As prepared for delivery.
I would like to thank the Regional Bureau for Arab States and the UNDP Morocco Country Office for organizing this meeting and for the opportunity to closely engage with UNDP colleagues working across the Arab States region.
I hope that this will be an immensely productive meeting where you can share your skills and experience with one another. It will also be an opportunity to get to know one another better so that you can be in good position to see one another as even closer partners and source of new knowledge that you can call upon in the work ahead in your respective duty stations.
I also congratulate those of you who are new as Resident Representatives or Deputies.
I would like to a extend a special welcome to those of you who are now joining UNDP from other agencies.
I am very much looking forward to your active participation in the discussions ahead.
As we are all very aware, 2018 was a year of extended reflection on how to make the development system more effective --acting upon the call from the UN Secretary-General and Member States to be more effective and deliver better results for the people who we serve.
Now we are moving on to the next task, which is how we work more effectively at the regional and country levels in order to support more development impact on the ground.
As we do so my call to you is to remember and to be mindful that as one of the world’s largest development organizations we can implement or support tangible, positive changes across our mandate and Strategic Plan and in line with the needs of the States and communities we serve.
I would look at both the challenges as well as the many opportunities in the region.
I would also like to touch upon my vision for UNDP-- in particular next generation UNDP and how we can respond to a rapidly changing world. I would also like to have a discussion on what we can do better to help support countries to move towards sustainable development and emerge from a cycle of crisis to one of the promises of development fulfilled.
Global Development Dynamics and Perspectives on the Region
Of course, the Arab States, like any other region, do not exist in a vacuum.
Therefore, allow me to begin by sharing a few brief reflections on the “big-picture” development dynamics that I see unfolding in the world, with a view to seeing throughout the day how these trends are present in the Arab States region and what we can do to better support countries to address the related challenges and seize related opportunities.
Firstly, I would like to touch upon the ongoing interaction between development and conflict.
As you know the last years have seen the scourge of war and conflict back to the global landscape.
Conflicts have tripled since 2010. Last year, conflicts caused nearly 70 million people to be forced from their homes - a record high. Pathways to Peace, a World Bank and United Nations (UN) report found that by the year 2030, over halfof the world’s population will be living in countries affected by high levels of violence. This figure is expected to rise to 80 per cent by 2035 unless global action is taken.
Many of these conflicts that have emanated from are within this region. Therefore, it is a vital area for our continued engagement.
And these conflicts are setting back development by decades in some instances. The steepest decline in the Human Development Index ranking last year was in countries suffering protracted conflict: the Syrian Arab Republic fell 27 places, followed by Libya, which fell 26 places, and Yemen, which fell 20 places. According to the UNDP-commissioned report released in April, the ongoing conflict in Yemen has already reversed human development by 21 years. Syria has in fact seen the steepest GDP collapse of any country since Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War.
Globally, these may be the conflicts that receive the most attention and feature the involvement of the widest range of actors. However, we must look more deeply and the underlying causes of such fragility.
The Need to Address “Development Failures”
My view and one that I havebeen developing along with many colleagues is that the drivers of these conflicts are often development failures.
These drivers have very often to do with inequality. It is not only poverty -- it can also be injustice and inequality, discrimination, a lack of a sense of fairness, as well as the difficulties of institutions to keep-up when facing new challenges and growing needs of populations.
These are the grounds into which the seeds of dissent are planted and take root, and when there are not proper means of addressing these issues the result too often and increasingly often is violent conflict.
Conflict preys upon countries that are already facing poverty -- where institutions are fragile and resources, few. Too often, conflict then entrenches poverty even deeper -- propelling communities, institutions and countries into a vicious cycle.
The first is UNDP’s ongoing and truly remarkable evolution as an organization that knows all there is to know about working and delivering in the midst of conflict or crisis.
Programmatically, operationally and strategically, this is an area in which we are learning a great deal, and indeed be it in the Stabilization work underway in Iraq and Libya, our support for nationwide community resilience in countries like Syria and Yemen, or our leadership along with UNCHR of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Programme in countries neighbouring Syria, a great deal of the contributions UNDP is making on the ground and also at the global policy level in terms of the humanitarian-development nexus are being made here in the Arab States region.
A second substantive implication is that these dynamics must reinforce our positioning of development at the centre of what societies must and do aspire to.
Security-first approaches are clearly not working, clearly not delivering on peace and prosperity.
If you compare the amount of resources put into development with the amount put into military and security budgets, you will see clearly that not enough is being invested in development.
My sense is that the world underestimates and chronically under invests in development as a way of averting crises and conflicts, as well as a means of fostering early recovery and seeking to ensure that once peace is achieved, it can be sustained.
Across the United Nations System, I believe we are increasingly making the case that development is central in all contexts including in those where there are large humanitarian needs.
We are getting better at advocating for investments in development including as part of the humanitarian-development nexus.
However, to expand our impact we will have to be ever more forceful in this articulation, and this is among my priorities as Administrator and one in which we will need your strong engagement.
A similar case can be made with respect to climate change. The region will have to face up to this multifaceted challenge.
