Sima Sami Bahous is the Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Sima Bahous: The Conference of Social Affairs Ministers of the League of Arab States on MDG's
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First, I would like to thank you for inviting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to attend this important meeting, which addresses the Millennium Development Goals. I would also like to express my deep pleasure to be here with you in my new capacity, but with a tireless commitment to human development and prosperity in the Arab world. Allow me to convey to you the greetings of Ms. Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, who is looking forward to the recommendations of this Conference. I would like to assert the readiness of UNDP and the Regional Office for Arab States, which I have the honour to head, to continue the partnership and work with you, and provide all possible support to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in the Arab region.
Moreover, let me extend my sincere gratitude to the Council of Arab Social Affairs Ministers, which took the initiative to organize this important meeting pursuant to the resolutions of the Arab Economic, Social, and Development Summit.
The Secretary-General of the League, H.E. Dr. Nabil Elaraby, honoured us, during the holding of the General Assembly of the United Nations, with a visit to the headquarters of UNDP where he met with Ms. Helen Clark. During this meeting, the partnership and cooperation between the League of Arab States and our organization have been renewed and expanded to new levels; to ultimately serve our objectives in the Arab region in various development areas. In this regard, a cooperation agreement was signed within a new framework and vision for cooperation between both organizations were developed to cope with regional and international changes including various areas of collaboration, in which we aspire together to achieve joint achievements. First and foremost, of course, are the Millennium Development Goals, which are the subject of our meeting today.
First, I would like to stress the importance of the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations upgrading Palestine to a “non-member observer state”. On this occasion, I congratulate the Palestinian people and their leadership for this important achievement, which we all hope will set the grounds for the beginning of a fair settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict that guarantees the rights of the Palestinian people to freedom and self-determination and the establishment of their independent State. The conflicts, past and present, in the Arab region were and still are a major impediment to human development in the Arab world, and this is clearly shown from the paper devoted to Palestine in for today’s meeting. Therefore, the solution to these conflicts will contribute significantly to re-directing Arab efforts and resources towards addressing the challenges of development and the poverty eradication.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you are aware, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that followed the Millennium Declaration in 2000 were one of the major landmarks of the development strategies adopted over the past decade. Within the framework of these objectives, a system of cooperation among community actors was developed to bring forth a common vision for development with the ultimate goal of eradicating poverty in all its dimensions - including several aspects, such as income, nutrition, health, and women's empowerment. The goals were set in a clear and accurate manner, allowing the measurement of the extent of progress in achieving each objective. The Millennium Development Goals provided a clear vision for those who aspire to live in a better and more equitable world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Where do the Arab States stand today in terms of human development process, in which the MDGs serve as key indicators to assess our progress?
Evidently, we may enumerate several indicators that highlight the progress achieved in the past two decades in many areas, such as reducing extreme poverty, providing basic education for all, and reducing infant mortality. However, a closer look shows that the progress achieved is very slow, unequal, and not sufficient to meet many of the goals that had been set. The most important challenges still facing the Arab region can be summarized as follows:
First, despite limited success in reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, overall, we have not succeeded in reducing the level of poverty, vulnerability, and inequality. The economic growth that has been generally achieved in the Arab region has often been unbalanced within and among countries, benefiting some areas, sectors, and specific geographic areas, while other groups remained outside the process of growth and development. As a result, regional inequality has been exacerbated in most of our countries, and the gap has widened between rural and urban areas, and between cities and suburbs. In recent years, rising food prices have aggravated the problems of poverty and malnutrition, not onlyin the least developed Arab countries, but also in some middle-income Arab countries.
Second, the availability of decent work today is our biggest challenge. This can be clearly seen through unemployment rates, which exceed those in all developing regions, low rates of economic participation, the growing proportion of disguised unemployment, vulnerable labour in informal and unregulated sectors. Youth unemployment and exclusion from the labour market, especially among the educated, is forever the biggest and most pressing challenge.
