Helen Clark: Remarks at the Opening of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States Cluster Meeting

Apr 7, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Speech at the Opening of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States Cluster Meeting
Amman, Jordan, 7 April 2013.

It is a pleasure once again to attend the annual cluster meeting of UN Resident Coordinators and UNDP Resident Representatives, Deputy Resident Representatives, Country Directors and Deputy Country Directors from across the Arab States region.

I thank the Kingdom of Jordan for its hospitality in hosting this regional meeting, and also thank the RC/RR Costanza Farina for Jordan, Country Director Zena Ali Ahmad, and UNDP’s Jordan Country Office for their work to ensure its success.

Let me also acknowledge the very hard work of all UNDP staff gathered here, particularly over the past two years, as the tumultuous events have occurred in the region. These have not been easy times, and sadly the loss of life and displacement of people continues to this day. Our host, Jordan, is itself accepting hundreds of thousands of Syrians seeking refuge from the violence in their country.

On Tuesday, as I transited through Dubai Airport, I scanned a local paper for up to date news from the region. Just that one issue conveyed the magnitude of events, with headlines reporting that:

  • March was the deadliest month yet in the Syrian conflict with an estimated 6000 deaths;
  • March was also the deadliest month in Iraq since last August, raising fears of a surge in violence in the lead up to the elections;
  • a top aide of the Libya Prime Minister was abducted in a Tripoli suburb, and;
  • Cairo’s international airport is to be partially closed at night due to fewer incoming flights and to save energy – highlighting the difficult state of the economy in Egypt.

What is clear beyond doubt is that the winds of change have not quickly ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity. Some countries are still engulfed in armed conflict; others experience high levels of violence, including spikes in gender-based and sexual violence. Some economies are decidedly smaller than when transitions began, dashing the hopes of those who looked for more economic opportunity, not less.

So, these are very trying and even deadly times for many. But there are also signs of hope. Rocky as some of the transitions have been, more of the regions peoples have been able to participate in shaping their nation’s future – through dialogue on new constitutions, participation in political parties and open elections, and through vibrant civil society and greater freedom of expression.

And, one piece of good news in the otherwise rather gloomy edition of The Gulf Today which I read in Dubai; it was reported that Sudan is to release all political prisoners – a move welcomed by the opposition alliance there as a step by the government towards genuine dialogue.

What does tend to get to get overlooked in the international news bulletins is the ongoing reform programmes of countries like our host, Jordan. The new government sworn here just eight days ago has ambitious plans for reforms in governance, political development, decentralization, poverty reduction, and improvement in basic services. I wish Jordan every success with its reform programme and in leading the way on peaceful transitions which support human development.

Here in Jordan, as throughout the region, the skills and expertise UNDP can muster can be of considerable assistance. Many of you have been fully engaged in mobilizing the support countries need during these times of upheaval and transition. We need to be on top of our game, making sure that we can respond quickly and flexibly to national priorities. At this cluster meeting your new Regional Director, Sima Bahous, and new Deputy Regional Director, Mourad Whaba, will be outlining their thinking on how to strengthen our efforts in the region, consistent with the new UNDP Strategic Plan being worked on for presentation to our Executive Board in June.

I have no doubt that the new Plan will relate well to the development challenges across the Arab States region. Its overarching goal will be to support countries to achieve the simultaneous eradication of extreme poverty and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion, using a sustainable human development approach.

It will underline the importance of UNDP’s work on inclusive and effective democratic governance systems and on building resilience to shocks including through disaster risk reduction and comprehensive approaches to peace-building and state building in post-conflict and transition settings.

The new plan is being drawn up at a time when Official Development Assistance is in decline – which as implications not only for developing countries, but also for development organisations like ours. Many of our donors find themselves in very difficult economic circumstances. That has affected our core funding in particular, although non-core funding flows remain very substantial. What is clear that we must design business models which reflect the reality that we are now – and are likely to continue to be – a largely non-core funded organization, and which finds further significant efficiencies in the way we work.

We must also continue to diversify our funding sources, and seek more engagement with South-South and triangular co-operation. I hope that we will be able to lift the scale of our partnerships with states in this region which play an active role in development co-operation.

Let me now make some comments on two major exercises UNDP is engaged in – accelerating progress on the MDGs and the design of the post-2015 global development agenda.

I have just come from the UN Chief Executives Board spring meeting in Madrid where we kicked off a campaign to make the most of the last 1000 days until 31 December 2015 – the date for achieving most MDGs and their targets.

The kick off was not any ordinary launch – the Secretary-General himself donned sports gear and kicked off a ball at the home stadium of Madrid’s iconic Real Madrid football team.

