UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
I am very glad to join this discussion about how we can mobilize more resources for the world’s most disadvantaged nations.
Without question, the continued global financial crisis has had an immense impact on LDCs – and the poor within all nations.
It’s a vicious cycle: As resources become more limited, the needs of the most disadvantaged grow – which in turn intensifies the need for more resources.
So it is clear that our first and most pressing priority must be to do everything we can to increase the flow of resources to LDCs. UNICEF is proud to be spending some 65% of our regular resources in this group of countries.
But much as we’d like to believe otherwise, it is likely that we will be facing these funding challenges for some years to come.
So we must not only be innovative in our approach to increasing aid flows. We must also be innovative in how we use those funds, finding new ways to do more with the resources we have – achieving not only more money for development, but also more development for the money.
This means we must focus investment in areas that provide the greatest return – and the most sustainable results. We believe that means a deeper focus on the most vulnerable people … and children are always the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.
This is true everywhere, but it is especially true in LDCs, where around half of the population is under 18. These nations are the richest in children, but the most challenged in terms of child survival and development, with the highest rates of child mortality and the poorest access to basic social services. And, despite significant global progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals – from reducing poverty to decreasing child mortality – we are actually seeing disparities widen between the richest and poorest children in many of these nations.
For many years, and to a large degree today, development experts have believed that attacking these disparities – focusing on the poorest communities – would be nice. But too expensive and too difficult. UNICEF decided to question that conventional wisdom. Our findings are presented in the study “Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals” – which is available in the room, if you are interested.
In the study we examined this proposition: Since the needs are greatest among the most disadvantaged, the results of work there are greatest, as well.
For example, the same immunization programme will save more lives in an area of greater disease than in one with less illness. So the question is: Do these greater results outweigh the additional costs of reaching the most disadvantaged children?
What we found was as surprising as it is significant. Our modelling shows that such an equity-focused strategy – focusing investment on the most disadvantaged – is more, not less, cost-effective. It moves us more quickly to MDG 4 – reducing under-5 mortality. In fact, in low-income, high mortality countries, every additional $1 million invested in an equity-focused approach can save 40 to 60% more lives than the current path.
In short, we found that an equity approach is not only right in principle. It is right in practice. This was good news – and big news in a time of financial constraint.
This is not to suggest that an equity approach to development can alone solve the challenges facing LDCs today. Nor do I mean to simplify a complex discussion. Clearly there are many critical issues and strategies to consider: changes in ODA policies among donor nations ... the role remittances play in development … or innovative financing techniques such as transaction taxes, to mention just a few.
Indeed, an equity approach and innovative financing work together – for example, in our immunization efforts. Children living in the most disadvantaged areas are those most in need of life-saving vaccines. And innovative financing helps us reach them at the least cost.
By partnering with UNITAID, for example, UNICEF has worked with governments to buy and distribute more than a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of malaria and HIV commodities in 18 countries. And through Advanced Market Commitments, UNICEF has worked with industry to research, develop and guarantee an affordable supply of vaccines, which can save over 5 million lives by 2030.
Traditional development priorities – for example, improving infrastructure, or supporting agriculture – are and will always be fundamental to our overall approach. But we also must recognize that investments in the social sector are of equal importance.
In fact, investment in human capital provides a great long-term return on investment. No nation has ever become strong – or remained strong without it. Investment in the social sector provides more than a “social floor.” It creates an elevator of future progress.
Let me give you just a few examples of its value.
Consider education. We know education yields cascading benefits for all communities, improving families’ living standards and helping to break the cycle of poverty. This is especially true for girls. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages significantly. And educated girls are less likely to marry young or bear children too early – both key factors perpetuating poverty.
Another example – and a critically important one – is nutrition, the subject of a panel that UNICEF hosted this morning, together with Nepal, the United States and WFP.
We know that children deprived of key nutrients in that critical period of pregnancy through the second year of life are at great risk of stunting – a condition that blights their physical and cognitive capacities irreversibly. They learn less, and they will earn less as adults. In 7 countries, 50 percent or more of all children under five suffer from this terrible – and preventable –condition. In most other LDCs the figure is at least a third.
In 2008, the Copenhagen Consensus of leading development experts ranked providing young children with micronutrients as the most cost-effective way to advance global welfare. Can we afford not to invest in the learning and earning capacities of our citizens?
Another example is child protection. Countries that invested in strong social protection systems before the global crisis are weathering it better than those that did not. While other factors play a role in this resilience, it’s clear that strategic investment targeting the poorest communities has made a big difference.
We saw this in South Africa, where it is estimated that child poverty would have been 9 percentage points higher without the government’s innovative child support grant programme.
We see it in Malawi, where social cash transfer programmes that target the most disadvantaged communities enable families not only to provide their children with basic necessities – like food – but also to send them to school. On a recent visit there, I met a grandmother who was raising her grandchildren after they lost their parents to AIDS. She was using her cash transfers to buy food in local markets and to hire men to help cultivate her field, not only helping her grandchildren but also having a multiplier effect in her community.
These are just two examples – there are many more. And we must build on them.
It has been said that in times of challenge and change we must act anew. This requires first that we think anew. That really is the subject of this panel – how we can mobilize more resources and use those we have, in new, more innovative ways.
So, let me leave you with two thoughts:
First, working in the poorest areas is more cost effective than we have previously thought – at a time when the resource pinch means cost-effective results are more important than ever.
And second, social sector investment is fundamental to the future strength of LDCs – and thus to the health of the global economy in which we all have such a stake.
And now I am greatly looking forward to hearing and learning from my fellow discussants and all of you.