Our Perspective

Breaking new ground: UNDP’s electoral lexicon

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1.3 million women voted in the 2012 Libyan elections after a large public-awareness campaign encouraged them to participate. Photo credit: Samia Mahgoub/UNDP Libya

When the invitation came to present our Arabic Lexicon of Electoral Terminology to the Joint Inter-Agency Meeting on Computer-Assisted Translation and Terminology (JIAMCATT) conference held in New York from 8 to 10 April 2015, it seemed like perfect timing. Carlos Valenzuela, a leading senior international electoral expert and I worked on the lexicon for close to three years and felt proud to be able to present it to one the world’s main venues for computer-assisted terminology and translation. With its 481 terms, the lexicon has some intriguing features, even for seasoned terminology professionals.  The challenge facing the lexicon team was that there was little or no significant literature on electoral management in the Arabic language. So everything had to be sourced from the ground up. Apart from being the first attempt to provide the terms and definitions of the most important concepts and components of an election process, the lexicon also provides the Arabic language variations in use in eight Arab countries.  This was done by using a custom-made online collaborative writing tool with eight reviewers in each of the countries. Participants in the various JIAMCATT sessions were interested in the unusual mechanics of this groundbreaking work.  The particular strength of... Read more

It is time to focus on the real drivers of malaria

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A mother and child recover from malaria in a hospital in Burundi. The Government provides free health care for pregnant women and children under five. Photo: Maria Cierna/UNDP

Eliminating malaria seems like a straightforward issue. The parasitic infection is transmitted to people through bites from infected mosquitoes. So if we prevent the mosquito bites, we avoid the infection. But decades of malaria control efforts show there is more to the story. Much of our vulnerability to malaria, it turns out, is determined by human actions. The conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age define to a great extent who is vulnerable to malaria and who is not. Malaria is both a result and a cause of a lack of development. We know that it is those countries with the lowest levels of human development that are most affected by malaria. And within populations, those living in the poorest circumstances also suffer disproportionately. We have long understood the impact malaria has on development. We are now better understanding the impact development has on malaria. The factors that determine malaria risk are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources. The key interventions to prevent malaria (bed nets, insecticide spraying, and access to treatments) are well known, but eliminating the disease will require a broader range of actions. Efforts to improve housing and infrastructure development, sanitation, agricultural... Read more

Africa and Climate Finance – The state of the debate


In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts and lessons learned on key financing for development issues, in the run-up to the UN’s Financing for Development conference in July. Africa is the region that has contributed the least to global greenhouse gas emissions but, along with Small Island Developing Countries, is among the most vulnerable to climate change. It is estimated that the cost of Africa's adaptation to climate change will be between $10-30 billion a year by 2030. This will not only cost governments billions of dollars, but threatens the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. Climate finance to Africa has been growing considerably. Recent data indicates that USD 2.3 billion has been approved for 453 projects and programs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa since 2003. However, only 45% of approved funding is delivered for adaptation measures. In the run-up to the UN’s 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD), in Addis Ababa in July 2015, the UN’s regional commissions organized consultations aiming at providing inputs from a regional perspective. Some participants questioned whether climate finance should be part of the discussions, given that the UNFCCC is already focused on this issue, and that this will be... Read more

IATI and the UN System: Leading by example on open data

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) represents a chance for the UN family to lead the movement toward greater openness, transparency, accountability and effectiveness in development cooperation. The IATI Standard, a common, open format for publishing data, makes it possible for anyone – a government official, an NGO project manager, a journalist, an ordinary citizen – to see clearly what is being funded where, by whom, and by how much. At the time of writing, nine of the 32 members and observers of the UN Development Group are publishing to IATI. They are OCHA, UN Women, UNCDF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, UNOPS, WFP and the World Bank. This is a strong start – but it is by no means enough. Discussions around the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals highlight that greater access to information enables individuals to hold leaders and development actors accountable. One step towards mobilizing  resources for a common purpose is to publish information about them in a common way. In this critical year of transition for the global development discourse, the UN must be at the forefront of making development activity as open, transparent and traceable as current technology and resources will allow. The UN System must embrace... Read more

Five things we would do if we were really serious about finance for development

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Reducing fossil fuel subsidies in favor of green energy. Photo: UNDP in Croatia

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts and lessons learned on key financing for development issues, in the run-up to the UN’s Financing for Development conference in July. It is now widely agreed that finance for development discussions should not only be about more money for official development assistance or climate finance. They should be about aligning international and domestic trade and financial systems with the logic of sustainable development. This raises the question: What would financial systems look like if we were really serious about sustainable development? Here are five things we would do: 1) Triple bottom line accounting. Governments would ensure that Wall Street and other leading capital markets could not trade companies that do not report transparently on the social and environmental (as well as financial) consequences of their activities. 2) Crackdown on tax havens. The world’s leading governments would crack down on off-shore tax havens. At issue is not enforcing high tax regimes, or even preventing tax competition. It is about preventing tax evasion and tax avoidance by multinational corporations and the wealthy who can best afford to make use of tax havens. 3) Financial transactions tax. We would admit that global financial markets work... Read more

Vanuatu begins rebuilding but faces severe challenges

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Cyclone Pam has passed, but Vanuatu residents will need months, if not years, to recover from its devastation. Photo: Silke von Brockhausen/UNDP

