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Accounting for success

Al Hayat

21 June 2010

By Ban Ki-moon

Next week, the leaders of the world’s largest economies will gather in Canada. Many of the questions on the summit table echo concerns around kitchen tables everywhere.

Will the troubles in the Eurozone plunge the world into a double-dip recession? Can the upswing in emerging markets offset the slide elsewhere?

Are we finally emerging, like survivors of a hurricane, to assess the extent of the damage and the needs of our neighbors? Or are we standing in the eye of the storm?

In a very real sense, the answers to all these questions depend on us – and how we manage the world economy over the coming period.

One encouraging sign is that there is a growing recognition among leaders of the need for increased accountability.

Now more than ever, we must be accountable to the most vulnerable.

The moral argument is clear. After all, those least responsible for the global economic meltdown have paid the highest price – in lost jobs, higher costs of living, growing community tensions as families struggle to make ends meet.

But the economic rationale is equally compelling. Like never before, global economic recovery depends on growth in developing countries. Those who have been hit the hardest are also our best hope for driving prosperity in the future.

Despite substantial stimulus efforts in many countries, the evidence shows that these have not always “trickled down” to meet the immediate needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.

We are seeing the greatest dynamism in the emerging economies, but also the greatest pain. Far too many are left on the sidelines.

In developing regions, many workers have been pushed into vulnerable employment. The ranks of the global unemployed have grown by 34 million, and another 215 million women and men have become working poor. And, for the first time in history, more than one billion people are going hungry worldwide.

A recovery is not meaningful if people only learn about it in the newspaper. Working women and men need to see it in their own lives and livelihoods.

Simply put: A real recovery must reach the real economy.

As we look ahead, what does accountability mean in practical terms for people?

First, we must be accountable on delivering quality jobs. The global jobs crisis is slowing the recovery as well as progress towards reducing poverty in developing countries. It is time to focus on human development and decent work, particularly common sense investments in green jobs. Quite simply, economic recovery can’t be sustainable without job recovery.

Second, we must be accountable to those hardest hit by the crisis, especially women. Throughout the world, women are the social cement that holds families and communities together. One of the most effective investments we can make is maternal and child health. The leaders’ meeting in Canada can support our global effort to adopt and resource a global action plan on women’s and children’s health.

Third, we must be accountable for our promises. The world’s leading economies have committed to double development aid to Africa and boost progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. More resources can transform lives and whole societies.

We know what works: investing in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; delivering on commitments made last year to guarantee food security and help small farmers increase productivity and access markets through supporting national plans; ensuring that every child has access to primary education.

I recently visited a Millennium Village Project in Malawi and saw for myself how targeted, integrated investments in health, education, and technology can spur dramatic growth. Just three years ago, many in the village were on the verge of starvation. Today, they are selling surplus grain in markets throughout the region.

Smart investments create jobs and opportunities that spread far and wide.

Economic uncertainty cannot be an excuse to slow down these efforts. It is a reason to speed them up.

In an era of austerity, we must be wise with limited resources. Accountability is not charity. It is central to a coordinated global recovery plan.

Focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable can spur economic growth today and lay the foundation for a more sustainable and prosperous tomorrow.

In our interconnected global economy, it turns out that being accountable around the world is also smart accounting back home.

Ban  Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations