Remarks of Ms. Sima Bahous: RBC Regional Meeting / Country Directors

Apr 18, 2016

Sima Bahous
Chair, Regional United Nations Development Group for the Arab States, Middle East, and North Africa
Assistant Secretary General

Director, United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Arab States
World Food Programme (WFP)
RBC Regional Meeting / Country Directors
18 April, 2016
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I am delighted to join you at this World Food Programme Regional Meeting for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

My thanks go to His Excellency Amr Moussa, former Secretary- General of the League of Arab States, for his thought-provoking keynote address and inspiring vision.

I also thank Mr. Muhannad Hadi, Regional Director of the World Food Programme, for inviting me to this important meeting, as well as all of the colleagues who have joined us from across the region.

As Chair of the Regional UNDG for the Middle East, North Africa, and Arab States, effective inter-agency collaboration is a core priority for me, in particular to forge a stronger bond between humanitarian and development responses. I am pleased to share a few reflections that can help set the tone for your further discussion.

As we know too well, many countries in our region have in recent years been facing a new phase of crisis that has become increasingly violent, protracted, and deep-rooted.

This new wave of crisis comes also at a time when the overall international aid landscape, including the UN itself, is undergoing transformation, with important demands for effectiveness and efficiency.

In this context, the Regional UNDG in the Arab States Region, with support from partners, has done its utmost to respond to the needs of the region, while leveraging the comparative advantage of the development and humanitarian actors. This is the resilience agenda, which was first endorsed by the R/UNDG in 2014 as a response to the Syria crisis and has since been gaining traction to address other situations of protracted crisis.

The Resilience Agenda

The basic premise of the resilience agenda is that in order for our support to be sustainable and effective, we need to invest in the ability of people, communities and institutions to cope when they have to, recover when they can and sustain progress when they must.

This means that in the midst of crises, we need not only provide emergency relief – important, essential as that is. But we also have to support progress towards self-reliance, and livelihoods.

People and communities need access to protection, food, to water, and shelter, but they also need jobs, education, infrastructure, markets, and the ability to look to the future. This is particularly the case for the young people and women across this region that have been held back for so long and are now also paying the highest price amidst the crises in our region, or even becoming victims of the false appeal of violent extremists.

National and local institutions, for their part, must be able to not only provide for people’s immediate needs but also to deliver on the promise of development.

Therefore, the resilience approach calls on us to use to the fullest the synergies between humanitarian and development assistance, including through reforms to the aid architecture in the direction of multi-year, integrated and predictable financing. Secondly, we must respect the dignity and capabilities of the people we serve. Thirdly, we should reinforce – not replace – the capacities of local institutions and people themselves. Fourthly, we should seek new and inclusive partnerships, and mobilize the private sector to invest and bring its skills to finding local solutions. And finally, we must safeguard social cohesion, foster peaceful cooperation, and keep hope alive.

This change, which a short while ago may have seemed radical, is being proposed as the new way we do business, and will be a key feature of the discussions at next month’s World Humanitarian Summit, where the focus will be on how to shrink humanitarian needs, broaden the resource base, and improve delivery through a Grand Bargain on efficiency.

As such it is now time to fine tune the approach together and move to a fuller and shared implementation not only in relation to the Syria crisis but also in response to other protracted crises like Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan or beyond the region.

Agenda 2030

The resilience agenda is integral to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As you well know, the agenda calls upon all to leave no one behind. It aims to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs, to advance economic and social development, and environmental sustainability simultaneously, and to build peaceful and inclusive societies. It also recognizes clearly the link between peace, security, and sustainable development.

Broad coalitions around the SDGs are needed to take forward this agenda. Government commitment is vital, but insufficient on its own. Parliament and civil society must be engaged in meaningful ways, and the way in which business does business will have a big impact on whether development is inclusive and sustainable.

In the same vein, Agenda 2030 calls upon us to offer much more joined-up services across the pillars of the UN Charter and across our mandates. It calls on us to better use the humanitarian-development nexus to achieve gains for better joint work that makes a difference in people’s lives.

