Press Releases

    5 April 2002


    NEW YORK, 4 April (UN Headquarters) -- The following is the text of an address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at Yale University, entitled "A New Consensus on Development? Moving on from Monterrey", delivered in New Haven, Connecticut, on 3 April:

    It is a great pleasure to join you today -- to be at a historic institution that has provided so much provocative thinking on the state of our world, and prompted so many people to get deeply involved in the effort to improve the human condition.

    That’s why I could not hope for a better platform to speak about development -- the process by which poor countries and poor people can lift themselves out of poverty and create the conditions for a life of dignity and progress. I want to discuss why development matters to all of us, and what can be done to improve its chances of success.

    It is often forgotten that development is one of the fundamental purposes of the United Nations, on a par with its mission for global peace and security. Indeed, the Organization’s founders saw clearly that peace and stability were inseparable from justice, economic growth and social progress. Although the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations tend to figure more prominently in the media, the bulk of its personnel and resources are, in fact, devoted to development.

    We in the developed world have paid only intermittent attention to the fate of the poorer parts of the world -- typically when upheavals such as conflict, or natural disaster, force their way into our awareness, only to recede with time. Of course, there are many groups and individuals doing truly invaluable work for the less fortunate members of the human family. But what is all too rare is long-term engagement by governments, driven by enlightened leadership and sustained by an informed public opinion.

    Lately, however, an important change has begun. Development is back on the agenda. I see two main reasons for this.

    The first is globalization.

    By globalization I mean the linking together of nations through the liberalization of investment and trade. Many major companies in the North now have their "back office" data processing and other computer-based operations in the developing world. Large percentages of the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the computers we use, the toys we buy for our children are made partly or entirely in the developing world.

    By globalization I also mean the instant communication and transmission of information made possible by technological advances such as cell phones, 24-hours news channels and of course e-mail and the Internet. We are more aware of each other, more in touch with each other, and that makes it more difficult for us to turn our backs on each other in the hour of need.

    The second factor that has raised the profile of development issues is, of course, the terrorist attack of 9/11 and its aftermath. We have seen how individuals in distant countries can combine their grievances with some of the same technologies and open borders that are creating so many opportunities, and strike ruthlessly at the heart of a country and inflict terrible suffering upon it.

    One inescapable lesson of globalization and globalized terror is that we are all connected. As obstacles of distance shrink, and barriers of time disappear, our planet is suddenly a much smaller place. We now see more clearly that we live in one world, not two. Decisions by people in rich countries affect people in poor countries and vice-versa. An economic slowdown in the United States means job losses in Indonesia. Poverty, conflict and despair in the South spur people to seek opportunities in the North. A fancy sport-utility vehicle generates carbon dioxide emissions just as surely as does the poverty that compels poor people in rural Brazil, or equatorial Africa, to clear forests with slash-and-burn agriculture -- and the global warming that results respects no borders.

    The proposition that greater justice and prosperity in developing countries would have beneficial effects for us in the developed world, as well as for the people who live there, should not be difficult to argue. Who would deny that if Latin American or Afghan peasants could make a decent living from legitimate crops, they would be less likely to cultivate coca or opium? And is it not likely that religious extremism would have less appeal in the Muslim world if economic prospects were better for poor people there?

    It is not difficult to convince people that development is desirable, but it is hard to convince them that development is ever going to happen, particularly in Africa. The numbers can be quite discouraging. Around 1.2 billion people in the world currently live on less than $1 a day. In many African countries, per capita gross domestic product has actually declined since independence. The ravages of AIDS, in Africa and elsewhere, are not only placing a burden on societies today, but are robbing them of tomorrow’s productivity, as teachers and workers succumb and life expectancy declines.

    These are bleak facts. But if one looks at broad trends, and the evolution over time, quite a different picture emerges -- a picture of progress. Over the last 30 years, average life expectancy worldwide has risen from 60 to 70 years. Infant mortality has dropped from 100 per thousand live births to 50. The adult literacy rate has risen from slightly over 60 per cent to nearly 80 per cent. And since 1980, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has fallen by 200 million, even as population has grown by 1.6 billion people.

