27 Jul 2014
Sunday, 27 July 2014 | National Press Club
Presentation by Neal Walker, UN Resident Coordinator
A very good morning to all our friends from the media
Thank you for inviting me to address the newly elected committee of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Bangladesh.
- As you know, Bangladesh became a full and proud member of UN on 17 September 1974. 2014 is the 40th Anniversary year of UN-Bangladesh partnership -- a partnership that is built on mutual trust and respect. I am excited to share some aspects of this longstanding engagement today.
- Let me briefly introduce the United Nations to you. As you know, the search for stable peace after the world war was the chief inspiration for establishing the UN. The Charter of the United Nations was signed on 26 June 1945, in San Francisco and came into force on 24 October 1945.
- The charter represents the core values of modern society, peace, human rights, gender equity, rule of law and economic and social progress. The Charter, the collective resolve of “the people of the United Nations” reflects profound principles that are still relevant today.
- One of the key objectives of the UN was to “save succeeding generations from the plague of war” and it was the UN Security Council’s responsibility to achieve this objective.
- Another principle role of the UN is to “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. Multiple UN agencies are created to support member states to attain such social progress and better standards of life.
- In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes clear entitlement of all citizens to basic rights across a broad spectrum of areas.
- From its creation, Bangladesh accepted these principles as a powerful guiding force both for its national development and for its contribution to international peace, security and development. It is fair to state that Bangladesh has been a great partner of the UN, in the best sense of the word.
Bangladesh and world peace
- Bangladesh joined the efforts with the UN Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIMOG) in 1988. That was the year when UN Peacekeeping Operation received global recognition and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
- For sure, almost 30 years of contributing to international peacekeeping reflects Bangladesh’s strong commitment to world peace.
- Bangladeshi peacekeepers are ‘world class.’ As my colleague, the head of UN’s peacekeeping operation, USG Harve Ladsous recently said, Bangladeshi peacekeepers “know the job and they performed their duties with heart and courage.”
- Bangladesh is among the top troops contributor to the UN. As of this month, there are 8,841 Bangladesh soldiers and officers serving the UN in various conflict zones across the world.
- Bangladeshi peacekeepers serving with the peration in te d’ voire received UN Peace Award in 2013, followed by UN Peacekeeping Medals to Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Liberia.
- 118 Bangladeshis made ultimate sacrifice in serving the world peace while in duty in 53 missions in 39 countries during the last three decades. I would like to express my condolences to their loved ones, while recognizing their contributions to the work of achieving peace and security in a complex world.
- This unique partnership between Bangladesh and the UN in protecting peace around the world synchronizes with the eloquent words of the then Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the General Assembly, “Bangladesh’s struggle symbolizes the universal struggle for peace and justice”.
- Perhaps it is Bangladesh’s own experience of building a nation out of ashes that has inspired the country to actively participate across a spectrum of UN Peacekeeping activities. In recognition of Bangladesh’s active role, Bangladesh was elected chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission in 2012 and served as the vice-chair in 2013.
Partnership for Social progress in Bangladesh and across the world
- Bangladesh was poor before the war of liberation. It suffered massive destruction during the war, and a subsequent famine and a horrific Cyclone (Bhola) that killed half a million people. There is no doubt that Bangladesh independence was not only hard won, but the results left the country, the people, at the very bottom of world statistics, by any measure. What is truly incredible to the outsider is how the country has pulled itself up by the hard work of its people. The country’s food production has increased by 3.5 times, exports have gone up by 85 times and the credit rating is among the top in the Asia region.
- One key element of the country’s success can be linked with the commitment to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Millennium Declaration signed by leaders of 189 countries, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2000 introduced these Goals to be attained by 2015. It is fair to say that all Governments in Bangladesh since 1990 -- BNP, AL or CTG, even before the MDG’s were signed, have been committed to the goals reflected therein.
- The pro-people MDGs helped country’s around the world to maintain steady focus on issues that are most important to the people like eliminating hunger, ensuring access to employment, education, and health and achieving environmental sustainability. While ODA has played a crucial role, it is also true that success in Bangladesh has come as a result of ongoing Government investment in social services and a proactive NGO sector. Together, these three elements ODA, government investment, and innovative NGOs, have enabled Bangladesh to lead the world in innovative development, even while maintaining equity in economic growth.
- In Bangladesh, the MDGs have been integrated into several key planning and strategy documents, including the Sixth Five Year Plan (2011-2015) and the Perspective Plan (2010-2021), and are widely used as a benchmark for progress.