We also devoted most of yesterday at the CEB to bringing all UN agency, funds, and programmes principals up to date on with the MDG acceleration work spearheaded by UNDP in 2010, endorsed by the whole UN Development Group, and now operating in 46 countries.

It is very positive that the World Bank has come behind this effort, led by its new President Jim Kim. At the CEB our RC/RRs from Ghana, Niger, and Tanzania were joined by the World Bank Country Directors to give joint presentations on how our acceleration efforts were working and how to push them further. The resources of the Bank, coupled with the expertise of UN Country Teams, together with national leadership, ownership, and wide participation, including of other development partners, is a powerful combination.

Here in the Arab States region, we have seen particular progress toward achieving MDG2 on education, including in gender parity in access to schooling. But the region is lagging behind on some important targets, particularly those related to combating hunger, improving access to water and sanitation, women’s empowerment, and reducing maternal and child mortality.

Moreover, progress has been uneven across sub-regions and countries, with progress in the region’s LDCs and conflict-affected countries lagging behind the most. The volatility in some countries is likely to be reversing previously hard-won development gains. I hope there can be more countries in this region engaged in the MDG Acceleration effort.

How well the world does on the MDGs will play a part in building credibility around the next iteration of the global development agenda.

As you know UNDP, our sister Agencies, Funds, and Programmes and UNDESA have been facilitating post-2015 consultations around the world, including here in Jordan and through social media. Our preliminary analysis of what people are saying through these consultations is as follows:

  • MDG issues still resonate as essential building blocks of human development. This applies across the goals and across low income and middle income countries. There has also been a clear acknowledgement that there is unfinished business when it comes to MDG achievement.
  • But limitations to existing MDGs have also been acknowledged. Importantly, MDGs tend to count things -  quantity over quality – so for instance:
    •  we not only need children in school, but need to know that they are learning – quality matters;
    • it is not just a question of having people employed, but also whether it is decent work, and whether it pays enough to sustain a decent living, and;
    • it is not enough to have improved drinking water resources, it is also important that the water is actually safe enough to drink.

So, focus on quality is something which has strongly emerged from the consultations so far.

  • Another area of feedback is that marginalized groups feel that they are rendered invisible by MDG aggregate numbers. Here we are talking about, for example, indigenous people, those who are disabled, minorities, and women. This theme of inequalities surfaces across the thematic consultations, and there is a strong call for better statistics and disaggregation of data.
  • Consultations have shown high awareness of interconnections between goals. For instance, linking food security and nutrition to maternal and child health, as well as to the state of the environment and the level of education.
  • There is no question that the current growth-led model of development is being questioned, with growing awareness that it depletes natural resources and results in growing inequalities.

Environmental sustainability was bit of an add-on to the MDGs. There is now awareness in the consultations that the health of the environment underpins human development, and that the consensus from Rio on the interlinkages between poverty eradication, equality and sustainability need to be reflected in the new agenda.

It is therefore critical that developmental and environmental actors engage in a serious conversation to ensure that development and environmental protection are not seen as opposing agendas, but rather as highly related and mutually reinforcing ones. The ultimate goal should be to find a way to transit towards a green and inclusive economy which safeguards ecosystems.

But now come some other complexities:

  • The consultations so far point towards wanting a measurable agenda – the beauty of the MDGs was their measurability and clarity. However, at the same time, people all over the world are also asking for more areas to be covered in the new agenda. Choices will have to be made.
  • Feedback from citizens is that honest and responsive government matters a great deal, as do human rights and the rule of law. The challenge will be how to take these important objectives in their own right and enablers of development into account in a new global agenda.
  • There appears to be a desire for a universal agenda – applying to countries rich and poor. The question is how to design that while maintaining a focus on the poor, the hungry and on addressing inequalities, is a challenge.

The analysis so far of the consultations is preliminary. It is based on 35 national consultations, and the thematic consultations are not complete.

At the CEB I emphasized that it is very important that all this information and analysis is placed before the Open Working Group of the General Assembly, and thereby put at the service of  Member States.

For, in the end, this post-2015 agenda will be determined by negotiation by Member States, following the report of the Open Working Group which is tasked with designing the SDGs. The UN system’s role is to service this group and provide advice as requested.

This process has a long way to run as the Open Working Group is not required to report until September 2014. It is currently expected that a high level event of some kind will be held in the spring of 2015 to formalize an agreement on the new global development agenda. It will be important for the UN Task Team to engage closely with the process throughout.

I hope that this update has been helpful. With these few words, I wish you all a very successful cluster meeting.

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