Helen Clark: Keynote Speech at Istanbul Development Dialogues

Mar 23, 2017

Contributing to risk-informed and resilient development is necessary to build back better and to mitigate against future conflict, severe climate events and other disasters. Credit: Lelsley Wright / UNDP

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, Keynote speech at 2017 UNDP Istanbul Development Dialogues, “Risk-informed and Resilient Development – Global Challenges” Istanbul, Turkey

It is a pleasure to participate in this year’s Istanbul Development Dialogues organized by UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The focus of the Dialogues over these two days is on risk and resilience: on scanning the risks to development, and on supporting risk-informed approaches to development which can sustain progress in volatile times.

Increasingly we see that volatility is the new normal, and that we can never take for granted either peace and stability, economic equilibrium, or the services provided by nature – all of which are conducive to human and sustainable development.
    Rather, we live in a world where we must manage around and build resilience to the impacts of many risks:
•    of conflicts and political tensions which spill far beyond national borders;
•    of economic shocks originating in one country or region which then have contagious effects regional and globally with serious social repercussions; and
•    of damage to the global commons, like that done to our climate ecosystem which is increasing the severity and frequency of disasters, impacting on the most vulnerable communities and countries the most.

Our world and the region in which we meet are currently witness to all these kinds of shocks and more. The way in which such shocks overlap is compounding their impacts and increasing vulnerabilities. Conflict, for example, drives down economies and human development, and often takes a heavy toll on the environment – wildlife and forests are vulnerable in this context too.

UNDP brings development perspectives to addressing these challenges – always endeavouring to address their root causes, not just the symptoms, and to supporting communities and countries to build resilience to adverse events. We also advocate for effective multilateralism to address those challenges which no one country can resolve alone. Indeed that was always the case for the creation of the multilateral system. It exists to contribute to global public goods and to the protection and management of the global commons.

Looking on the bright side, the past couple of years have seen a burst of global agenda-setting which does address how to build peaceful, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient societies. The longer-term solutions to this quest are to be found in full implementation of:

•    the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030
•    the Paris Climate Agreement
•    the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction
•    the New Urban Agenda of Habitat IV and
•    the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.

The question is: in these turbulent times, will there be the global political will and the solidarity required to implement these agendas wholeheartedly? The choice is clear: our world can work together to find solutions to shared challenges, or see more conflict and the perpetuation of extreme poverty, vulnerability, inequality, and unsustainable development which, taken together, have spillover impacts for us all.

I know which side of that equation UNDP will always come down on – dedicated as it is to human development for all, and to a peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable future.

UNDP therefore is enthusiastically supporting the roll out of all the major development-related agendas of the past two years.  As well, it has worked intensely to make its programming relevant to the needs of communities devastated by shocks – including those caused by conflict and severe climate events and other disasters. The aim is to contribute to risk-informed and resilient development, and to support those laid low by shocks to build back better and mitigate against such events in future.

Let me now comment on three area of UNDP’s work in this context:
-    on building peaceful and resilient societies for the longer term;
-    on supporting risk-informed development and disaster risk reduction; and
-    on enhancing resilience even in the midst of severe crisis.

1.    Resilient and sustainable development is premised on peace

Societies need to be able to settle their differences without resort to arms, and to be inclusive of all their citizens. Inclusion has economic, social, and political dimensions. It is no surprise that societies which lapse into conflict are characterized to varying degrees by inequity, exclusion, and denial of voice and rights.

Development gains without justice will be tenuous. When internal divisions which cannot be mediated spill over into outright conflict, decades of gains can be lost very quickly.  Witness Syria – which before 2011 was a middle-income country with rising human development, and today has close to half its people displaced, very high levels of poverty, and a high death toll from the conflict.

So we need to take a broad view of sustainable development as Agenda 2030 urges. Yes, it is about eradicating poverty, and having better services and infrastructure, but these need to be supplemented by inclusive and responsive governance and the rule of law which underpin long-term stability and lock in development gains. In my view, democratic governance, backed by strong institutions, provides the shock absorbers which enable long-term resilience.

This thinking leads UNDP to programme around building strong institutions - across parliaments, justice and policing, and national human rights bodies, and to promote broad participation and voice – including for women and youth and marginalized communities, and by opening up space for civil society and media. Development which rests on such foundations will be more sustainable and resilient, and it is directly encouraged by Sustainable Development Goal 16 on building peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

2.    Building disaster resilience:

So many times every year we are shocked by the scenes on our television screens of communities devastated by powerful natural forces – just in recent months from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti to severe earthquakes in Italy to, now, pre-famine conditions declared by the United Nations in four countries and with others also experiencing very severe drought and food insecurity.

The weather-related disasters will worsen for decades until measures taken pursuant to the Paris Agreement succeed in stabilizing the climate ecosystem. Meanwhile we have work to do to support adaptation to what is already happening and to reduce existing disaster risks – and the most vulnerable communities and countries require a great deal of international support.

Risk-informed development therefore must be inclusive of climate action, and take into account the impact of rapid urbanization with its resulting significant concentrations of populations, services, governance institutions, and infrastructure often put at particular risk of major storms and seismic events.

UNDP’s work spans support for implementation of both the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

•    We have a $2.8 billion climate change portfolio, spanning adaptation and mitigation action. We worked to support many countries to prepare their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to climate action for the Paris climate change conference, and now are supporting turning those into concrete plans.

•    Major funding for climate action partnerships between UNDP and countries is coming through from the Green Climate Fund, and the Global Environment Facility remains a major supporter of our climate-related work. From Tuvalu to the Maldives, Malawi, and more, major GCF grants are building resilience to adverse climate events.