    A country like India, highly dependent on food aid in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, is now totally self-sufficient. Not so long ago, in the early 1980s, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Republic of Korea had per capita incomes ranging from $700 to $7,000; today, they range from $2,000 to more than $21,000. China, too, despite enormous demographic challenges, has raised per capita income from $300 to $800 in just a decade. Even in Africa, while some countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain mired in conflict, Botswana, Mozambique, Uganda and others have battled successfully against appalling difficulties -- civil war, floods, HIV/AIDS -- to achieve a steady path of strong growth, which now offers their people real hope of a better future.

    Such progress makes it particularly disturbing that so many discouraging myths have taken hold about developing countries. Take the example of AIDS. There is doubt that prevention can be successful because of cultural obstacles -- because many societies would find it difficult to discuss in public the sensitive subjects that arise in connection with the disease. And there is doubt that treatment can be administered, because of a lack of infrastructure and basic health services.

    Yet, there are many examples of prevention and treatment strategies that have been effective even in very poor countries. In Uganda, a campaign of public education, so relentless that Ugandans call it "the big noise", has helped to reverse the spread of the epidemic. In Brazil, the Government has built up a network of clinics, supported by a well-organized network of community groups, that reaches people living with AIDS in the favelas and helps them to keep to their drug regimes, with compliance rates comparable to those in developed countries. And in Botswana, businesses are recognizing that AIDS is bad for business, and are cooperating to extend treatment to their workers and support to their families. The reality is that both prevention and treatment can work in any country.

    Achieving development in the poorest countries is not a utopian goal. Progress is occurring throughout the world -- because of higher-yield rice varieties, improved preparedness for natural disaster, incentives to keep children in school and much else besides. But development does not just happen spontaneously. It takes a lot of work by the countries themselves, sustained over the long term. And though doubters would say otherwise, outside assistance can play a helpful and even catalytic role.

    Development cannot be imposed from outside. Unless there is a homegrown strategy, owned and directed by the country itself, and reflecting the broad needs of society, progress is unlikely. The question is, what sort of strategy is most likely to succeed?

    Since the end of the colonial era, many approaches have been favoured. In the early period, there was a strong emphasis on infrastructure such as dams, factories and roads. After a while, this was replaced by a focus on basic needs such as education, health care, safe drinking water and sanitation services. In the 1980s, a new paradigm emerged in the form of structural adjustment, which emanated from the belief that getting the fiscal fundamentals right would be sufficient to ensure that growth occurred and that its benefits would trickle down to the poor.

    Indeed, sound macroeconomic policies and market mechanisms are necessary conditions for economic growth. But they are not sufficient. We now recognize that a crucial role in creating favourable conditions for lasting development is also played by good governance, anti-corruption measures, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. And there is a need for deliberate policies to tackle poverty, for instance, by empowering women, supporting micro-credit schemes and investing in health and education. On all these points, a striking consensus between North and South was achieved at last month’s Monterrey United Nations conference. But it was also agreed that these strategies will not be successful without resources -– human resources and, crucially, financial resources.

    Developing countries themselves can and must generate a good share of these resources. Some of these resources must come from within -- from domestic savings and the fruits of productive enterprise.

    But they also need to earn foreign exchange, through trade, and to attract foreign investment. One recent study estimated that removing all trade barriers could bring a potential gain to developing countries of about $130 billion a year -- dwarfing current levels of official development assistance (ODA). Flows of foreign direct investment to developing countries -- which have risen from $40 billion in the early 1990s to more than $200 billion at the end of the decade -- are likewise far greater than ODA.

    But many countries don’t yet offer the conditions necessary to attract investment or to benefit from export opportunities. For them, debt relief and ODA is nothing less than a vital lifeline that can enable them to build up their capacity and create those conditions.

    I am among the first to admit that there has been a great deal of waste and corruption over the past half century of development cooperation. But the overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that where sound policies are in place, and there are proper controls to prevent money being siphoned off to non-development purposes, aid does work.

    And where there have been difficulties with aid strategies and projects, it has not always been wholly the recipient’s fault. During the cold war, vast amounts of aid money were spent to prop up friendly regimes. Aid has also often been allocated to satisfy constituencies at home -- for example, to secure contracts for domestic companies or to satisfy favoured consultants or non-governmental organizations.

    Indeed, the actions of the donor community have been very fragmented. Each has its own preferred issues and projects, and each has its own accountability requirements. Recipients are pushed and pulled in different directions, and must spend an inordinate amount of time preparing reports to satisfy the auditors of a multitude of partners. It was observed, for instance, that Tanzania had to cope with so many donor missions in a single year that the country’s development personnel probably ended up devoting as much time responding to donor demands as to the needs of the poor.

