enhance equity, confront environmental pressures, manage demographic change, and enable greater voice and participation of citizens in decision making. These challenges resonate variously in a number of countries in the region.


1)   Enhancing Equity

The rapid economic growth seen in many countries in the region has not benefited all segments of society equally. Despite its tremendous progress, Asia-Pacific remains home to the majority of the world’s poor and vulnerable. The region is also home to more than seventy per cent of the global population lacking access to basic sanitation, and to close to seventy per cent of the world’s underweight children.


Income inequality has been rising in many UNDP programme countries. In South Asia, for example, Gini coefficients are higher now than in the early 1990s in all countries in the sub-region with the exception of Nepal.


Although much has been achieved in the area of girls’ educational attainment, women’s economic and political empowerment continues to be a pressing priority.  In South Asia, for example, 31 per cent of women are active in the paid labour force, compared with 81 per cent of men. Female parliamentary representation, stands at under twenty per cent.


2)   Confronting Environmental Pressures

Despite some progress on environmental protection, the region is depleting its natural assets at an unsustainable rate, leading to more water scarcity and the shrinking of its forests.


The effects of climate change are also evident, and are exacerbating environmental threats with significant consequences for people’s lives, especially for the poor and for the region’s Small Island Developing States.


Studies suggest that the Asia-Pacific accounts for more disaster-related events than any other region and for the greatest number of disaster-related deaths in the world. The poor bear the brunt of these disasters, as they often have no option but to live in areas susceptible to natural hazards, and are often unable to anticipate, plan for, and mitigate the risks.


Meeting the energy needs of the region through clean and sustainable energy sources will also be a challenge in years to come. Some 700 million people in the region have no access to electricity, and many people still rely on solid fuels for heating and cooking. Providing access to sustainable, clean energy for the region will require transforming the way energy is produced, distributed, and used, both on-grid and off-grid.


3)   Managing demographic change

The Asia-Pacific region is facing significant demographic changes. While individual countries are in different stages of transition, declining fertility rates across the region have led to increases in the relative size of the working-age population. As this group ages and life expectancy continues to rise, countries need to rise to the challenge of supporting a much larger older population.


Asia-Pacific is also becoming more urban, with 65 per cent of the population forecast to be living in cities by 2050. I am pleased to note that the upcoming Asia-Pacific Regional Human Development Report will focus on these issues.


4)   Enabling greater voice and participation of citizens in decision-making

The concept of human development defined by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq embraced the enlargement of people’s choices and capabilities. This requires systems of public discourse and political processes which engage citizens and respond to their needs and aspirations. Such systems have built-in stabilizers – without them, governments may risk losing their legitimacy.


Around the world, many countries, rich and poor, including a number of the large emerging economies, have been experiencing significant levels of protest and discord. Citizens are complaining about decisions which impact on them, but on which they had little or no say. The quality and responsiveness of governance is perceived as a significant issue worldwide.


Changing with the World – The UNDP Strategic Plan 2014-2017

UNDP’s new strategic plan makes our vision clear: to help countries eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities and exclusion significantly, while also protecting the environment. The organization is re-orienting itself to make a more effective contribution to this end, building on its core strengths and its reputation gained from decades of contributing to development.  


We can be proud that:

·       UNDP is recognized worldwide as a neutral and impartial facilitator of dialogue and co-operation on development issues, and can connect countries, institutions, and organizations within and across regions to tackle development challenges.

·       UNDP is a thought leader which advances global development by drawing on its knowledge and expertise acquired in many different development contexts to produce high-quality and policy-relevant knowledge.

·         UNDP is a long-standing and trusted partner with the technical capacity to provide upstream policy advice to help inform government decision-making at the national and sub-national levels.

·         UNDP has the expertise to help countries build the capacities they need to achieve economic and social transformation, environmental sustainability, and democratic governance. We can help translate innovative pilot programmes into systemic change, and we can transfer knowledge and best practice.


Within the Asia-Pacific region there are many examples of UNDP’s contributions in these areas.

·       As a facilitator, UNDP is currently working with the Government of Viet Nam to organise an international conference on Economic Restructuring and Reforms in Viet Nam: The Path Covered and the Way Forward in early 2014. This conference will bring together development practitioners from around the world, including experts from neighbouring countries, to explore the next generation of economic and social reforms in Viet Nam. The aim is to look at policies which will help Viet Nam to avoid the economic stagnation which can entrap middle income countries.