Climate hazards and stressors are increasingly leading to protracted displacement, complex disasters and contributing to prolonged conflicts. In fragile and conflict affected areas, climate change is not only a risk multiplier but a key risk factor in and of itself.
A new study has even found that up nearly 190 million people could be displaced and become “climate refugees” due to such changes.Look at the fact that climate-induced water shortages will be a source of conflict. Some experts are predicting that because of global warming, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers will “disappear this century,” making conflict very likely in the Euphrates River Basin which is home to 23 million people.
However, we must keep in mind that these risks are greatest and the impacts of climate hazards and stressors worse where institutions and communities are unable to manage the stress and absorb the shock of hazardous events.
It is through institutional strengthening and development progress that these risks will become more manageable at the country-level and supporting institutions to advance on this regard must be a priority for development system including UNDP.
UNDP engages in much more to build countries’ resilience and adapt to climate change. Look for instance at UNDP’s s technical assistance to Morocco’s Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment to integrate mitigation and adaption measures that meet national targets for reduced emissions. UNDP also supports the Government in scaling-up efforts to reduce greenhouse gases using adapted technologies across key economic sectors, including agriculture, transport, logistics and building.
As a more extreme example, consider the truly case of Somalia, where despite tremendous challenges with support from UNDP and other partners the country has advanced in strengthening national institutions in ways that enabled it, to take one important example, to avert famine last time it threatened. A drought like which occurred in Somalia in 2017 does not in itself cause famine. Governance failures, insecurity, violence, amongst other issues, combined with drought, create famine. That is why a holistic approach drawingupon the specialized expertise of the UN and other partners is required more than ever.
However, it is clear that the world is struggling to resolve or even contain drivers of fragility in a rapidly changing world.
Indeed, the international community resorts more times than not to short-term security and humanitarian responses.
While these are vital in international crisis management, they can often only provide temporary solutions for local populations, and rarely address the underlying causes.
It is essential to realise that it is always much cheaper to invest in a country before signs of crisis emerge. That includes investing in building state institutions, the rule of law, infrastructure and supporting conditions to create jobs amongst a wide range of other areas. Such development was aptly described by the visionary Indian professor Amartya Sen as ‘freedom’. That is, if you eradicate poverty, you give people greater opportunity and, you give people greater freedom to realize their objectives.
Take for instance, the Fire Department of New York City has a budget of over US $2.3 billion each year. That is less than the UN Secretary-General has for the entire budget of the UN Secretariat which he runs to help put out the world’s own ‘fires’ and help achieve peace.
At UNDP, we are privileged to have a mandate to cut across by combining immediate crisis response with prevention and long-term development aimed at transformational change.
This includes the importance of tackling the structural causes of fragility from the outset, working hand-in-hand with national authorities to build stable state institutions based on good governance principles and which uphold the rule of law; foster conditions to create jobs; and help to build states which are resilient to shocks, amongst a range of other areas.
UNDP’s on-the-ground experience has also shown that prevention, preparedness and integrated efforts to address root causes of fragility more effective to sustain peace and security.
It is clear that global development and security are inextricably linked. Thus, the role of development in the next decade need needs to place an enhanced focus on preventionas crises become more complex and more protracted.
To this end, UNDP employs a two-pronged approach. As demonstrated by our engagement in Yemen, UNDP’s first priority is to give the people we work with essential, immediate help, hope and confidence for the future.
Secondly, our work in 170 countries revolves around support the kind of institutions needed to create equitable, sustainable, and peaceful communities to prevent conflict and instability.
The Future: Achieving Impact and Seizing Opportunities
While the re-emergence of instability mushrooms into a range of complex and interrelated challenges, there are also many new opportunities that we must seize upon with our partners. In this respect, next generation UNDP is designed to be more flexible.
And as we heard yesterday during the opening session, UNDP is supporting very important work in countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Yemen, a wide variety of development settings.
There are many positive developments underway across the region in which UNDP is involved either analytically, programmatically or both.
Yet in this region there are also important dynamics which are perhaps not as much in the international headlines, and not as much the subject of international pledging conferences, but about which we must be clear, and we must do all we can to make more visible, and retain and even grow as a key element of our work.
And this is the simple fact that there is much in the Arab States to celebrate --many positive trends with which we are engaged, can engage -- and this is an equally important part of our work.
One of the trends I notice in discussions that I’ve had on programming across this region is the vital importance of work at the sub-national, local and community levels, be it in countries facing crises where we are working directly with communities nationwide, or be it in countries in development situations where the role of local authorities in driving development is key and UNDP is supporting closely.
I also see an important focus on issues around governance, especially in support for public administration reform, modernization and digitization, decentralization as well as strong work on anti-corruption across the region.
All of these issues are central for holding societies together, and for planning and advancing towards the SDGs. They are also inextricably interlinked – progress in one will unlock advances in many others. That is why it is so important for us to more and more offer integrated solutions, in line with the call in the context of UN Reform for UNDP to fulfill an integrator function in support of countries to their efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda.