- This focused attention to attain MDGs helped Bangladesh to attain remarkable progress. The country is on track to achieve MDGs in the areas of poverty reduction, reducing the prevalence of underweight children, increasing enrolment at primary schools, lowering the infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, improving immunization coverage and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases.
- The latest data from the 2010 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) show that the incidence of poverty has declined at an annual rate of 2.47 percent in Bangladesh during 1992-2010 against the MDG target of 2.12 percent.
- There are a few important areas like environment sustainability goals and sub-goals such as nutrition and full employment, which are not on track. However, overall Bangladesh’s journey towards attaining the MDGs puts it at the top of the class. Achievements towards MDG’s in Bangladesh are better than any other least developed country, tied with Laos. This analysis was actually done by CPD, and it is a very credible study. Bangladeshi’s can take legitimate pride that performance towards MDG’s has been even better than several comparator countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan.
- The UN Team in Bangladesh takes pride in being a trusted partner in this fascinating journey of Bangladesh with our support in achieving many of the milestones. Few of the noteworthy ones are:
- Instrumental role of UN in bringing the country back to democracy in 2008 -- working with the Election Commission to deliver almost an impossible task of developing a state-of-the-art photo voter roll in less than 18 months.
- Bangladesh is widely recognized for its innovative way of dealing with cyclones and landslides. The UN supported ‘ omprehensive Disaster Management Programme’ was at the forefront of such innovation and helped the country to change from a reactive ‘relief’ and response mentality to a pro-active disaster management paradigm. We helped develop tools for and capacities of both state and non-state actors to plan and respond to disasters to keep the impact to the minimum.
- Our partnership continues to help Bangladesh address the challenge of rapid urbanization and to make the best out of this emerging trend. Working in 23 large cities and reaching about 3 million urban poor, our development interventions helped slums to reduce multidimensional poverty from 41.7% to 28.9% in just 4 years, quite frankly, an incredible achievement.
- Our support in the post-conflict region of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, through the project, “Promotion of Development and Confidence Building in the Chittagong Hill Tracts” in all 25 Upazila and 118 Union Parishads of the 3 hill districts. Our initiatives supports the Government of Bangladesh, institutions of the CHT, and local communities to pursue accelerated, sustainable socio-economic development and poverty reduction based on principles of local participation, and decentralized development.
- Speaking personally, I find the global and national debate on formulating a paradigm for development to replace the MDG’s to be one of the most exciting things have worked on in 30 years of development. The MDG’s made a H GE difference in people’s lives, and they were created in a back-room by a few intellectuals. Imagine the power of a development paradigm that reflects the desires of citizens, backed by rigorous intellectual analysis! This- is really interesting work, and it is far better, from my perspective, to be engaged in the discussion from within Bangladesh, than at the global level. Why is that?
- Bangladesh has a potentially powerful voice in the development of the next paradigm. This comes from several facts. t is the world’s most populous LD , so the paradigm must reflect national requirements. Bangladesh has had real success in achieving the MDG’s, giving it legitimacy in the global debate. The Prime Minister herself, was there for signature of the MD, and has the political will to make a real contribution to the debate. So far, I believe Bangladesh has made its voice heard as the ‘leader of the LDCs’ and has demonstrated substantive capacity to steer some of the key development discourses within the post-2015 development agenda.
- Following a robust process of national and local level consultations, the government of Bangladesh with support from the UN submitted its Post-2015 Development Agenda proposal to UN HQ in June 2013. The proposal includes 11 goals, 58 targets and 241 indicators. And I can assure you, because of the strategic nature of UN-Bangladesh partnership and the credibility that Bangladesh has earned, Bangladesh’s proposal has drawn keen interest not only from the LDCs but also from the developed countries.
- Just as an aside, the SG required all UNCT’s around the world to prepare their own proposal on the relevant elements of the post 2015 development framework. This was additional to reports that were prepared by Governments with support from UN. He did this to ensure he had an objective set of UN views on what is required, as we can imagine some governments in the world are not keen to truly reflect the will of their citizens, in any global compact. I’m proud to say the UNCT here in Bangladesh worked closely with our Government counterparts. We had some really stimulating debates, we didn’t always agree at the outset, but in the end, the alignment between the two reports was extraordinary. It was a very special moment in our partnership.
- In addition to the post-2015 dialogue, Bangladesh is a key opinion leader in many more UN sponsored discussions including those on climate change. Bangladesh played a pivotal role in promoting consensus in Mexico. I am sure Bangladesh will be fully engaged and take advantage of this UN platform in the next phase of discussions.
