Operational reforms must ensure country-level results – UN agencies

8 July 2005 –

A host of senior United Nations officials today stressed the need to ensure that operational reforms in the Organization’s development system promoted country-level efforts to achieve agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration.

In an interactive discussion kicking off the operational activities segment of the annual session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), representatives of UN agencies spotlighted the need to better coordinate country-level development initiatives and target operational reforms to “localize” the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by 2015.

Opening the discussion, Jaime Moncayo, of Ecuador, Vice-President of the Council, said operational activities were devoted to assisting developing countries achieve the MDGs and the outcomes of major UN conferences and summits, which aimed to improve the lives of the people of the world. It was a complex task, bedevilled by limited resources. It included support for programmes and strategies of developing countries. Operational activities also faced major challenges in terms of greater inter-relationship among several themes, including coordination, efficiency and impact.

José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the UN had a unique capacity to provide neutral and flexible support, particularly its unparalleled power to engage with various stakeholders at the country level. He also highlighted the Organization’s distinctive advocacy role, its analytical capacity on complex social and economic issues, its role in conflict prevention and resolution, and in linking socio-economic development with post-conflict peace-building.

Nonetheless, increased effectiveness at the country level required overcoming several challenges, he said. Mechanisms to enhance coherence of United Nations development cooperation, such as the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), must have a national – not a United Nations – focus. Also, the UN system needed to mobilize all of its parts that could assist country efforts.

Likewise, non-UN actors, including the private sector and civil society, should be more systematically engaged in UN development activities. In addition, the issue of how to prepare for development after conflict should be addressed. In that connection, he said operational activities for development should be a central focus of the proposed peace-building commission.

Sigrid Kaag, Deputy-Director of the Programmes Division, of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the agency was looking at how it could increase resources for capacity-building and other interaction with national bodies, and had marked out areas where the Bretton Woods institutions fit in with its activities. In light of recent changes, there was now an emphasis on leveraging resources and influencing debate, and localizing the MDGs along with empowering local communities. She added that it was also valuable to have a strong resident coordinator system in place that was able to accommodate the competencies of the various agencies.

Eckhard Hein, Chief of the Resources and Strategic Partnerships Unit, Technical Department, of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said his organization had undertaken reforms once its eyes had opened to the real challenges on the ground. Events around the current G-8 summit in Scotland forced a re-examination of accepted concepts, such as official development assistance (ODA).

He said agencies were an important component of carrying out operational activities at the country level. Many agencies had a 30-year relationship with governments and had no trouble in letting the government make the decisions on what it wanted the agency to do. Strengthening the role of the resident coordinator meant, in essence, a strengthening of the entire system behind the concept, he added.

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