Rastislav Vrbensky: Welcoming remarks at the regional launch of the global Human Development Report

Jun 19, 2017

Rastislav Vrbensky, UN Deputy Assistant-Secretary General and UNDP Deputy Regional Director for Europe and the CIS


Deputy Rector Ünal,


Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I would like to begin by thanking you, Deputy Rector Ünal, and Istanbul Technical University, for your hospitality and warm welcome. UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and CIS very much looks forward to continuing our cooperation in the future.

It is also my pleasure to welcome you to this event, which is billed as a regional launch of UNDP’s most recent global Human Development Report Human Development for Everyone. It certainly is that, and we are very pleased that the report will be presented by the Chief Statistician of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, Mr. Milorad Kovacevic. In addition to the pleasure and honour of having Milorad with us today, his participation means that questions about how the human development index is calculated, and why certain countries’ HDI scores are what they are, can be answered by the world’s leading expert on this subject.

But this meeting is more than just a report launch. The report presentation kicks off a two-day exploration into recent policy research on the social dimensions of sustainable development in the middle-income countries of Europe and Central Asia, as well as Turkey. We are very pleased that experts from Albania, Belarus, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Serbia, and Uzbekistan—as well as so many of Turkey’s leading researchers—are participating in this event. And we are delighted that experts from our sister agencies UN Women and the Food and Agriculture Organization are also taking part.

UNDP’s first global Human Development Report, which was published in in 1990, argued that “people are the real wealth of nations”. The human development concept defines development in terms of enlarging people’s choices and abilities to live lives they value. It puts people at the centre of development, both as drivers and as its beneficiaries.

Our 2016 Human Development for Everyone report focuses on those who have not fully benefitted from development progress over the past 25 years. It also shows how this exclusion can be overcome. Ensuring that development progress is broadly shared is the right thing to do. But it is also essential for sustaining the foundations for the peaceful, just, and inclusive societies envisaged in the global 2030 agenda for sustainable development, to which the world’s governments signed on at the UN Sustainable Development summit in September 2015. Agenda 2030 seeks to simultaneously advance the economic, social, and environmental strands of sustainable development in an integrated manner.

This report points out that averages too often disguise inequalities. To be sure, the world has seen substantial development progress since 1990. Some 1.3 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Child mortality has been halved, and 2.6 billion people now have access to safe water who did not have this in 1990.

But despite the substantial development progress that has on average been made since 1990, significant numbers of lives have been scarcely touched by that progress. Air pollution kills 6 million people every year—mostly in developing countries—and 38 million people die from non-communicable diseases. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, eight global billionaires own as much wealth today as the less wealthy half of humanity.

This report also reminds us that, in almost every country, certain groups are more disadvantaged than others. These include women and girls, rural populations, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and migrants and refugees. 65 million people are at present forcibly displaced—including some three million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Globally, women’s labour force participation rate is only 49%, as against 76% for men. While women do most of the world’s agricultural work, they own less than 10% of the land. In 18 countries, women cannot work without the permission of their husbands.

Human development for everyone requires better data and analysis to inform policy and action. National statistical systems need to collect disaggregated data across a wider range of socio-economic indicators. “Big data” and other new data sources need to be tapped to more clearly show where, exactly, development challenges—and their solutions—lie. Such data can better support policies to reduce poverty, strengthen social protection, and create decent jobs that replenish the planet’s over-burden ecosystems, rather than straining them further.

The report also argues that national policies like these should be complemented by reforms to global governance institutions. These would entail a greater emphasis on global macroeconomic stability; an equitable global trading and financial framework; a fair migration system; a robust and well-financed multilateral system with equitable representation; and enhancing global civil society.

These ideas and arguments strongly support Agenda 2030’s emphasis on ensuring that economic development “leaves no one behind”. But to be effective, this message needs to be tailored to regional and national contexts, and to be reinforced by evidence-based policy relevant research.

This is why—following the presentation of the Human Development Report—we will be spending the next two days presenting and discussing such research. Gordana Matkovic will describe the work now being done to reinvigorate social protection systems in the Western Balkans, and to establish a “Social Davos of the Western Balkans” initiative. Alexander Chubrik and Eno Ngela will present research on the factors that drive vulnerable people into, and out of poverty in Belarus and Albania, respectively. Istanbul Technical University’s very own Professor Ipek Ilkkaracan—who has just returned from working with UNDP’s country office in Skopje—will explain how investments in the social care economy can create more and better jobs than investments in construction projects. Tatiana Karabchuk, deputy director of the Eurasian Monitor in Moscow, will explore the vulnerability of Central Asian migrant workers in Russia. And Hasan Tekgüç and Gökçe Uysal will describe the status of Syrian workers on Turkish labour markets.

This is just a taste of the research, ideas, and policy proposals that we will be discussing during the next two days. I am confident that we will come out of this meeting better able to support efforts to ensure that “no one is left behind”. As UNDP, we look forward to taking forward many of these ideas—and involving our region’s experts more closely—in our programming and policy advising for sustainable development.

Thank you very much.

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