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Helen Clark: 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in Fragile States

Mar 3, 2016

Speech on “Taking forward the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in Fragile States”

Co-Hosted by the UN Association of Finland and the European Parliament Information Centre, Euroopasali, Helsinki, Finland

16.00 pm local time, Thursday, 3 March, 2016

My sincere thanks go to the United Nations Association (UNA) of Finland for hosting this discussion today

Last year was a watershed year for global development. Member States reached four major new agreements:

  • The 2030 Agenda is the first ever universal development framework agreed by the United Nations. It includes a set of seventeen interconnected Sustainable Development Goals which seek to eradicate poverty in all its forms, and to do so within the context of sustainable development. This is an agenda for people and planet.
  • The Sendai Agreement at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction wrote the global agenda in that area for the next generation;
  • A positive and realistic framework on financing for development – the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – was agreed on at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development;
  • The new global climate change agreement reached at COP21 in Paris exceeded expectations.

Many voices have helped shape these agendas. Finland made a key contribution by negotiating for targets in the 2030 Agenda around gender equality, natural resource management, and sustainable consumption and production. Finland also played an important role in advocating for themes covered in Goal 16 on achieving peaceful, just, and inclusive societies. This goal is highly relevant to countries experiencing various forms of fragility which are major obstacles to achieving the SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda is a universal one, and is therefore as relevant for fragile states as for others – but fragile states do face many more challenges in implementing it. Therefore considerable thought must be given to how fragile states and the communities and peoples within them can be supported to progress the SDGs.  

First, let’s scope the size of the challenge:

Nearly 1.4 billion people are estimated to live in fragile contexts, and that number is projected in the Secretary-General’s Report for the World Humanitarian Summit to grow to 1.9 billion by 2030. UNHCR’s 2015 Global Trends Report states that worldwide displacement is now at the highest level ever recorded. It said the number of people forcibly displaced by the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.5 million people, of whom half were children. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Italy being pushed out of their homes.

Clearly, the impact of fragility, violence, and conflict is not confined to the countries where it originates. It spills over to neighboring countries and far beyond, with regional and global consequences which are now posing challenges to many countries, north and south.

Both the social and economic costs of fragility are high. Development stalls where conflict occurs. Significant resources must be allocated to support refugees and the internally displaced.

The challenges of fragility and conflict are becoming increasingly complex – and continue to evolve:

  • After declining for much of the 1990s, major civil wars have almost tripled in number in recent years along with the number of battle deaths, according to the United Nations University.
  • The influence and presence of violent extremist groups in Syria, Mali, the Lake Chad region, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and far beyond have increased.
  • Ongoing conflicts and the incapacity of a number of states to control the trafficking of people, weapons, and drugs create fertile breeding grounds for illicit markets and organized crime. These degrade societies and distort economic power – trafficking routes across the Sahel are an example of this.
  • The nation state as we have known it has been challenged in a number of places – including in Yemen, Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic. Where fault lines appear, they often take on ethnic or religious dimensions, with deadly impact.
  • In South Sudan, a new state was established, but developed a heavily contested political environment and now faces even greater challenges in achieving peace, functioning governance, and development.
  • Fragility has many layers – the impact of climate change and natural disasters is higher in countries which are already struggling with insecurity or with building a fragile peace.   Recurrent severe weather events in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa, for example, are devastating peoples’ lives in countries where violence and instability reduce the possibilities for reducing disaster risk.

Almost two-thirds of fragile countries failed to meet the goal of halving poverty by 2015, the end date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). So what hope is there for the SDGs?

The SDG Agenda is universal and relevant for “fragile” states

The 2030 Agenda acknowledges that sustainable development and peace are interlinked.  That compels us all to address the causes of violence and fragility as an integral part of development, and not just the symptoms.  Large numbers of people are living in fragile states or are in flight from them. Agenda 2030 urges that no-one is left behind in development. So we must strive to support implementation of the agenda in fragile states.

Now inclusion, justice, security and equality are global development goals and targets in their own right, and there is agreement that success in these areas is linked to achieving all other development goals.  Many Member States have rallied around this message, including Finland. But special efforts and sustained investments will be needed to make progress in the fragile states.

