Helen Clark: Remarks at the Arab Development Forum

Apr 10, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

10 April 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Speech at the Arab Development Forum, second regional consultation on the post-2015 global development agenda

Amman, Jordan,

I am pleased to be able to join you today for this formal opening session of the Arab Development Forum.

My thanks go to the Government of Jordan and Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah for their partnership in bringing together this diverse group of stakeholders from across the Arab world for dialogue on the Post-2015 global development agenda. I wish to acknowledge and express our great appreciation of Her Majesty’s patronage and tireless efforts in supporting sustainable development in the region and worldwide, including as a member of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Post-2015.

As indicated by the title of the forum, Voices and Choices for the Development Agenda in the Arab States, this consultation seeks to bring perspectives from across the Arab States region to the post-2015 dialogue. It is one of a great many such events around the world, supported by the UN, which aims to engage citizens and leaders from all walks of life in the debate around what should follow the expiry of the MDG’s target date – just under 1,000 days away on 31 December 2015.

On the results and lessons learned from the MDGs

By offering measurable and time-bound goals, targets and indicators, the MDGs sought to convert the principles and ambitions of the Millennium Declaration of 2000 into action. They provided a unifying vision for development. They were clear, concise and measureable. That helped to bring a wide range of actors together around a common cause.

At the global level, we can certainly report progress – for example, on poverty reduction, on school enrollment - including towards gender parity in enrollment, on most of the health goals and on improved drinking water sources.

But there is still much unfinished business from the MDGs. The target of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger is unlikely to be met. The gender equality and empowerment goal, despite some progress, remains to be achieved, and the rate of decline of maternal mortality is slow. As well, aggregate figures of achievement at the global level tend to disguise the unequal progress made within and between countries. There will still be an estimated 1 billion people living in extreme poverty in 2015.

Here in the Arab States region, notable advances have been made in areas like education, but the region is lagging behind on some important targets, including those related to combating food security and hunger, improving access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and reducing child mortality.

The region’s Least Developed Countries have seen the least progress since 2000. Now the political volatility and conflicts of recent times have begun to reverse hard-won gains in other countries.

No doubt the credibility of a future global development agenda in this region will depend on whether development progress can be re-established across the region, on how the underlying challenges to MDG achievement are reflected in a post-2015 agenda, and on whether the agenda appears relevant to the region.

As we debate what should happen after 2015, resuming and accelerating progress on the MDGs by the 2015 target date must remain a top priority. The more achievement there is on the goals we’ve got, the more the credibility of setting global goals and targets will be enhanced.

UNDP and sister agencies in UN Country Teams have been rolling out an MDG Acceleration Framework with national partners. It is designed to help countries identify the bottlenecks standing in the way of MDG progress, and the priority actions which could remove them. Forty-six countries have been using this acceleration approach, including states in this region.

In a new important development, the World Bank has now thrown its weight behind this work. The combination of its resources with national ownership and leadership, wide stakeholder participation, and the UN’s development knowledge and expertise can be a powerful driver of progress on the MDGs.

As the post-2015 agenda is debated, we need honest and critical assessments of what made some MDGs and their targets work well, and not others. As well, over the past 12 years we have seen that there were important development challenges not included in the MDGs, and others which were less well understood, like the links between human development and the state of the environment. 

The last two years of turmoil in the Arab States region remind us that the desire for dignity, voice and participation ranks high for many alongside economic progress and social services. People want both decent work and strong voice in their societies. This speaks to the larger concept of human development, including the freedom to shape the life one leads.

The links between the three strands of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – also need to be better reflected in a renewed global agenda. That was highlighted by Rio+20 last June in its call for sustainable development goals. Environmental sustainability provides the basis for life on earth. We need to find pathways to human development within the boundaries set by nature.

On the post-2015 development agenda

As many of you know, the UN Secretary General asked a High-Level Panel of eminent people, including Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, to advise him on a future global development framework. The panel will report to the Secretary General by the end of May. As well, the UN General Assembly has established an Open Working Group on sustainable development goals, as requested by the outcome of Rio+20.

The UN system has geared up to inform and support these processes. It has facilitated:

  • National-level dialogues in more than 83 countries now, each involving a wide range of stakeholders. In the Arab States region, nine countries have conducted consultations: Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Yemen.