•    During the time frame of the Hyogo Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, UNDP programmed around $2 billion for work in that area. Now we seek to operationalize the successor Sendai Framework with our “5-10-50” Partnership Initiative for Risk-informed Development, aiming to increase disaster risk resilience in five critical areas over ten years in fifty countries.

•    Our work has a strong gender lens, as women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change and to disasters. Yet, all too often they are excluded from the design and implementation of relevant policies. It is vital to bring women’s voices into the planning for early warning systems, disaster responses, and long-term recovery.

•    We are pleased to welcome representatives of the insurance sector to these dialogues in Istanbul because of the vital roles the sector plays in risk-informed development and recovery. The business model for insurance mutualizes and spreads risk. Insurers are well placed to help assess how to mitigate around multidimensional risks and shocks. Insurance can also serve as a fast-disbursing mechanism helping those hit by disasters to build back better and reduce risks and costs for the long term.

It’s not surprising therefore that the critical role of insurance is recognized in the new global development architecture. For example:

•    Agenda 2030 explicitly acknowledges insurance as a critical risk management tool.

•    The Sendai Framework calls for the promotion of disaster risk transfer and insurance mechanisms.

•    The Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development called for the development of domestic capital markets—particularly long-term bond and insurance markets to meet longer term financing needs.

•    The Paris Climate Agreement called for increased co-operation and facilitation of risk insurance facilities, climate risk pooling, and other insurance solutions.

Notwithstanding the benefits of insurance, many continue to be uninsured: only $27 billion out of the $90 billion in worldwide economic losses recorded in 2015 were insured. This “protection gap” between insured and uninsured assets is even greater for less wealthy countries and communities. For example:

•    In Nepal, the April 2015 earthquake resulted in US$4.8 billion of economic losses, of which only $210 million of damages were insured.

•    Typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines in 2013 cost between $6.5 and $14.5 billion, of which only $300-$700 million was insured.

To address these challenges UNDP co-established and co-chairs the Insurance Development Forum, a new public-private partnership between the United Nations, the World Bank, and the insurance industry. The forum aims to reduce risks and provide affordable and accessible insurance coverage to the most vulnerable.

3.    Enhancing resilience in the midst of crisis:

In recent years, protracted crises and the massive forced displacement of people has challenged the international community’s capacity to respond. In the case of the Syria crisis, which has had such severe spill over impacts on Turkey and other nations near and far, it became apparent that a relief-only approach would not suffice. UNDP began providing emergency development solutions aimed at enhancing resilience by creating and restoring livelihoods and restoring basic services, working at the local level in Syria and with municipalities and governments in neighbouring countries.

This work has gone to scale, including in Syria despite the immensely difficult security conditions there. Last year alone, UNDP programming in Syria reached more than 2.5 million people directly and indirectly. Access to basic services was improved and tens of thousands of jobs were created. Some 268,000 tons of solid waste and debris were removed from sites of major war damage as in Homs, Maaloula, and Aleppo.

In Lebanon, delivery of basic services was improved in 126 vulnerable municipalities last year, benefiting more than one million people. Another 28,000 Lebanese and Syrians, many of them women and youth, benefited from job creation and support for small scale entrepreneurship.

In Jordan, UNDP and partners have worked in fifteen municipalities affected by the Syrian crisis to improve waste management, install solar electricity panels, and rebuild public buildings and spaces. Some 16,000 people have benefited from employment training, support for business development, and job creation. Around 700 beneficiaries have established their own microbusinesses with UNDP support.

In Turkey, UNDP, with donor support, has been supporting municipalities with large Syrian refugee populations to expand and improve waste management services. Opportunities for vocational and Turkish language training have been provided to Syrian refugees, along with support for creating jobs and livelihoods for both refugees and members of local host communities. Turkey was a first mover in the sub-region in allowing refugees to seek work legally.

These approaches to development in the midst of crisis have also been adopted by UNDP in Libya, Iraq, and Yemen. Stabilization facilities have been set up in Libya and Iraq, and have attracted significant funding.

In the case of Iraq, as IS is removed from towns and cities, the facility can be drawn on to support restoration of the local economy and services and remove the debris of war. The sooner local markets can operate again, the faster is the return to self-reliance for those whose lives have been severely disrupted.

In Libya, the Stabilization Facility created by UNDP is funding infrastructure rehabilitation, including of schools and hospitals. In the midst of recent major power outages, including in Tripoli and Benghazi, UNDP brought in essential equipment such as ambulances and backup power systems to prevent the collapse of health services. Nine hospitals servicing approximately half a million people have benefited from that support.

In Yemen, close to eight million people benefited directly and indirectly from our resilience work last year. It included renovation of community infrastructure, solid waste and debris removal, and providing critical assets like solar water pumps and greenhouses to boost agricultural production. This work is now being scaled up through a major partnership with the World Bank -- $300 million in IDA finance are being channelled through UNDP to support cash-for-work programmes, public services, and infrastructure repair.


There are many challenges to sustainable development – our world does not provide a stable and level playing field on which to build progress. We need to acknowledge all the risks, navigate around them, endeavour to address root causes where we can – and adapt where we can’t.

UNDP believes that if development isn’t risk-informed, it cannot be sustainable development. And where risks materialise, as with the outbreak of severe conflict or with major weather and seismic disasters, we will be there to enhance the resilience of people to cope and protect development gains to the best extent we can.

I wish you all stimulating and productive sessions at these dialogues, and thank you all for participating.


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