·         As a thought leader, UNDP produced a highly acclaimed Gender Human Development Report for the region in 2010 focused on the political, legal, and economic status and rights of women and tackling gender-based violence.  Its findings are being implemented through new programming in several Asian countries, including China, Cambodia and Mongolia, and the report has resonated far beyond the Asia-Pacific.


·         As a policy advisor, UNDP has been active on climate change, offering support on how to access finance, design good strategies, and strengthen both central government planning and budgeting and capacities at sub-national levels. These services have been provided across the region, including in Indonesia, Viet Nam, and the South Pacific.


·         As a capacity builder, UNDP has been active in institutional strengthening and governance, including through its special focus on electoral assistance and legislation, access to justice, and strengthening of human rights institutions. UNDP has also helped build local government capacity in a number of countries, and helped China and Viet Nam to develop performance indicators and measures aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of public service delivery.


The new UNDP Strategic Plan reiterates our determination to become more focused, results-driven, effective, and efficient. It recognizes that UNDP is operating in a world with challenges which are complex and transboundary, and where there are stronger demands and higher expectations from donors and programme countries alike.


This new era is also marked by the greater expectations of the world’s citizens of what development can deliver. Prior to the High Level Segment of the UN General Assembly this year, the Secretary-General and I launched A Million Voices: The World We Want, a report on the global conversation facilitated by the UN development system. Well over one million people have shared their views across 88 national consultations, eleven thematic consultations, and social media and the online MY World survey.


The findings of the global conversation contain important messages for us. People expect governments and development organizations to deliver on the MDGs and end poverty; address persistent inequality and disparities – including between men and women, rural and urban areas, ethnic groups, and rich and poor; take responsibility for the state of the planet and its ecosystems; be honest and responsive in delivering services; and create conditions for decent work and citizen security.


This feedback is consistent with the important report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Post-2015 and the on-going deliberations of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.


Importance of Co-ordination and Partnerships

To meet these demands, partnerships and co-ordination will be critical, especially through increased engagement with South-South and triangular co-operation; deeper co-operation with emerging partners on shared development priorities; stronger co-ordination of the UN Development System within countries; and partnerships with other stakeholders, including regional bodies, other international organizations, civil society organizations, and private sector entities.  

UNDP’s primary partnerships are with programme countries.  High levels of trust, confidence, and mutual respect between our Country Offices and national government counterparts are fundamental to our success.  Your roles as UN Resident Co-ordinators and UNDP Resident Representatives, Country Directors, and Deputy Resident Representatives are critical for ensuring coherence and greater co-ordination within UNCTs, including through the UNDAF and Common Country Programme document processes. Vietnam, as one of the initial Delivering as One countries, offers a strong model of UN co-ordination. It has resulted in streamlined communication, improved monitoring, and a functionally integrated UN country presence.


On South-South and triangular co-operation, it is clear that the MICs of the Asia-Pacific have many experiences, lessons, and resources to share with other developing countries. UNDP is well positioned to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise.


In recent years, UNDP has entered into strengthened partnership agreements with China, India, and Indonesia in this region to help advance South-South and Triangular Co-operation. Centres of Excellence which serve as knowledge hubs for developing countries and provide technical support to governments and civil society have been established in Singapore with the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence, and in India with the International Centre for Human Development in New Delhi.


We must continue to explore partnerships with other Asia-Pacific stakeholders, including the regional organizations; civil society; and private sector entities. UNDP has relationships with SAARC, ASEAN, PIFS, and the Asian Development Bank, but these could be strengthened. The Bureau has also been innovative in engaging with new partners: in India, for example, with the IKEA Foundation since 2009 through the “Swaayam”, an integrated women’s empowerment model, which has helped 50,000 women in Uttar Pradesh improve their incomes and increase their role in decision making.


Conclusion

UNDP’s new strategic plan, results framework, and change agenda set the organization up to respond to the demands of this new development era, and to be stronger and more effective.


At this Cluster Meeting we invite you all to engage on how the Plan will be implemented, results will be achieved, and countries’ expectations will be met. I wish you all a very successful cluster meeting.



[1] Growth figures from IMF’s WEO database, updated October 2013.

[2] In current PPP terms according to IMF’s WEO.

[3] Povcalnet. World Bank.