15 December 2006
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), outlined at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon the agency’s efforts to improve its early crisis prevention and recovery work and to make it more operational and “on the spot” where needed.

Reviewing UNDP’s work since his assumption of office in March, he pointed out that 2007 would mark the midpoint for implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, and stressed the importance of looking at critical factors standing in the way of success in that regard.  They included both man-made crises and natural disasters that “washed away” many achievements in economic development.

More than 40 countries had been scarred by violence and conflict in recent years, and their development programme related largely to reconstruction and recovery, he said.  Mitigating the effects of crises and addressing their root causes, therefore, was of the utmost importance in facilitating attainment of the Goals.  UNDP was also focusing on early recovery as part of its efforts to improve coordination with other agencies, funds and programmes.

The introduction of a search capacity would transform the way in which UNDP operated, he said.  It involved “getting the right people to the right place at the right time” and moving rapidly to unforeseen crises or disasters.  The Programme intended to establish a search capacity staffed with 50 to 60 trained and certified crisis managers and operations specialists, who could be deployed quickly to provide humanitarian relief and bridge the gap between immediate response and longer-term development efforts in the aftermath of a crisis.  The UNDP had also adopted a number of standard operating procedures and developed toolkits, including best practices and enabling rules and regulations.

The Programme also sought to draw lessons from the 2004 tsunami response, he continued.  The tsunami evaluation had been a unique exercise by all partners involved in the response, from which clear conclusions had been drawn.  At a recent meeting, former President Clinton, concluding his work as a Special Envoy, had called on all the actors to take the evaluation very seriously.  Its most important conclusion was that affected people surveyed had been satisfied with the initial relief assistance, but had become increasingly less satisfied with recovery aid, particularly with respect to re-establishing their livelihoods.  There was a need for more “rules of the game” among donor organizations as well as cooperation with non-governmental organizations and civil society.

Among other areas requiring attention, he said, there was also a need to tighten quality control, establish a standing “quick-response” capacity and introduce international accreditation and certification.  Disaster risk reduction and crisis response programmes represented a priority for UNDP, which intended to pursue them jointly with the Peacebuilding Support Office.

Responding to several questions about UNDP’s involvement in a northern Uganda disarmament programme that had reportedly harmed some civilians, he said it was not involved.  The agency was engaged only in a local community development project.  “Clearly, in the circumstances in northern Uganda, it is hard to distinguish from the situation of risk and potential conflict, including the role that weapons play, but it was not a direct involvement from our side.”

Responding to another question, he said that, alongside other organizations, the UNDP was stepping up its efforts to prevent natural disasters.  In the tsunami’s aftermath, the Programme had been part of the conference that had paved the way for the development of an early warning system.  A large part of the tsunami area was now covered, or would be covered in the course of next year.  That was one example of systematically mapping individual countries’ risk sensitivity.

He added that UNDP was developing an index by which it would prioritize its activities and assistance to Governments, including institution building and knowledge management, to make them better prepared for natural disasters.  Preventive efforts in the area of natural disaster risk and recovery would figure prominently in the strategic plan currently being developed.

Asked if the United Nations was still a driving force in tsunami rehabilitation and recovery, he said the leading role was increasingly being passed to the national Governments involved, but the Organization was still providing support.

Regarding reports that survivors’ land was often turned over to the tourism industry, including hotels and condominiums, he said it was obviously difficult to interfere directly with decisions by local authorities, but fair distribution of resources in the reconstruction stage was a matter of attention for the UNDP and other organizations.

To a question about the transparency of recent audits of UNDP offices in Uganda, the Russian Federation and Honduras, he replied that he was looking into bringing the Programme’s procedures in line with those of the Secretariat.

In response to another question, he acknowledged that the Millennium Development Project was being merged into UNDP as part of a managerial decision to consolidate efforts to implement the Millennium Goals.  The UNDP was trying to respect contracts and organize new procedures for staff, who must reapply for employment when their contracts did not warrant their automatically continuing in their jobs.  As in any organization, it was necessary, when another entity was brought in, to ensure “that there are enough chairs and desks to accommodate everyone”.

“We have done it well, we have done it, of course, quickly, because that was necessary in order to make this work,” he added, noting that he had been concerned, since starting at UNDP, that many Millennium Goals-related activities were too dispersed.  “It is my responsibility to bring that together.  I think everybody can and should work with us, and that’s what we are doing at the moment.”

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For information media • not an official record