It is a pleasure for me to send a message to the Civil Society Development Forum. I regret not being with you today, to support this valuable practice established by CoNGO. Your meeting, just before the substantive session of the Economic and Social Council, adds great energy to its work. It gives practical meaning to the path-breaking provision in the Charter of the United Nations on consultations with NGOs.
You have an agenda well harmonized with the agenda of the Council. Improving public health – and the various ways to achieve this – is not the domain of the health ministries alone. Civil Society organizations have a special role. As NGOs accredited to ECOSOC, many of you have an even more important role. You can deeply influence the decision making process, while drawing on your role as advocates and champions of the human-centred approach to development.
ECOSOC has prepared for this session in unprecedented ways. Many of the health issues have been examined in detail over the past year. Regional meetings have been held in five cities. Eight national presentations will be held next week. In all these processes – regional and national – the Council and we, in the Secretariat, have encouraged NGO participation.
The global financial and economic crisis was a theme cutting across the entire preparatory process. In the wake of this crisis, which is far from over, unemployment and poverty are on the rise. Global growth will decline by 2.6 per cent this year. Average incomes will fall in at least 60 developing countries. Moreover, the crisis is affecting the capacity of governments to provide social protection, deliver social services and invest in infrastructure and other areas critical to long-term development.
Declining government revenues and significantly reduced access to finance will cause social spending to drop, particularly in health. This will impede countries’ capacities to cope with the impacts of the crisis on the poor and most vulnerable, and cause further setbacks in progress toward the MDGs.
This is where civil society needs to come to action, at every level. Globally, it needs to help lift the voices of the poor and the vulnerable so they are heard by policy makers. Nationally, it has to ensure that, when national budgets run tight, the plight of the people is not forgotten – and that social spending is only cut as a last resort. And locally, civil society has to step up its efforts, as it has always done in times of crisis, to help the poor and the vulnerable and to support the provision and efficient delivery of social services.
I look forward to learning of the outcome of your deliberations at the opening of the Council. My Department and I send our warmest wishes to you for a most productive forum.