10 October 2019

Secretary-General's remarks at opening of UNHCR/World Bank Joint Data Centre on Forced Displacement

Ladies and gentlemen, honorable Minister,
It's an enormous pleasure to be with all of you.
I'm an engineer, so I have a relatively accurate idea of the importance of data – not only in the work of the engineers, if we want our bridges not to fall and we want all telecommunications to work, but also in more and more in social sciences and more and more in relation to the humanitarian and development activities.
The number of decisions that are taken in the world based on wrong information is amazing, and the worst thing we can do is to bring us solutions for the problems we do not have. And, as a matter of fact, in my experience – first, in public office in Portugal and then in the UN – is that there is an enormous amount of situations in which we try to bring solutions for the problems we do not have simply because we do not have the data that clarifies what problems we really have. And this is one of the things that I hope this data center will help us to overcome, and we have a serious problem in relation to the Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals, with data.
First of all, we have a serious problem with the statistics we publish, that the official formal statistics we publish, need to have the agreement of the Member States, and the process in the Member States is very slow. So many of our official statistics are completely outdated and do not represent at all the reality. And so, more and more, we have parallel systems and probably there is no other way to do it.
But the fact is that I'm seeing, in the UN system, centers of excellence being born and centers of excellence in different areas of UN system, where data is effectively collected and data is effectively used, and I’m sure that this will be a center of excellence in relation to one of the most dramatic areas in humanitarian action and one of the most dramatic areas in the life of people, because people displaced have, not only the needs of everybody else, but are in general in a much more precarious situation than other people that suffer poverty or discrimination in different, other circumstances.
So we are dealing with a population that absolutely requires, not only our commitment, our engagement, our support, but that that commitment, that engagement and that support is accurate because we can't afford to do the wrong thing with people that have so basic and dramatic needs.
So congratulations on this initiative, and I believe UNHCR has a good experience of data collection in these areas. But I'm sure that this represents a quantum leap in relation to the experience I had in the past, and I'm looking forward to the success of this center in the improvement of the work that UNHCR does and the UN system as a whole and the international community as a whole are able to do to the benefit of some of the most dramatically vulnerable people in the world.
Thank you very much.