Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator: Remarks at UN High Level Political Forum Side Event 2017: Leaving no one behind: Ensuring inclusive SDG progress

Jul 18, 2017

Today, roughly 800 million people still live in extreme poverty. Credit: UNDP Bangladesh

As prepared for delivery.

I am delighted to be here with colleagues from government, civil society and across the UN. 

This event focuses on the practicalities of advancing inclusive SDG progress. As we move forward, we need to ensure that our decisions and actions are geared towards meeting the needs of those that are less able to endure setbacks, have less voice, and fewer resources and opportunities to get ahead.

The world achieved significant poverty reduction during the MDG-era. Since 1990, the total number of people in extreme poverty fell by more than 1.1 billion driven by strong economic growth. This was a huge achievement.

However, progress has been uneven across regions, countries, and segments of populations. Today, roughly 800 million people still live in extreme poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, while the extreme poverty headcount ratio decreased from 56 percent in 2002 to 41 percent in 2013, the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty decreased by only 2.6 million during the same period given rapid population growth. In fact, in 2013 there were around 112 million more people living in extreme poverty on the continent than in 1990.

The MDGs taught us that we need to look beyond averages. Unfortunately, despite advances, the poorest, marginalized and excluded have for the most part, been left behind. 

With the SDGs, Member States sought to correct this, by agreeing explicitly to leave no one behind and further - to endeavour to reach those furthest behind first. 

There are challenges to achieving this. Many of those who remain in extreme poverty live in remote communities and belong to marginalized groups facing multiple, compounding sources of social and economic discrimination. Women and girls are disproportionately represented among those left behind.

Access to adequate education, healthcare, electricity, safe drinking water and other critical services remains elusive for many of the poorest either because it is simply unaffordable, or because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, place of birth or status. In addition, for those who were able to climb out of poverty, they often face disruptions or reversals in progress due to natural disasters, economic slowdowns, food insecurity and environmental degradation. 

The ambition to leave no one behind demands new ways of doing business, with greater emphasis on empowering the poorest. Five key changes, drawn from lessons learned, are needed.

•    First, investment in data and evidence will enable better identification of people who are left behind, and will improve our support to countries on formulating policies which ensure inclusion and build resilience. 

•    Second, our programming principles need to explicitly include targeting excluded and marginalized groups. The 2016 Human Development Report “Human Development for Everyone”, highlighted that addressing technical and financial barriers to inclusion is not sufficient. Ensuring that no one is left behind also requires strengthening the voice of the marginalized.

•    Third, investment in prevention and preparedness in fragile and conflict-affected settings is critical. More than 1.4 billion people and half of the world’s poor people live in these countries. This will enable us to better link development work with humanitarian and peace-building action, with a specific focus on reaching the poorest and most vulnerable people.

•    Fourth, we need to support countries to transition to more inclusive, greener economies with durable and environmentally sustainable growth, which will benefit poor communities and populations and enable people to rise out of poverty and – critically - stay out. 

•    Fifth, we need to invest in people’s health, education and living conditions as well as in social protection floors, which transform countries’ development paths by reducing poverty and social exclusion and protecting people against the shocks that push them into poverty.

It is clear that alone, no single actor can achieve the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’. Governments need to work alongside all segments of their societies - in particular working with civil society and enabling their contributions. To enable this, action is needed to protect the autonomous, safe and vibrant spaces that allow for civic engagement. 

UNDP works across sectors and segments of society to tackle multidimensional poverty and help countries and communities set their own targets aligned with global goals. This approach gives UNDP a unique role to play – to promote, facilitate and enable partnerships that learn from and build on good practice. 

The many good initiatives shared at this event today, demonstrates the will and initiative to rise to this challenge of meeting the needs of those left furthest behind. I commend your efforts and encourage you to think not only about what your individual entities and countries can do - but about what we can and must do together to realize a transformative agenda that benefits all people, everywhere.

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