Last month UNDP provided technical assistance to a regional consultation here in Amman, also under the Patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania. The consultation brought together more than 60 experts and practitioners from 15 Arab States, and its findings provide a strong starting point for today’s forum. As well, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the Arab NGO Network for Development hosted a civil society consultation on post-2015 in Beirut.

  • Eleven major global consultations have been held on themes of critical importance to sustainable development. They have been hosted by member states and supported by UN agencies. These have ranged across areas covered in the MDGs – such as health, hunger, education and water – and beyond to energy, governance, conflict and development, and inequalities.
  •  There have also been extensive on-line global conversations associated with the consultations, and a survey on the UN’s My World website where people are voting on their priorities for the next development agenda.

Thus, this forum is part of a huge global conversation. If together we are seeking a framework that changes people’s lives for the better, people’s voices must be heard, and are being heard.

On the emerging views arising from the consultations

A preliminary report on the consultations to date was published in late March. It reveals the following broad themes:

  • The issues encompassed by the MDGs still resonate as essential building blocks for human development.  Whether it comes to poverty reduction, better health and education, or gender empowerment, the need to finish the unfinished business of the MDGs is high on peoples’ agendas. This view applies across low- and middle-income countries.
  • We are also hearing about how the MDGs could be improved, deepened and refined. There is a call for a focus on quality to supplement the quantitative approach of the MDGs. For example, people say that it’s not just the number of children in schools that matters, but also whether children are actually learning anything while they are there.

Last month’s regional workshop here in Amman conveyed a broad vision for education, as a vehicle both for advancing equality and for building the capacities of citizens to participate in their communities and compete in a globalized world.

  • The issue of inequality has come through strongly in all the consultations. Marginalized groups feel that they are rendered invisible by MDG aggregate numbers which do not take into account regional or social group disparities.

Thus there is a call both for better statistics and for disaggregation of data to enable policies to target the groups which are currently missing out on the progress their countries are making.

  • The consultations have also shown that there is acute awareness of the connections between sectors and MDGs, and they have called for integrated approaches and more coherent policies. Indeed this is essential for advancing sustainable development.
  • There is no question that the current growth-led model of development is being questioned, and that there is awareness that it depletes natural resources and results in growing inequalities. These concerns are also a reflection of the increasingly severe and costly climate-related disasters the world is experiencing. Drought, floods and other extreme weather events are stalling and even reversing human development progress. The price for development which pushes beyond environmental limits is very high.

Environmental sustainability was something of an add-on to the largely people-centered MDGs. Yet the health of the environment underpins human development. Equity and sustainability go hand in hand. The consensus from Rio+20 on the links between poverty eradication, equity and sustainability need to be reflected in the new global agenda.

It is critical now that development and environment actors engage to ensure that achieving human development and ecosystem integrity are not seen as opposite objectives, but rather as two sides of the same coin. The ultimate goal should be to find ways to transition towards green and inclusive economies which both lift human development and safeguard ecosystems.

At the same time as people are calling for keeping focus on the unfinished business of the MDGs, they are also demanding a more ambitious, universal and transformational development agenda which addresses existing imbalances and their root causes.

For example, a call to address structural constraints to job creation and decent work has been heard often in the consultations. It ranked as first priority in many countries in responses to the My World survey, including in the Arab States. It understandably ranked as a high priority among youth. This emphasis on jobs reflects not only the current global shortfall in decent work opportunities, but also desire for the dignity and self-esteem which is associated with decent work.

Overall, the consultations to date are pointing towards people wanting a measurable global development agenda – after all, the beauty of the MDGs was their measurability and clarity. Yet, at the same time, people are asking for more things to be covered in the new agenda. In the end choices will have to be made about what’s in and what’s out – if there is to be a new clear set of goals and targets around which we can all mobilize.

Feedback from citizens is that honest, responsive and accountable government and effective services matters a great deal. This has certainly been reflected in this region. Without accountability, equity and dignity, human development will not reach its full potential. Better governance, the rule of law, combating corruption and upholding human rights are all important enablers of development.


The UN is encouraging a highly participatory and inclusive approach to formulation of the post-2015 development agenda and shaping of sustainable development goals. It is vital that the voices of this region are heard in this process.

In the UN system, we will do all that we can to put the views expressed throughout the consultations before the General Assembly’s Open Working Group on SDGs, and before Member States as they negotiate what follows the MDGs.

I thank you all for your participation here today, which helps ensure that voices of this region are heard loud and clear on the shaping of our common future.

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