- Furthermore, Bangladesh is taking the lead to improve south-south cooperation and promote innovation in development in the discussion on ‘Development Effectiveness’.
- As a leader in women’s empowerment and gender equality, Bangladesh along with a few liked-minded countries lead many of the UN discussions -- the recent participation of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister in the Girl Summit is but one example of such engagement.
- Bangladesh’s interest and intellectual ability to proactively engage in all these UN processes made Bangladesh a well reputed representative of various groups and platforms and qualify for many leadership positions in the UN. Bangladesh is a frequent member of the ‘Executive Committee’ of UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS, UNICEF, WFP, UNWOMEN and such UN agencies. Bangladesh is recently elected as the deputy member of the ILO governing body for 2014-2017 term.
- I can go on and on with more examples of the strong Bangladesh-UN partnership, but I don’t think we have the time. Better that I conclude with a few priorities that I see for Bangladesh to become a resilient middle-income nation by 2021-- a goal declared by the government.
- Ensuring nutrition: In Bangladesh, seven million children under the age of 5 (41% of children under 5) are chronically undernourished and one in four mothers are undernourished, including a high proportion of adolescent girls. Whereas, we know that good nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life is the key to its future. Every $1 spent on improving nutrition can have a $30 return on investment.
- Managing the rural-urban migration to address the concerns of urban poverty is crucial for Bangladesh. The urban population of Bangladesh has grown from 1.9 million in 1950 to 46.1 million in 2010, jumping from just 4.3 per cent of the total population to 28.1 per cent in 60 years. The rate of urbanization (about 4%) is higher than the rate of poverty reduction (1.7%) i.e. -- the number of poor urban dwellers is increasing. If this continues, it would endanger social cohesion and add to environmental and man-made disasters.
- Universal social protection system needs immediate attention. Universal provision of support is clearly linked with greater poverty reduction, greater redistribution and lower inequality. There is good work going on in the cabinet to finalize a social protection strategy, and I sincerely hope it gets passed in the form that is required for it to be successful at maintaining the Bangladeshi tradition of growth -- but growth with EQUITY, SUSTAINABILITY and real POVERTY REDUCTION.
- Another significant challenge is making Bangladesh’s progress resilient to both natural and man-made shocks. Besides the impact of climate change, the bottom line of vulnerability is human capability. Therefore, Bangladesh needs to concentrate on improving human capabilities. I would personally add to the concept of capabilities, that the “attitude” of a community, of a nation, regarding how they help and support one-another is vital in resilience. This is sometimes referred to as “solidarity” or “social cohesion” or “communal harmony”, with slightly different nuances in each case. In short, to build resilience, we must strengthen people’s capabilities as well as build an attitude of community and national solidarity.
- I cannot list challenges without mentioning the need to develop an inclusive democracy that would allow the two leading parties to compete on a level playing field and that would allow Bangladeshi voters the electoral choices they want to have. What Bangladesh witnessed in 2013 serves only to strengthen radical and/or conservative religious groups, it distorts dialogue, which should have been focused on the political platforms of the two leading parties, instead of on CTG – YES!! Or CTG – NO!! This is a problem which only Bangladeshi’s can solve.
- It would be unfair to draw the curtain with challenges. Rather I would like to highlight the assets that Bangladesh has to attain the objective of a resilient and prosperous country.
- Bangladesh has valuable knowledge and experience in absorbing shocks be it natural disasters or be it economic crisis in the west, and bouncing back strongly. Bangladesh solidarity and mutual support in crisis is simply amazing! This has helped this country to rebound after major disasters. Solidarity, volunteerism and collective action remain assets that are worth retaining -- but it takes effort, tender-loving care. These assets cannot be taken for granted but must be promoted through investments, education and recognition of those who exhibit such characteristics.
- Role of the state is another asset. Successive Bangladeshi government has shown strong commitment towards inclusive growth and poverty reduction and building human capabilities. The strong commitment of the current government to develop a comprehensive social protection strategy offers a tremendous opportunity for the country. The strategy is guided by a vision, and I quote “an inclusive social security system for all deserving Bangladeshis that effectively tackles and prevents poverty and inequality and contributes to broader human development, employment and economic growth”.
- The Bangladeshi youth is the most vibrant asset. There is a demographic dividend from a proportionally large share of the population in productive age, which will remain an opportunity for the coming 20-30 years. However, it could be a liability if Government is unable to create enough employment for the youth of Bangladesh.
- Having said my part, I will now be happy to hear your views and respond to questions on these topics.