Helen Clark: Speech at the Global Launch of the 2014 Human Development Report “Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience"

24 Jul 2014

U Thant International Conference Hall

United Nations University

Tokyo, Japan

Thursday 24 July 2014 

I am delighted to be launching the 2014 Human Development Report, “Sustaining Human Development Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience”, in Japan - a recognised leader in disaster risk reduction and human security.  Thank you, Prime Minister Abe, for your willingness to participate in this global launch today.

The topic of this 23rd global Human Development Report is particularly timely. As countries gear up for a final push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, increased volatility has become the new normal, with disasters and crises threatening to stall or reverse that progress.

Syria, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic – these are just some of the countries where human development has gone into reverse because of the impact of serious violent conflict. Extreme weather events, such as last November’s typhoon in the Philippines, or the floods across Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia in May, can lead to loss of life and the destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure, reversing development gains in just hours.  Here in Japan and in my own country, New Zealand, earthquakes and their flow on effects have also devastated communities.

But the development impacts of crises, and the numbers of lives lost, are not the same everywhere. That is because, as this Human Development Report states, there are policies and steps which can be taken to reduce vulnerability, and help build the resilience of individuals and communities to withstand shocks.  

No one would pretend that this easy.  This Human Development Report estimates that almost 1.5 billion people across 91 developing countries are currently multi-dimensionally poor—with overlapping deprivations in education, health, and living standards. A further 800 million are identified as at risk of falling back into poverty. This reminds us that it is not enough just to lift people out of poverty; we must ensure that their escape is permanent.    

With this in mind, this Report calls for universal access to basic social services, such as health and education, stronger social protection measures, including pensions for the elderly and provision for the unemployed; and a commitment to full employment.  All measures taken along these lines reduce vulnerability.  

Universal provisioning of basic social services, the Report argues, is feasible across the board, including in poor countries.  It is a wise investment which locks in development gains, boosts social cohesion, and enhances the resilience of societies as a whole to adversity.

The Report calls for more responsive institutions and laws which make societies fairer and more inclusive. These, it argues, are particularly important for groups of people identified as "structurally vulnerable", often due to discrimination and exclusion because of their gender, ethnicity, job type, or socio-economic status - to name just some factors.  

The Report also presents evidence on how vulnerabilities vary across the life-cycle. Setbacks during certain periods, such as infancy, childhood, the transition from school to work, and in old age, may be particularly difficult to overcome.  Targeted and timely investments during these sensitive periods of people’s lives help us all reach our full potential.

No matter how effective policies are in reducing individual and societal vulnerabilities, crises – particularly those caused by natural disasters - will continue to occur with potentially destructive consequences.  Building national capacities to predict and prevent conflict and unrest, and investing in disaster preparedness and recovery, does enable people and their communities and countries to manage and mitigate crises and recover more quickly from shocks.

Here, let me commend Japan for all the support it has given to the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, and for agreeing to host the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015.

The findings of this Report are an important contribution to the process of renewal of the Hyogo Framework, and of formulating the post-2015 sustainable development agenda which will replace the MDGs.  This is the first time that the twin concepts of vulnerability and resilience have been examined together through a human development lens.  If this report is heeded, if life cycle and structural vulnerabilities are addressed, and if conscious efforts are made to lift resilience to crises and disaster, then I have no doubt that many of the kinds of setbacks we see to human development today can be averted.  

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Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She also chairs the United Nations Development Group.

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Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience

The Report highlights the need for both promoting people’s choices and protecting human development achievements. It takes the view that vulnerability threatens human development and, unless it is systematically addressed, progress will be neither equitable nor sustainable.

See all Human Development Reports