    So there is room for improvement among donors and recipients alike. And at Monterrey, both agreed to do better. Developing countries agreed to continue to reform their economies, strengthen their institutions, fight corruption, respect human rights and the rule of law, and spend more on the needs of the poor. And the developed countries agreed to support them by providing debt relief, opening their markets, providing more, and better targeted, aid and investment, and offering the developing world a bigger say in decision-making on the global economy. It is especially encouraging that both the United States and the European Union used the occasion to announce substantial increases in ODA. The numbers leave us well short of what all serious studies agree is needed. But they represent a major change in attitude. The decade-long decline in aid is at last beginning to be reversed. The argument in favour of aid is being won.

    The United Nations occupies a singular niche in this picture. We are not a big money provider; developing countries receive much more from the World Bank and from the regional development banks than from United Nations funds and programmes. Our currency is slightly different, but just as important.

    First, we set norms and policies. Major conferences of the past decade on issues such as the environment, population, women’s rights, AIDS, crime and much else have helped the world community rethink key issues of our times and have given the world community a strong conceptual basis for development cooperation.

    This process of commitment reached something of an apogee at the Millennium Summit held at the United Nations in September 2000 -- the largest-ever gathering of heads of State and government. The Declaration adopted there reflects a new consensus on the human condition, and a common vision of what can and must be done to respond to the aspirations of all peoples for peace and progress. And it sets out a number of very specific goals -- the Millennium Development Goals. One of them is to reduce by half, by the year 2015, the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day. By that year as well, our Member States vowed to eliminate gender disparities in education, halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, reduce by two thirds the under-five mortality rate and by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio, and halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

    These are ambitious yet achievable goals. The crucial challenge now is to turn the high-level political commitment into practical, country-level implementation. Last month’s conference in Monterrey sought to mobilize financing for this quest. Four months from now, at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the world will gather again to discuss how to make the three pillars of development -- economic growth, social justice and environmental protection -- more durable, equitable and secure.

    But the United Nations is far more than the agreements reached at conferences. We are present, on the ground, with operational activities for development. Our diverse agencies, programmes and funds provide expertise and advice to governments, and lead the daily struggle for health, education, shelter, environmental protection and more. We also work with countries that find themselves at moments of particular vulnerability -- when disaster strikes, or when countries are recovering from conflict. The textbook examples of the moment are East Timor, where the United Nations is guiding the transition to independence, just seven weeks from now; and Afghanistan, where we are trying to help the Afghans set about the daunting task of rebuilding their State and their society after a quarter century of war, misgovernment and natural disaster. Such efforts focus particular attention on building up people’s skills and abilities to take control of their own lives and their countries’ fate.

    The United Nations also plays an advocacy role. As a universal organization, we speak from a unique pulpit, which we have used, for example, to call for globalization that "works for all people, not just a fortunate few". We have used it to stress the need for development policies that focus on the real needs of people -- not just on the quantity of economic growth, but also its quality. And we have used it to raise the international profile of emerging threats, such as AIDS.

    What we do, in development and beyond, increasingly we do in partnership with others. Though we remain an intergovernmental organization, our doors are open as never before to a diverse constellation of "non-State actors". We work hand in hand with non-governmental organizations, who are great partners both in advocacy and in delivering desperately needed services. We are also engaging the private sector more actively, in particular those business leaders who understand global corporate citizenship is not a burden but rather an opportunity. All of this is part of our effort to bring the Organization closer to the people it exists to serve, as the Secretary-General often says.

    That is where you come in. Some of you may well be on the verge of venturing off to developing countries as volunteers or scholars, and so will gain first-hand experience of their struggles and their plight. Others among you may already be engaged in activities here at home that reflect your understanding of the need to think globally and act locally. Forging such solidarity is a new challenge for all of us. If once we were accustomed to making our decisions with reference to our immediate community, today that community is the world. Therefore, our sense of duty and citizenship must expand.

    Doing so is not just a moral imperative -- though that would be reason enough to act. Nor it is merely a philosophical question of whether anyone can be happy amid widespread suffering -- though that, too, would be reason enough to act. It is also a matter of enlightened self-interest. As a single human community, the national and the international have become entwined, ever more so with each passing day. Our world demands that we move ahead together.

    Thank you very much.

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