Descending into Vanuatu’s international airport in Port Vila, I could see the devastation Cyclone Pam caused on March 13, sweeping nearly two dozen islands.  What used to be a lush green landscape is washed brown by saltwater, trees are dead and uprooted, and houses have lost their roofs. More than half of the population was affected by the cyclone. 15,000 homes got destroyed and 96% of the country’s crops as well as coconut and banana trees are wiped out. A true disaster for a country that relies heavily on subsistence farming for food security and income. Two weeks into the emergency, I was meeting with communities in the capital Port Vila and witnessed the impressive resilience of the people of this island nation. Even though their need for basic humanitarian assistance such as food, water, medical aid and shelter was still high, people had started to rebuild their lives on their own. Roofs were being fixed, roads cleared, uprooted trees cut and piled up, damaged bridges restored and those who could were going back to work. One of the severe challenges communities are now facing is lack of employment and income. “Because of the disaster, markets are closed and women can’t... Read more

What contributes to a successful election?

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Africa's most populous nation and biggest economy, Nigeria has surprised the world by conducting largely peaceful elections. Photo: UNDP Nigeria

On 28 March 2015, Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and biggest economy, surprised the world by organising largely ‘peaceful’ presidential and national assembly elections. At a time when the National Human Rights Commission was reporting dozens of deaths from pre-election violence in more half the states in the country, and with analysts predicting more of the same, the country managed to conduct a credible poll, setting an example worth sharing. Without the commitment, goodwill and resources of power brokers across the country, Nigeria’s achievement would not have been possible, despite the overwhelming acceptance among Nigerians that it was time for change. Here are some take away lessons: Role of the National Peace Committee (NPC): National leaders on their own accord established a National Peace Committee that was instrumental in mediating differences between the political parties and building confidence. The Committee persuaded presidential candidates sign two peace pledges in the run-up to the elections— assuring that they would abhor violence and ethnic based campaigning, and promising that they would accept the results of the elections. Monitoring Mechanism: UNDP provided support to the National Peace Committee by providing monitoring assistance through civil society, promoting consensus, establishing mechanisms to track incidents of electoral performance... Read more

How can cooperation between local authorities help to achieve universal access to water and sanitation

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Internally displaced people (IDPs) in Bannu, Pakistan gain access to water through a UNDP-supported project. Photo: UNDP/Pakistan

Water is essential for local development, particularly for sectors such as health, agriculture, economic development, education and environment. However, 748 million people in the world lack access to an improved source of drinking water and 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation facilities. Water scarcity mostly affects less developed countries and rural areas, preventing their citizens from living a healthy and productive life while also resulting in huge annual economic losses. To provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, US$ 27 billion are needed annually. Official Development Assistance (ODA) covers approximately one third of the target but 17 billion are still missing. Local and regional authorities can contribute to filling the endemic resource gap that cripples water interventions. I believe local to local cooperation is an important part of the solution but to make it fully effective we need to improve its modus operandi. The benefits of an integrated approach Thousands of regional and local actors are willing to transfer financial resources and expertise to countries with scarce access to water. France and the Netherlands have passed a legislation that commands sub regional authorities to use 1% of their fiscal entries to water cooperation. Other countries such as Spain,... Read more

The need to boost youth participation and inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean

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The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but a closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented. Photo: UNDP/El Salvador

Democracy is widely supported in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). However, institutions and policymakers don’t always enjoy the same positive perception, according to recent Latinobarómetro surveys. Young people in the region have been playing a key role in recent peaceful demonstrations that demand more effective and transparent governments. And they do so not only by taking to the streets but also by playing a role in their own communities and — increasingly — on social networks. The region has more than 150 million young people between 15 and 29 years but has a great challenge ahead: curbing inequality in decision-making and public policy shaping. Institutionalized gaps must be closed if we want to achieve more equal societies: for women, men, lesbian, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and intersex, and people of African and indigenous descent. A closer look into LAC parliaments reveals that young people are scarcely represented, especially women. Among members of parliament, only 2.7 percent of males and 1.3 percent of females are under 30 years old — despite the fact 1 in 4 Latin Americans is young. Today’s young people are also the best educated in the history of LAC, and we need to facilitate their participation in decision-making,... Read more

The political economy of illicit financial flows

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts and lessons learned on key financing for development issues, in the run-up to the UN’s Financing for Development conference in July. Tax evasion has often been the hallmark of the elites. In ancient Rome, the upper class viewed tax as ‘the mark of bondage.’  Two millennia later, Leona Helmsley, the wife of a real estate billionaire in New York, reportedly said: ‘Only little people pay taxes’. But the Roman Empire collapsed because the tax on land was largely passed on the poor, and later on the middle classes, while the elite carried less and less of the public financial burden. Today, both developed and developing countries alike face similar problems. Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) such as tax avoidance and evasion, embezzlement of national resources, trade misinvoicing, and smuggling of goods and capital across borders, are widespread phenomena and occur for a range of reasons, including theft, corruption, high political or economic instability in the originating country or higher returns on investment in the destination country. Although these problems can affect all countries, it can be particularly prevalent (and harmful) in natural resource-rich states with weak governance such as Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial... Read more

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