The United Nations Development Group is responding to the SDG Agenda through its “MAPS” approach – Mainstreaming, Acceleration, and Policy Support. Our aim is to support governments to:

  • mainstream the agenda into national plans, policies, budgets, and service delivery;
  • accelerate progress across the SDGs; and
  • provide joined-up policy support so that expertise from across the UN system is easily accessible to Member States.

MAPS is being rolled out upon request around the world, including in fragile countries such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. In such countries, we need to pay particular attention to the following:

1.    Understanding the political and institutional environment, in order to design effective development initiatives

Through UN Country Teams, the aim is to bring all relevant analysis and expertise together to inform the support offered to countries. In support of that, UNDP, in collaboration with the Department of Political Affairs, currently deploys 39 Peace and Development Advisors who provide analysis to Resident Co-ordinators and UN Country Teams. The UN Development Group has also adopted a conflict and development analysis tool, which is currently being applied in a number of countries.

While transitions towards more inclusive political settlements are never easy, there are some promising current experiences. Tunisia, which I visited earlier this week, is progressing a range of reforms, including the broadening of democratic space and the empowerment of women. The contributions of key actors in the transition has been recognized by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. Similarly, in a relatively short period of time, Myanmar is undergoing significant change through the ballot box and a series of reforms.

2.     Localization of the SDGs

The localization of Agenda 2030 is especially crucial in fragile settings where the reach of central authorities may be limited or non-existent. Yet even where this is so, a degree of governance may continue locally. In Libya, for example, UNDP sees significant potential to work at the municipal level, even in the absence of a national political settlement. In Syria and Yemen we continue to work in local communities. In all such settings, we can be part of trying to ensure that no one is left behind.

3. Building national ownership

The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States supports the design and implementation of pathways out of fragility.  It identifies five interlinked goals around:

  • building inclusive political environments and political settlements;
  • establishing security,
  • promoting justice and the rule of law;
  • strengthening economic foundations to generate employment and improve livelihoods;
  • strengthening the capacities of countries to generate domestic revenues and provide basic services;

Through government-led processes which identify the specific causes of fragility and how to address them, the New Deal drives national ownership, supported by international partners. Somalia’s New Deal compact is a positive example of this approach. The way the New Deal works will inform the roll-out of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in fragile states.

Finland has supported the New Deal approach from the outset, and has helped UNDP ensure that lessons learned from its implementation are applied widely in peace- and state-building.

4. Acceleration of rapid responses to all opportunities to move development forward

UNDP and other UN organisations aim to be on the front foot with development initiatives, even in the midst of crises. Right now, UNDP is working with the Tawerga and Misrata municipalities in Libya to enable displaced people to return home. We are also on the ground in Syria, Yemen, and other countries experiencing active conflicts, aiming to sustain human development as best we can in the circumstances through support for livelihoods and access to basic services.

So based on these insights, how will UNDP move forward on the 2030 Agenda in fragile states?

Around fifty per cent of UNDP’s resources core programme funding is allocated to fragile countries, and extensive other resources are mobilized for specific initiatives in these countries.

Now we are launching a new action research project which aims to deepen our understanding of the technical and institutional capacities of conflict-affected countries to deliver on Agenda 2030; the drivers of fragility; the risks which could derail countries’ development trajectories – and how to strengthen social and institutional resilience in the face of these risks; and of how to activate the partnerships necessary to deliver on the 2030 Agenda in such difficult settings.

Recent high level panels reviewing the UN’s peacebuilding architecture and operations have noted that the best way of preventing violence is through long term investments in peacebuilding. That is development. The SDG agenda provides a long term framework for investing in a peaceful future.

The path to peaceful and inclusive societies is seldom a smooth one. Setbacks often occur. Countries and communities need sustained support, expertise, and funding to be able to move from crisis to sustained peace and inclusive and sustainable development.

The UN’s development and humanitarian agencies are present in all insecure countries, providing services and enabling local communities to get back on their feet

In South Sudan and northern Mali, for example, UNDP supports the delivery of services as “peace dividends” in conflict-torn villages, and people-friendly policing to make communities safer.

