Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Robert Piper to mark the 'Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty' at the President's Office-Shital Niwas

Oct 16, 2009

Statement delivered by UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Robert Piper to mark the 'Stand Up and Take Action Against Poverty' at the President's Office-Shital Niwas
October 16, 2009

Right Honourable President, Honourable Ministers, Honourable Constituent Assembly Members, Honourable Vice Chairman of the National Planning Commission, your Excellencies, friends and colleagues.

I am honoured to be among such a distinguished group gathered here at Shital Newas today to commemorate the Stand Up and Take Action Campaign. I stand here on behalf of the 22 UN agencies in Nepal and their 2,000 staff.

In the year 2000, another very distinguished group, the largest gathering of Heads of State, ever, reflected on the close of an old millennium and the opening of a new one at the Millennium Summit in New York. A key element in the Millennium Declaration that emerged despite the fact that Mankind has the resources and know-how to meet the world’s basic needs, going into a new Millennium, our record was far from satisfactory.

With the Millennium Declaration, developed and developing countries alike, pledged to achieve a number of ambitious Goals ‘ The Millennium Development Goals. Developed countries pledged resources, technology and improved market access. Governments of developing countries pledged to direct their own resources, and political capital towards achieving these Goals. The United Nations family was directed to support this effort and to help track progress.

Your Excellency,

With 1990 as the base-line, the 8 Goals provide a framework for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring all girls and boys complete primary school, promoting gender equality, improving the health of mothers and children, reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, protecting the environment, and creating a global partnership for development.

The goals were backed by 21 Targets. Hard numeric targets from which there is no place to hide between now and the deadline of 2015. The implicit agreement forged in 2000 around the MDGs was that these core issues of humanity and justice, of rights and peace, would be given the sustained attention they require. That they would somehow remain above the political fray.

Your Excellency,
For the last four years, around 17 October and the observance of the International Poverty Eradication Day, people from all walks of life have gathered to remind their leaders of their promises. Nearly 117 million people participated in The Stand Up and Take Action campaign
last year. An important entry in the record books. This year many millions more are joining us.

The mountain Nepal has to climb ‘ in the tradition of this country ‘ is much higher than most. Coinciding with the first Jana Andolan, Nepal’s progress towards the MDGs is in a sense a barometer of what democracy has delivered since those heady days of 1990. A useful reminder too that democracy needs to ‘deliver’ tangible results. And surely, it has. Since 1990, Nepal has recorded some tremendous progress against the 21 targets. Extreme poverty has almost halved, child mortality has been more than halved, the incidence of malaria and tuberculosis has steadily been declining and the proportion of people with sustainable access to improved drinking water has seen remarkable progress. In these areas, Nepal remains comfortably ‘on track’.

In other areas, the 2015 targets remain within reach, but not without a focused and sustained effort. One that remains consistent from one electoral cycle to another. Priority action needs to be taken if we want to ensure that children all over Nepal, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, that fewer mothers die from complications in child birth, that the spread of HIV is halted and reversed and that encroachment of forests for livelihoods are managed in such a way that there is no slowdown of improvements in forest cover and protected areas. Government must commit to the sustained effort needed to reach these goals. It is vital this effort be ‘protected’ from contemporary political debates.

The goal for which Nepal looks dangerously off-target is the hunger target. Every night, 3.4 million Nepalis go to bed hungry. Almost half of all children in Nepal under the age of five are malnourished, and 41% of all people in this country are undernourished. While some of today’s challenges may be temporary, there are also systemic issues that have to be tackled if we are to make any progress. These are not easy issues; they include land reform, investment in agriculture and irrigation, in research and development, as well as adaptation to climate change. Without addressing them, however, hunger will remain a major challenge for a large proportion of the population. We cannot let that happen.

Your Excellency,
The spirit of the second Jana Andolan also requires us to look behind the overall numbers to test the progress to date and to ask whether this progress has been shared reasonably equitably. This is Nepal’s self-imposed ‘MDG Plus’ agenda if you will. The reality is that when it comes to this ‘MDG Plus’ agenda, the picture is less positive. In fact, while some communities are already either well on-track to achieving the goals by 2015 or have even surpassed the targets, other groups are lagging seriously behind.

For example, while Nepal is generally on track to achieve the poverty reduction target,decline in poverty incidence has been much steeper in urban areas compared to rural areas. Similarly, if we disaggregate the achievements and consider caste and ethnicity, progress is significantly unequal among different groups. For Brahmin/Chhetri groups, poverty incidence has declined sharply over the last ten years. For Muslims, on the other hand, the numbers have hardly changed. Poverty levels among Muslims are higher today than they were for Brahmin/Chhetri groups more than a decade ago.

For goal number 4 on child mortality, for each 1000 Newar children that are born, 43 do not survive beyond their fifth birthday. For Dalit children, the figure is 95, or more than double.

Girls still have a higher mortality rate than boys. For Goal 5 on improving maternal health, overall, in Nepal, only 1 out of 5 women giving birth receives skilled attendance. For Dalit women, this number drops further down to only 1 out of 20 women. Astonishingly, every four hours, somewhere in Nepal, a woman dies while giving birth.These facts are widely known to this audience and I will not belabour the point. The key message is that Nepal has made a lot of progress towards the MDGs since 1990. But the reality is also that while some communities have more or less reached the targets, others have barely started the journey. In fact, these numbers and patterns are consistent with a worrying trend of widening inequality in Nepal. Nepal’s Gini Co-efficient is wider today than ever. Extraordinarily, in the mid 1980’s, Nepal’s Gini Co-efficient was more or less the same as Sweden ‘ today’s most equitable country vis-’-vis the Gini. Today, Nepal’s Gini Co-efficient is double Sweden’s. And still widening. Reversing this trend will be essential if the long-term transition agenda is to be achieved.

Your Excellency,
Before closing I think it is important to dwell briefly on Goal 8 ‘ the developed countries’ part of the bargain. I think it is fair to say, in the Nepal context, that these Governments have kept their side of the MDG bargain, certainly in terms of resource transfers. Aid flows to Nepal from longstanding international friends have doubled since 1990.

The UN Country Team from its side is working across all of the millennium development goals. This includes activities that vary from food assistance, to support for the education sector, programs to support the elimination of gender based violence, the training of birth attendants, employment and income generating projects, the distribution of anti-viral drugs, as well as support for the upgrading of small towns and slums. We need to do more.

At the beginning of my speech, I expressed how honoured I felt to be among such a distinguished group of policy and opinion makers as this one. Let me express now, in conclusion, my hope, that just as the policy makers in New York in 2000, we too can stand up together and pledge our commitment towards achieving the millennium development goals, not just for some, but for all Nepalis.

Thank you.