When preparing for this visit, I had a chance to review a very interesting research paper on citizenship in the Arab Countries, carried out under the rubric of the well-known Arab Human Development Report undertaking --and it is a refreshing read.
No doubt, the paper outlines challenges with which you are all familiar, especially that the region faces many development challenges that are intensified by fragility, instability, and conflict, and that there are close links between violent conflict and a range of factors of inequality and exclusion.
However, the paper makes the case that this picture, dark indeed, is not completely indicative of what may happen in the future.
Indeed, there are strong reasons to believe that the region is on its way to more inclusive and sustainable development.
Firstly, the youth factor.
What we see across the region is that young people in their great numbers are calling for more and more opportunities for civic engagement and inclusive development. This is a generation that is not apathetic. It is a generation which clearly wants to build a better future.
I had the opportunity to meet with young people from the Youth Leadership Programme in the Arab States in New York, during the ECOSOC Youth Forum. Itwas heartening to hear about their development initiatives and to understand that UNDP is helping them make a difference for the better.
Secondly, we see advances in women’s rights.
For all the complex challenges facing women, and disproportionately, especially in conflict settings, we do see the region making advances against discriminatory laws, for example with respect to inheritance; enacting legislation against domestic violence; introducing new penalties for sexual harassment; extending paid maternal leave --and today we see stronger representation of women in parliament and in decision-making positions.
We see several countries embarking on the long but essential pathway to make social policy more equitable, sustainable and inclusive.
We see important efforts to embrace sustainability, not least in examples right here in Morocco, such as the recently announced plans to build a solar-power facility in the High Atlas Mountains, as part of plans to achieve 52 per centof energy from renewables by 2030.
We see governments taking important steps in their strategies to take the fight against violent extremism far beyond security measures – and addressing its root causes.
Moreover, we see partners making moves on disability inclusion, which is not only a fundamental right but is also central to achieving the SDGs. I am pleased that the Secretary-General last week launched a new UN Disability Inclusion Strategy-- it is a priority for me to see UNDP respond strongly to the call and scale-up our support for progress on this front. I know that UNDP in this region has undertaken several programmes related to persons with disabilities forward. I look forward to an even greater focus in our work going forward.
We must also help countries in their development pathways by helping them to seize upon new opportunities, not least the rapid technological development that is now happening. Indeed, some of the most modern and advanced innovations in smartphone technology and electronic payments were launched in developing countries. These so-called ‘leapfrogging’ technologies improve people’s daily lives in a wide range of areas including education, healthcare or agriculture.
UNDP is committed to support such technology and innovation as a key driver to help countries eradicate poverty and build stability. Look at the example ofwhere UNDP supported the development of e-government platforms in Estonia and Lithuania in the 1990s. They are now not only an exportable commodity, but a tangible means to foster more functional and more transparent societies. There is much potential for similar success in this region.
In this respect, we are also excited about the upcoming launch of 60 Accelerator Labs across 78 countries. Itis an exciting initiative which aims to find local, innovative solutions that are working in local communities and quickly scale them up. I am particularly excited to see how this unfolds across the Arab States, where there is so much innovation taking place which has the potential to contribute to addressing major structural development challenges such as youth unemployment and unequal access to services.
Countries themselves are taking a lead role in plotting out their development trajectory.
Morocco itself a leader and a model in terms of bringing new development thinking to the center of development planning processes. To take one notable example, the country’s National Human Development Initiative and National Observatory on Human Development, under the initiative of His Majesty King Mohamed VI, have been pioneers in bringing evidence to bear in designing and adapting policies aimed at inclusiveness and sustainability, especially supporting the most vulnerable.
UNDP has been honored to accompany national institutions in this regard, and we are excited as well about supporting what comes next as development thinking continues to evolve in the context of national and local plans.
As mentioned previously, the bitter lesson that we have learned is that the world is not becoming safer -- and the fact of the matter is that we have to deal with this situation in our daily work.
One which is very important and which I think about a great deal as Administrator is staff security and staff well-being. In this respect, UNDP’s People for 2030 Strategyaims to ensure that our people work in a safe and healthy environment, while ensuring UNDP’s duty of care towards them.
In the wider sense, UNDP will continue to offer its extensive and specialized and tailored expertise tosupport countries as they move along their unique development pathway.
At UNDP, we are truly privileged to have been able to contribute to some of these positive dynamics.
The support is provided at the request of national counterparts. This means that local needs take a lead role and support to them is tailored to measure. This principle also helps to ensure that the political environment enables transformative change.
We have proven that when we are called upon, we are ready.
And years from now, when we realize that this region is on a stronger footing than it was today, both in the countries now mired in conflict, as well as those currently in development situations. I believe that you will be proud to have been a part of it.
You have answered not only the call of our government partners to find the best ways to support the Arab States region.
Your work and dedication to the people who we serveis deeply appreciated.
In many ways, your work of a UN staff member is more than a job -- it is a vocation.
You are making a concrete difference to the lives of peopleevery dayas the region moves towards the brighter future that is starting to come into view.