NEW YORK, USA, 4 February 2011 – At a joint meeting of the Executive Boards of UNICEF and four other UN agencies, Executive Director Anthony Lake this morning called for a global commitment to reaching the poorest and most disadvantaged communities in order to reduce disparities and achieve the Millennium Development Goals – or MDGs – with equity.
|VIDEO: 4 February 2011 - UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake addresses a joint meeting of UN agency Executive Boards during a session on equity and the Millennium Development Goals. Watch in RealPlayer|
“The goals are the pathway to a better life for billions of people, so the stakes are huge,” said Mr. Lake. He added that child survival and development represent “the underlying imperative of the Millennium Declaration” – the document issued by world leaders in 2000 that forms the basis of the goals.
Overall progress has been made towards reaching the MDGs by their 2015 target date, Mr. Lake noted. But the goals are tracked by national averages that do not measure inequities within societies. “These averages are disguising moral failures,” he said.
|VIDEO: 4 February 2011 - United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark discusses development with equity at a joint meeting of UN agency Executive Boards. Watch in RealPlayer|
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark echoed Mr. Lake’s concerns. Ms. Clark pointed to “a disconnect between economic growth and human development” in many societies that are making overall progress but leaving behind the poorest of the poor. “GDP growth does not ensure equity,” she said. “An explicit focus on inequality is now required.”
‘The right thing to do’
Today’s session on equity and development – held at UN headquarters in New York – was the first time that the heads of five agencies participated in a joint meeting of Executive Boards. Besides Mr. Lake and Ms. Clark, the heads of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN-Women, and the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), were on hand to respond to questions from representatives of member states.
|UN Population Fund Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin (right) speaks at the joint UN Executive Board meeting as (from left) UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, the President of the UNICEF Executive Board, Ambassador Abulkalam Abdul Momen, and UNICEF Executive Board Secretary Nicolas Pron look on.|
“An equity focus requires UNICEF and all of us to support UN reform,” Mr. Lake said, calling the joint meeting “symbolic” of the need for collaborative efforts. “This approach requires integrated interventions,” he asserted.
Mr. Lake explained that UNICEF decided to emphasize equity following a careful analysis of worldwide disparities – notably, disparities in mortality among children under five years of age. The agency determined that targeting resources to the most vulnerable communities, and thereby closing gaps in development, would be the most cost-effective means of achieving the MDGs.
Even beyond the practical and strategic benefits of an equity-based approach, said Mr. Lake, “It is the right thing to do.”
Role of social protection
For her part, Ms. Clark of UNDP cited “slow and uneven” progress on many of the development goals, with gains failing to reach women and girls, poor and unemployed people, the disabled and other marginalized populations. She urged “investment in education and health to build human capital” and stressed the critical role of social protection programmes.
|UN-Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet speaks at the joint UN Executive Board meeting on equity and the Millennium Development Goals.|
Ms. Clark noted that such programmes promote equity by establishing a “floor” to keep vulnerable families out of extreme poverty and provide for their most essential health, nutrition and education needs.
“Equity considerations need to be central to this process,” she said.
The other agency heads at the joint meeting all expressed support for an equity focus on the MDGs.
UN-Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet stressed the problem of gender-based disparities in education. While the education gap between girls and boys has narrowed in most nations, she said, inequities persist among marginalized communities – even in regions that have made great strides, such as Latin America and the Caribbean.
|A delegate from Niger speaks during the joint UN Executive Board session in New York.|
“Women are essential in the achievement of the MDGs,” Ms. Bachelet said, reminding the delegates that educating girls is one of the most effective means of advancing development and reducing poverty.
‘Equity is essential’
UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin also stressed the importance of addressing gender inequities for the sake of the broader development agenda, as women and girls are especially vulnerable to poverty and exclusion. “Equity is essential to everything that we do,” he said.
WFP Deputy Executive Director Amir Abdulla similarly positioned equity as a key to development progress. “Hunger and food security are clearly an equity issue,” he said. The world’s poorest people, he added, “are depleting their assets, depleting their wealth, just to be able to feed themselves.”