Less money for development activities today means greater spending on humanitarian crises tomorrow, speaker underlines, closing operational activities segment.
Countries struggling with how to allocate their overstretched aid budgets must not pull back on funding for sustainable development, speakers told the Economic and Social Council on the final day of its operational activities segment, warning that fewer dollars for development today means more will be needed to tackle costly — and often tragic — humanitarian crises tomorrow.
Miia Rainne (Finland), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, cautioned that “the urgent is crowding out the important” just as the world finds itself at the brink of a “development emergency”. Old and new crises are exerting an immense toll across the globe, stretching countries’ ability to provide international assistance. Meanwhile, the world has backtracked on its progress towards achieving the targets laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. All those challenges require a United Nations development system that delivers to the maximum of its potential across the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding arenas.
Noting that the development system’s 2018 reform process seemed almost omniscient in preparing itself for the COVID-19 pandemic, she said participants over the course of the Council’s three-day segment largely agreed that the system responded well to the pandemic’s challenges. However, they also made clear that much more work remains, including on better collaboration, clearer reporting standards and improved transparency and accountability. Calls for adequate, flexible and predictable funding for the development system permeated all the segment’s discussions, she added, spotlighting the particular need for scaled-up pooled funding.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, agreed that the United Nations development system is now better positioned to support countries, while resident coordinators are fostering more effective approaches and becoming “centres of gravity” on the ground. However, there is a need to further reorient mindsets and mobilize expertise towards a systems approach. Calling for multi-year, cross-pillar funding to support a more tailored development approach — especially for countries in special situations — he pointed out that humanitarian expenditures have increased by 164 per cent in the past decade while development spending remained roughly the same. The further diversion of donors’ development assistance dollars would magnify adverse impacts, he warned, adding that it would also deepen poverty and inequality.
Collen V. Kelapile of Botswana, President of the Economic and Social Council, struck a similar tone, noting that the segment took place against the backdrop of continued challenges — including the fragile recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine. However, “it is clear that Governments and the United Nations system are committed to addressing those daunting challenges head-on, and [to] accelerate action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.” Representatives largely welcomed the development system’s reforms and agreed that the pandemic “showed how far we have come”.
Throughout the final day of the operational activities segment, the Council held two formal interactive dialogues that provided Member States a chance to pose questions of United Nations development officials — including those working on the ground in programme countries — and better understand the challenges they face. Delegates were also able to propose new ways of working and, in some cases, voiced frustration over elements of the voluntary funding structure that are not working as envisioned.
In a presentation this morning, Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the United Nations Development Coordination Office, gave an overview of the status of the Funding Compact adopted in 2019 as part of the development system’s reform. Noting that the Compact’s mutual commitments recognized the need for a fundamental shift in the way the United Nations development system is resourced — all with the goal of building trust and flexibility in the Organization’s activities — he said that, in 2020, some backwards trends began to be seen, which continued into 2021 and 2022. Among other things, bridging the famous humanitarian development divide continues to pose challenges.
Sezin Sinanoglu, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan, joined the morning session via videoconference to provide a perspective from the field. Describing the Funding Compact as one of the most important parts of the United Nations development system reform process, she said much more data is now being collected on the system’s work and funding. Those are shared with Governments and fed back into the United Nations system, allowing more people to understand the work on the ground. Voicing pride over the results achieved on the ground during the COVID-19 crisis, she said that same kind of integrated response planning is now taking place against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis and its global repercussions.
In the afternoon, a second interactive session explored how the United Nations development system is coming together to provide tailored advice and support to countries in special situations, both for overcoming the pandemic and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals more broadly.