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“Encouraging progress”

Sunday, November 20th, 2011
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Interview with the head of UNDP, Helen Clark

Helen Clark, Head of UNDPHelen Clark, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chair of the UN Development Group will visit Nepal this week. Clark, who is a former prime minister of New Zealand, will be the first global head of UNDP to visit Nepal since 1986. Accompanying Clark will be Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, who is a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. On the eve of her visit, Clark spoke to Nepali Times about the country’s prospects in meeting the targets for the Millennium Development Goals.

Nepali Times: With only two years to go for the MDG target date, how would you rate the chances of developing countries to meet the goals?

Helen Clark: The target date is 2015, so we still have four years. Over the past decade, notable progress has been made on each individual MDG, including in many least developed countries and under very challenging circumstances. Some 1.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water since 1990; under-five child mortality decreased from 12.4 million deaths annually in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009, and enrollment in primary education in developing countries had exceeded 88 per cent by 2007. This kind of success shows that the MDGs can be achieved.

Business as usual, however, won’t get the world all the way to achieve the MDG targets. The right mix of policies, targeted technical assistance, institutional capacity, adequate funding, and strong political commitment are necessary to accelerate progress. UNDP supports country-led development based on inclusive growth strategies which benefit the poorest and most vulnerable. We advocate for the empowerment of women, investment in basic services such as education and health, scaled up coverage of social protection schemes, and expanded energy access. With these types of action, MDG achievement can be accelerated over the next four years.

How does Nepal’s performance compare with the others?

Despite political and economic challenges, Nepal has made MDG progress over the past decade. According to Nepal’s 2010 MDG progress report, Nepal is on track to achieve most targets, with a few exceptions, if the current trends in progress continue. Achievements in reducing child mortality and improving maternal health are particularly encouraging. Poverty has gone down significantly, and Nepal is close to reaching the 2015 MDG poverty target. Nepal has already achieved gender parity in primary school enrollments, but the gender gap remains high at secondary and tertiary education levels. As a former political leader in my own country, I am particularly happy to note that one-third of the seats in the Constituent Assembly are now held by women.

Nepal has had the foresight to integrate the MDGs into its national
development strategies, as reflected in its Three Year Plan, and I have confidence that Nepal will continue its MDG progress.

A lot of the problems in the developing world need long-term structural and governance solutions, but the needs are so immediate. Does that frustrate you a bit?

Development is a long term process. UNDP works for decades in countries to support them building the capacity to lift human development. Some face greater challenges than others, but all can succeed. It is important to align meeting short term needs with the longer term direction established, in other words, each step taken should be in support of the goals to be achieved over time.

UN staff were among the thousands who died in the Haiti earthquake last year. What lessons has the UN learnt about disaster preparedness and response from that event?

Haiti was a tragic reminder of the importance of building resilience to disaster. Disaster risk reduction measures, ensuring that humanitarian response systems are ready, and imagining the unimaginable all need to be undertaken. Effective governance is needed to achieve this, of the kind which ensures building codes are in place and enforced, land use plans are carefully thought through, and creates a clear sense of duty of care among elected and appointed public officials. International support is needed for both the humanitarian and development aspects of this work.

Any particular effect this has had in helping Nepal prepare for a disaster that one day is sure to come?

Given the high earthquake risk and other hazards in Nepal, UNDP has been working with the government on disaster risk reduction for many years. A recent result of that work was the establishment with the Home Ministry of a National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC). It functions as the co-ordination, communication, and management hub for disaster response in Nepal. The Centre is on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has the facilities needed to co-ordinate emergency response operations.

We already see concrete results: when an earthquake struck the east of Nepal recently, the national and district level emergency operation centres reacted within one hour. That was a huge improvement compared to the level of preparedness only one year ago. UNDP and a range of partners also helped the government develop a new National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management which was approved in 2009. It signals an important shift in policy from focusing mainly on relief and response to a more balanced approach to risk reduction overall. The key challenge now is to implement this ambitious new strategy with a sense of urgency.

Nepal has been well supported by the international community in these efforts. A Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium came into being in 2009 under government leadership, bringing together the UN system, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the Red Cross Movement, the European Commission, and the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Australia, to accelerate and expand risk reduction measures in Nepal. The Consortium has already raised more than sixty million dollars for school and hospital retrofitting, emergency preparedness, building code enforcement, community preparedness, and many other measures urgently needed in Nepal. The Consortium is unique in the way it has brought together emergency and long-term development actors and governments and non-governmental organisations. It is seen as a model of how to get organised to tackle disaster risk more effectively in countries like Nepal.

And on a personal note, how has it been for you to move from being a elected head of government to being an international civil servant?

I brought leadership experience, and skills, from my time as Prime Minister in New Zealand to the United Nations Development Programme. The position of Administrator of UNDP is also a leadership position, on a global platform.

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One Response to ““Encouraging progress””

  1. Kunda Dixit wrote 4 Months ago in Kathmandu: “Earthquakes don’t kill people, weak houses and bad planning do” | Eslkevin's Blog on Says:

    […] to solve present crises, successive governments have been too distracted to even push through aDisaster Risk Management Act that would pave the way for a Commission to coordinate response and preparedness. Decision-making […]

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