UNDP Administrator Helen Clark calls for increased social protection in the Pacific
(Port Vila, Vanuatu) – The ongoing economic and financial crisis presents an opportunity to implement social protection programmes in the Pacific that address the needs of the vulnerable, said United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark in her keynote address at the Pacific Conference on the Human Face of the Global Economic Crisis that started today in Port Vila.
“The crisis presents an opportunity either to initiate or to broaden existing social protection programmes. Measures which could be considered include school feeding programmes; cash and in-kind transfers to the most vulnerable; and cash-for-work programmes. Meeting the needs of women and children, an area of focus for this conference, is especially important,” said Ms Clark.
She said that while such measures were not cost free, the evidence suggested that they can have results which go beyond the temporary alleviation of suffering.
“Well designed, they can help make societies more crisis-resilient over the longer term, and contribute to more stable and equitable growth,” she said.
Ms Clark added that there is much to be gained by exchanging experiences and co-operating in the design of social protection programmes within the Pacific and beyond and emphasized that the United Nations can and does support such efforts.
Determining the ways and means of protecting the most vulnerable communities in the Pacific against the impact of present and future economic crises is the subject of the three-day conference. More than 220 delegates from the Pacific are discussing specific policies and joint actions that countries in the region can take to mitigate the effects of the crisis.
The cumulative effects of the food, fuel and economic crises have adversely affected progress on the Millennium Development Goals. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre in Suva calculates that in the 12 countries for which data are available, the poverty rate has worsened over the last two years as the incomes of the poorest and most vulnerable people declined. Only those countries with mining and hydrocarbon exports, such as Papua New Guinea, or benefiting from increased tourism and a range of reforms, such as Vanuatu, are estimated to have grown at a reasonable rate over the last year.
Miss Clark also stressed the need for effective and efficient public expenditure, the advancement of gender equality, encouraging business investment, and reorienting economies to low-carbon development.
Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei said the conference will discuss not just what the global economic crisis is about and how it has affected Pacific Island people, but also chart the future direction that Pacific countries should take.
“Today, we are faced with difficult choices. A good distribution of public resources and in many cases scarce resources is vital if we are to address social development problems in our countries. Good governance relates to the quality of leadership that is sensitive to the competing needs of various groups in our society. The ability of leaders to promote ‘social cohesion’ in our societies will depend on how they are able to promote the development of basic needs and capabilities of all their people,” he said.
Seventeen year old, Danielle Willis from Palau spoke on behalf of Pacific youths who had gathered in a two day pre-conference meeting held earlier this week.
She said that the global economic crisis had impacted on the lives of Pacific peoples in various ways.
“More fathers and mothers are unemployed and have less income. Families have started to skip meals or cut the variety of foods, pulling children from school, engaging children in labour, and leaving children without appropriate care while families struggle to make ends meet. Frustration, tension and violence at home and within communities is increasing. Increased substance abuse worsens these situations. Girls and women are the most vulnerable due to existing gender inequality,” said Miss Willis.
“Please listen carefully to what the voices of the vulnerable are telling you. Your decisions made this week can change their lives,” she urged the leaders at the conference.
The conference has been organized by the Government of Vanuatu with support from the United Nations, Asian Development Bank, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the University of the South Pacific. Participants include government ministers, parliamentarians, development partners, UN agencies, youth, women’s groups, private sector representatives and civil society organizations.