Third, despite significant progress in closing the gender gap in the field of education, the Arab countries have not made a notable progress towards gender equality in many areas. Most indicative is the marginal representation of women in our political institutions and their continued marginalization in the labour market. The high standard of education among women today, who represent more than 60 percent of university graduates in most Arab countries, has not been accompanied by a significant improvement of their economic participation, which is already low, and is still among the lowest economic participation rates in the whole world. We must all work resolutely at this critical stage that the Arab region is passing through to push for women’s empowerment as one of the issues that should remain a top development priority. In this respect, we must proceed in our programmes and projects by preserve the achievements and move forward despite the constraints.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In addition to the above, we are also facing other major challenges that must be addressed, such as the challenge of good governance, particularly in building institutions based on participation and subject to social, political, and economic accountability mechanisms; the reshaping of economic policies to achieve equitable and sustainable economic development based on investment in productive and high added-value activities, the creation of opportunities for decent work for young people; the challenge of developing social policies that lay the foundations of social development though promoting human potentials and strengthening social cohesion based on balanced regional development and ensuring social justice and equality among citizens, especially between men and women; and finally the challenge of mainstreaming the management and exploitation of our natural resources, particularly water, arable land, and energy, especially in light of the growing climatic and environmental risks that threaten us in the short and long terms.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These challenges are not cause for pessimism, but they require hard work. We all know that we are passing through critical moments in the history of the Arab region. We are required to rise to the level of our opportunities and challenges. The protests, uprisings, and revolutions staged by youths and others that swept across several Arab countries have made human and equitable economic development an urgent and pressing issue that leaves us no with no other option but to succeed. And we can succeed together. If mobilized and well-managed, the human, natural and all resources at hand will lay the grounds for achieving not only rapid progress, but also most of the MDGs by 2015. The most important of these resources and capacities are the young Arabs who stood up for freedom, dignity, and social justice. If we respond positively to their aspirations, they will be able to participate effectively and contribute positively to the achievement of our development objectives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to emphasize the need to give top priority to speeding up progress in achieving the MDGs within the set deadline. In addition, it is necessary to work out a post-2015 Development Framework.
For this purpose, UNDP has developed a special framework for action to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs. This framework is one of the many important tools that have been developed with the rest of United Nations agencies, to make of the MDGs a success story. The framework for action has been designed to assist states in identifying obstacles that hinder progress towards achieving the MDGs and the priority actions to accelerate progress through consultations involving many parties in each country. This framework for action has already been adopted in 36 countries, and it has proved evident that countries can adjust their paths and progress rapidly towards achieving the goals.
The development of a post-2015 Development Agenda will not be easy. The world has gone through many significant changes since 2000. Governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, private institutions, and citizens in all countries also wish to have a say in the development of the next framework for action.
The agreement on a common vision on the future framework for action is expected to take some time. As many of you know, the UN Secretary-General has asked a High-level Committee consisting of several prominent figures to provide advice on the next development framework. The members of this committee are expected to submit their report to the Secretary-General by the end of May 2013. Besides, the Rio Conference, held in June of this year, has set up an Open-Ended Working Group that addresses the objectives of sustainable development, and this Group will soon begin its work.
In this respect, I would like to note that there is a growing consensus on the need for a common framework that sets the issue of poverty reduction, in all its dimensions, a top priority, and focuses at the same time on the issues of sustainable development and theemerging challenges, rather than develop two separate and competing frameworks for action.
For this purpose, the UNDP, in collaboration with other UN development agencies, is currently working towards developing programmes of work for consultation that focus on the post-2015 Development Framework. The results of these consultations, which will involve individuals and groups in all parts of the world, will guide the work of the High-level Committee and the Open-Ended Working Group.
These consultations have already started in many countries, including the Arab countries, and I am confident that the outcome of this meeting will contribute to enriching this consultation process. Therefore, it is important that the Arab countries voice their view to the world and contribute productively to the drafting of the next development programme to be adopted by the countries of the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to emphasize that the UN is keen on working in a coherent and consistent manner to help developing countries contribute to the drafting of the post-2015 agenda. In the Arab region, we, at UNDP, have developed a framework for consultation with all United Nations agencies working in the field of development, made available to all countries.
At the same time, we will support national consultations in several Arab countries on the post-2015 Work Programme. We hope to involve all countries in this process, and we would like to extend this cooperation regionally to develop a regional Arab vision that would complement national frameworks. I suggest, in this regard, that UNDP and the League of Arab States jointly hold a series of consultations to be agreed upon between both partners.
In conclusion, I look forward solicit your input and recommendations. I would like to congratulate you once again and extend my sincere gratitude for kindly inviting UNDP to participate in this very important meeting, and emphasize once again our full readiness to provide the necessary support for the Arab countries at both the national and regional levels to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and to give an impetus to the Arab participation in the formulation of the post-2015 Work Programme.
May God’s Peace, Mercy and Blessings be with you.
Speech in Arabic