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Global Crisis Makes U.N. Reform Imperative

Raúl Pierri

MONTEVIDEO, Nov 8 2011 (IPS) - Reinventing the United Nations is crucial to protect the poorest inhabitants of the planet, at a time when the global economic crisis, the effects of climate change, and food insecurity are undermining development efforts.

That was the conclusion of U.N. and government officials from more than 30 nations who began to meet Tuesday Nov. 8 in the Uruguayan capital for the fourth high-level inter-governmental conference on Delivering as One: making the U.N. system more coherent, effective and efficient, a programme that was launched in 2007.

“There are major challenges out there, and we have seen not only poor developing countries that are increasingly being challenged because of so many developments, including the effects of climate change, but that we also have partners that say that the landscape has changed, from the point of view of the donors themselves,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said at a news briefing Tuesday.

“We cannot continue doing business as usual, as if nothing is happening,” she added.

For her part, Helen Clark, the administrator of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), said “It’s true that official development assistance globally has pretty much flattened out with the economic crisis.”

Many donor countries have cut their development aid, and only a few have managed to increase it, like Australia, Denmark and Britain, she added.

Clark said the troubles in the industrialised North, such as the crisis in Greece and the U.S. and Japanese deficit problems, have had an impact on programmes in the developing South.

“Many developing countries follow an export-led approach to economic growth, which depends a great deal on the markets of the developed world,” she said.

Added to the reductions in aid caused by the crisis are other, politically motivated, cutbacks, such as the late October decision by the U.S. government to cut funding for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, just hours after UNESCO’s governing board voted overwhelmingly to grant Palestine full membership.

The U.S. funds 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget – about 80 million dollars per year.

“It is something that we will follow closely,” Migiro said. “We are aware that it will affect our work, but it is our expectation that we will all do our best to ensure that good work that we are doing and good work that member states would like to see us continue is not affected.”

Uruguay, whose government is organising the Nov. 8-10 inter-governmental conference in Montevideo, is one of the eight countries involved in the Delivering as One pilot initiative. The others are Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Vietnam.

In recent years, more than 20 other countries have gotten involved in similar work, based on this model, which is aimed at responding to the challenges of a changing world and testing how the U.N. and governments can provide development assistance in a more coordinated manner.

Migiro acknowledged that the world financial crisis has affected the programme, but stressed that this effort has become more and more necessary, and that the results have been encouraging. She also said there was no turning back from U.N. reform.

“We know that countries are going through a difficult period in terms of the economic crisis, oil prices and food insecurity, and this to a certain extent does affect the work that we do….That is why we are focusing on how we can build a meaningful and effective organisation, how we can make good use of the resources and how we can deliver results, because at the end of the day that is what matters,” she said.

“Delivering as One has shown that there are tremendous gains in that regard, that we can have the countries coming together, internally, really acting as one,” she added.

“We cannot let the world’s poor, who have suffered so much from the economic and financial crisis, be left even further behind,” Migiro said. “By Delivering as One, we can optimise our resources and maximise our impact. The results are clear: lives saved thanks to better nutrition and health care, more children in school, fewer families stuck in poverty, and greater gender equality.”

The U.N. deputy secretary-general also underscored the significance of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

“Twenty years ago, the Earth Summit in Brazil set the world on a greener path. Next year, again in Rio, we will have a chance to set the world on a greener, more prosperous, more equitable and more sustainable course. Rio+20 is crucially important. We need the conference to succeed. We need input from the U.N. development system in the months ahead,” she said.

At the opening of this week’s conference in Montevideo, Uruguayan President José Mujica stressed the importance of a strengthened United Nations, in order to combat inequalities.

“Globalisation is imposing the construction of broad unities. That is the direction the world is stumbling towards, and we need to give institutions like the U.N., which can protect the weak, more and more strength – strength based on rights, and real strength in practice,” the president said.

“Globalisation is not the same thing as equality, it is not the same thing as justice, it does not mean equal rights. Much of humanity has been postponed, and is longing to board the train of civilisation that we have invented,” Mujica said.

“The poor don’t need pity, they need intellectual tools in their hands and brains to be able to fend for themselves,” he added.

In the opening session, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro cited a famous quote of this South American country’s national hero, José Artigas: “May the most wretched be the most privileged.

“I urge you in your discussions to keep this principle in mind, so that our most wretched sisters and brothers, wherever they may be, are favoured the most by the policies of international cooperation that we all design together,” the minister said.

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