Sima Bahous: Remarks at the Regional United Nations Development Group Meeting

Apr 9, 2013

Remarks of Sima Bahous, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of Regional Bureau for Arab States, United Nations Development Programme Chair of Regional United Nations Development Group for the Arab States  and Middle East and North Africa Region

Welcoming session, Regional UNDGM meeting

Intercontinental Hotel

Amman, Jordan
9 April 2013

Welcome again and very happy to see all — new as well as familiar faces.

We have some exciting days ahead of us with our important meeting today followed by the Arab Development Forum tomorrow and Thursday, under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania.  Thank you all for your contributions to this event. I am pleased that we are doing this together as a Regional UNDG to strengthen our common understanding of priorities.  

The past two-plus years have brought about the most significant wave of change that this region has seen in decades. People in many countries across the region voiced demands for a new course, and change indeed has come in different ways. Some countries have embarked upon the beginnings of transitions; others have initiated new types of reform.

These breakthroughs bring much to celebrate.

However we are also seeing that change does not come easily.

The initial euphoria felt in many countries has given way to concern. As old assumptions have been swept away, new questions have come to the fore. Economies have stagnated and social indicators fallen back.  In many cases, vulnerabilities have increased. New crises have emerged. New patterns of violence have arisen. Migration patterns have been altered; numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons are on the rise. Humanitarian needs are spiraling. Women, youth and children are dying; health is deteriorating; educations are interrupted; food supplies cut short. The entire region is experiencing a moment of profound instability, a complex mix of transformative opportunity and deep risk.

The changes that are underway in the region overlap remarkably with our areas of work as a UNDG. Our work together has never been more relevant. The time is now to step up our effectiveness, including through forging enhanced harmonization among the development, humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts of the UN System.

The UNDG Strategic Priorities 2013-2016 can help facilitate a step change in the quality and impact of UN support at the country level at a time when all of our countries need it most.

Our overarching goal will be, to quote Helen, to “deliver effective support to countries for sustainable, equitable and accountable development under national ownership and leadership.” To this effect, the UNDG will focus on the four substantive areas that Helen just mentioned.

Given the regional context it is very relevant to us that one of the priorities is crisis and post-crisis transition, and balancing our response to development and humanitarian needs. Securing and building the peace, strengthening social cohesion, and supporting the development of representative institutions while laying the groundwork for recovery will require sustained attention and engagement, agility and coordination.

Another priority is MDG Achievement. Last week the world celebrated its countdown to the last 1000 days of the MDG framework, with the development community renewing its commitment to push on MDG achievement efforts during this important final stretch. However in our region progress has been lackluster – and projections show that many countries have been moving backwards since 2010. Earlier this week at our UNDP Cluster Meeting I encouraged the UNDP Resident Representatives to prioritize this where possible, in their capacity as Resident Coordinators, in particular by ramping up the number of countries we have signed on to the MDGs Acceleration Framework. I would appreciate your support in this regard.

At the same time the UNDG is coming together to facilitate consultations towards a post-2015 agenda that is ambitious but practical, that builds on the results of the MDGs while improving on that approach and perhaps adopting a broader lens. In our region we are supporting consultations in nine countries, and I am very pleased with the sense of ownership and engagement we are seeing among the stakeholders we are bringing together. I invite you to join me in urging our UNCTs to make sure their national consultations are not a one-off affair, but rather the beginning of a new process of more active and frequent dialogue on priorities for the future. No matter what comes after post-2015, our region will benefit from upgrading its culture of consultation and finding new paths to bring civil society, governments and other stakeholders to develop joint visions and, over time, strengthen our bonds of trust.

Also, as we regionalize the priorities I look forward to our being creative and dedicated in giving salience to gender and youth issues. The situation in the region requires us to come together and take a fresh look at how we support the protection and the empowerment of these two groups – which together are the great majority of the people we serve.

For this reason I am looking forward very much to our chance to meet tomorrow with Ahmad Alhindawi, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. I know Ahmad and I assure you that his perspectives will be relevant and refreshing.

Dear Colleagues, we are already doing much within these areas, but it will be important for us to further discuss and elaborate on how we will take these priorities forward at the coming years, including through:

  • Encouraging the results-based culture in our UNCTs and within our regional work to ensure that we are demonstrating value for money in the current context of financial constraint.
  • Ensuring the functioning of the RC system as participatory and built on mutual buy-in on agreed UNCT activities.
  • Accelerating simplification and harmonization of business practices including through consolidation common support services at the country and regional levels.
  • Fostering effective partnerships especially through South-South avenues and engaging constructively with countries in our region who are engaging more in international cooperation.

Over the next two years we will have at least 6 new UNDAFs through which we can make leaps towards these goals. Our crisis, post-crisis and transition settings will also provide opportunities for us to upgrade the harmonization of the operational activities of the UN System.

I look to you to brainstorm a bit here today in light of what we have heard from Helen and what we will hear from the RCs.  We will try with the time here today to give some direction to our work, and, if needed, I suggest that we meet again in June for a more dedicated session on our work-plan for the coming two years (2013-2014).

Without further delay I open the floor and am eager to hear your views on taking our priorities forward at the regional level.

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