In Syria, Finland’s contribution of 4 million Euro last year is supporting UNDP’s livelihoods and social cohesion programming.

Countries which have experienced violent conflict in the past, like Sierra Leone and Liberia, are addressing that legacy within their SDG planning process. They need continuing support to secure their peace and development and to consolidate their institutions – especially in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

UNDP prides itself on being in countries for the long haul, staying throughout crises, and being part of the recovery journeys. We bring to the table fifty years of experience around the world – indeed we are celebrating our first half century this year.

There is momentum now behind drawing the UN’s development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding actors closer together through more sharing of analysis and joint planning and programming. This is very important for fragile states and will, without doubt, help drive the 2030 Agenda in those countries.

SDG 16 points to the need to build peaceful and inclusive societies by establishing effective, accountable and transparent institutions. These are important in all development settings. Lessons learned from the past, however, suggest that in fragile and post conflict environments, implementing big bang reforms is not the way forward. Rather, focus should be placed first on enabling core government functions, to ensure that public finance, civil service management, capacities to co-ordinate public policy and the extension of state authority to the local level can help stabilize a still fragile government apparatus.  

Strengthening the rule of law in fragile countries is crucial for peace and development, as stated in SDG 16.  UNDP delivers in this area in a number of fragile states through a global focal point, which brings together the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), UN WOMEN, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). For example,

  • In Somalia, UNDP and staff in the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) provide an integrated programme of support for justice and police reform to the Government which aligned with the national development plan.
  • In Central African Republic, UNDP and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission there (MINUSCA) worked together to support the resumption of justice services and the redeployment of gendarmes and police for patrolling in five districts of Bangui.  In June 2015, the first criminal justice hearings since 2010 took place addressing serious conflict-related crimes.  Together we are also supporting the new national Court to deal with Special Crimes arising from the conflicts in CAR in recent years.

In fragile settings, we need to focus programmes specifically on preventing violence. 

Over the past ten years, UNDP has supported nearly fifty countries to establish national mechanisms for promoting peace and empowering national and local mediators. These help prevent and de-escalate conflicts through peaceful dispute resolution and early warning systems and responses to emerging tensions. There is a focus on promoting dialogue and consensus-building.

UNDP also helps government and other key actors in their efforts to prevent violence during political transitions and rapid change.

Elections can be a flashpoint for tensions in fragile states.  In the aftermath of the disputed elections in Afghanistan in 2014, UNDP and the Dept. of Political Affairs supported the audit of more than 23,000 ballot boxes from throughout the country. This credible process was vital in preventing an escalation of tension over the result. I thank Finland for its support of UNDP’s efforts in Afghanistan.

The exclusion of women from peacebuilding processes and the existence of significant inequalities (SDGs 5 and 10) undermine the chances of achieving peace and development – the consequences of this have been documented in a recent UN WOMEN study fifteen years after the passage of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. Addressing this challenge is now targeted in the SDGs, but much remains to be done.

UNDP mainstreams gender perspectives across its programming, and addresses various forms of discrimination and disempowerment affecting women. In Somalia, as in many other fragile countries, we support women to engage in political processes. In DRC and Sierra Leone, we have supported investigations and prosecutions of sexual and gender-based violence for a number of years.

Ensuring youth participation in development and peacebuilding is also a UN priority, and vital for supporting stability. In Colombia, for example, UNDP facilitated young people’s participation in the Havana peace process. We also enabled the participation of over 10,000 university students from across the country to converse directly with the government office charged with leading the peace talks.

The recent adoption of Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015) on Youth, Peace and Security is a recognition of the importance of engaging with youth to build peace and stability.


Taken together Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, and the other 2015 agreements, set clear global priorities for both people and planet, and establish the way forward for creating a more peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable world. 

The 2030 Agenda calls on the UN development system to provide integrated and coherent support to Member States’ efforts to achieve the SDGs. This requires special and dedicated efforts in fragile states.

The international community must find ways to sustain development funding to countries emerging from conflict or dealing with fragility – otherwise their lapse back into crisis becomes a real prospect.

UNDP looks forward to continuing its long and close partnership with Finland in this work. The people living in fragile and conflict affected states merit our joint attention and ongoing solidarity.