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda also coincides with an important round of negotiations on UN reform happening in multiple places. This round is unusual in nature with the convergence of voices on what should change in how we do our work. The discussions are informed by peacebuilding reviews, by the SG’s report for the World Humanitarian Summit, and by ECOSOC dialogues, and they are all saying the same thing: That old ways of doing business, and old structures are tired. And it is time for change.

At the heart of what Member States want, and this will likely be at the core of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) later this year, is that we need to be leaner and work more together as a means to be more effective and efficient.

As the regional UNDG we are taking important steps in this regard. And as Muhannad will recall, in early March we met, as a R/UNDG, in Cairo and agreed to take the 2030 Agenda and the discussions on UN reform as our cues to intensify our efforts for effective inter-agency partnerships.

We are also building important momentum with Member States for a strong start on implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the region. Just two weeks ago I joined Helen Clark in Cairo where she represented the UNDG at the first regional inter-ministerial conference on SDG implementation worldwide. Member States strongly welcomed our MAPS approach – focused on Mainstreaming, Acceleration, and Policy Support -- and also called upon us to act quickly to deliver the most coherent and coordinated support for implementation of the SDGs.

Later this week we will have a chance to build on this, convening civil society from across the region in Doha to discuss their important role in implementing the SDGs, following on the conference we held last year with the League of Arab States on Gender and the SDGs, in Cairo.

The way forward

As we move forward, the main task for us as the UNDG is how we implement Agenda 2030 in the midst of the deepest crises such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, as well as in countries like Jordan and Lebanon that are significantly impacted. I look forward to us in this region being the pioneers in supporting SDG-based development responses that factor in the resilience dimension very clearly and strongly.

This work has started and needs to be further nurtured, for example in Somalia which is now creating a SDG-based national development plan to address long-standing issues of displacement and development deficits. Egypt’s 2030 Vision is also fully aligned with the SDGs, and the Government of Tunisia is formulating its new plan with full integration of the SDGs to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and opportunities for young people, women and to address regional disparities.

It is also my expectation -- and that of the R/UNDG – that the resilience component of the UN response to the Syria crisis and neighboring countries will continue to grow. For example, as a follow-up action to the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference, UNDP and WFP are undertaking an assessment of employment and economic opportunities under the guidance of the UN Resident Coordinators, to further position the promotion of livelihoods and job creation as a cornerstone of resilience. In this respect, generating and sharing new ideas and knowledge – among countries in the region as well as the UN’s family – must remain a priority for all of us to achieve the SDGs, and to develop innovative solutions to complex situations.

Broadening the scope, we are also seeing that the lessons learned in Syria are starting to inform programming in other countries in protracted crisis. As a R/UNDG, we had initial discussions with the UNCT in Libya on the scaling-up of resilience programming as the country is looking to establish a national unity government. There will soon be an opportunity to exchange with the UNCT in Somalia on how the UN is coming together to tackle the development root causes of displacement as well as food security, moving away from food aid to food production, with a focus on agriculture, livestock and fisheries.

Also, in Yemen, UNDP and WFP are implementing a joint programme on rural resilience and collaborating within the Emergency Employment and Community Rehabilitation Cluster – I urge you to deepen this joint work and seek opportunities to expand it.

These are good examples to build on. The challenge and the opportunity is for us to be as clear as we can in meaningfully scale-up and expand this cooperation in support of a strong SDG implementation across the region. For too long many of us have thought that new agendas do not apply in crisis situations. In the SDGs era, we must see that the opposite is true.

Dear Colleagues, even in the midst of the numerous crises that are facing this region, I believe that the new agendas and our continued commitment to working more effectively together provide an historic opportunity to put development on a positive track for the future of the Arab States. Let us seize this chance and this challenge for all our countries and especially for the women and youth of this region whose leadership we will need in order to achieve the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda. .

Thank you again for the invitation to this important meeting, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of strengthened inter-agency partnership at the country level across the region.


UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Arab States 
Go to UNDP Global