12 September 2006

Second Regular Session UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board

Statement by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA

Good afternoon, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, friends.

It is a pleasure to address you this afternoon on key policy and management issues critical to UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund and how we assist countries in achieving their population and development goals. Today marks the commencement of the 61st session of the General Assembly—a session that will feature even more fundamental discussions on development and our roles within it.

Later this week, the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration will provide an opportunity for Ministers to examine the causes and consequences of millions of people on the move—people who are compelled to leave their places of birth in search of a better life in another country. On behalf of my colleagues in UNFPA and myself, I would like to thank you, your governments and our counterparts for the support we received in capitals where we launched our State of World Population 2006 report. This year’s report, on women and international migration, along with its new companion youth report on Moving Young, add value to the migration debate.

I am thankful to Member States for the great interest they have shown in ensuring that the follow-up to the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document reinforces the efforts already underway to strengthen our contribution to national development efforts. It is vital that the international community is able to measure access to reproductive health in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework to ensure progress and attention to gaps. My colleagues and I will continue to depend on your usual wise guidance and support. To all of you, thank you, once again.

Let me also extend a special welcome to the new delegates who are participating in the Board for the first time. We look forward to working closely with all of you.

Mr. President,

We find ourselves, as an international community, in a period of change. There is no longer any debate that the United Nations can continue with business as usual. We cannot. This sense of urgency has naturally fuelled a search for new ways to do things, but also a certain apprehension, as to the implications for the development agenda to which we are all so strongly committed. Naturally, we all look forward to the report of the High-Level Panel on United Nations System wide Coherence and its recommendations.

For UNFPA, United Nations reform presents an opportunity to strengthen aid effectiveness by ensuring that the needs and human rights of people are put at the centre of the equation. National ownership and leadership, and international cooperation are critical. I think we can all agree that the United Nations reform should result in tangible benefits for the poorest and most disadvantaged people on earth, and improved prospects for the least developed countries. By putting people first, and focusing on the realization of their full range of human rights, including their right to sexual and reproductive health, greater progress will be made in meeting international development goals, including the MDGs, and in achieving peace and security. It is within this context that we have worked with you throughout the year on our proposal for moving our geographic divisions to the regions. I will say more about this later, especially in view of the open and constructive discussion we had yesterday at the informals.

Global Commitments and National Development

Mr. President,

Distinguished delegates,

For UNFPA, the ICPD goal of universal access to reproductive health, which was endorsed at the highest level at the World Summit, along with women’s empowerment and gender equality remain priority concerns. Together with the important issue of factoring population into development, these are areas of intervention identified by experts and governments as critical to improving both development prospects and outcomes.

In every region, we continue to refine and deepen our interventions through enhanced advocacy and strategic partnerships with Governments, other United Nations organizations, the private sector and civil society organizations.

Developing national and local capacity and unleashing the talents of people; slowing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS; improving reproductive health, including maternal health; and reducing the potential for social conflict and poverty require greater progress on issues of equity and human rights. Progress also depends, of course, on political commitment and investment, the strengthening of systems and expansion of essential services, and improvement in the status of women.

In many countries, gender-based violence symbolizes the persisting lack of progress in addressing gender inequities in the larger development framework. By strengthening gender mainstreaming and addressing the specific needs of women, greater progress, which is so vital and urgently needed, will be made.

To enhance global efforts to reduce gender-based violence, UNFPA, together with the Belgian Government and the European Commission, organized a well-attended International Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond, in Brussels from 21 to 23 June. As an outcome, the governments, civil society and international organizations present at the Symposium issued the Brussels Call to Action, copies of which are available at the back of the room.

I would also like to update you briefly on our Global Campaign to End Fistula. In just a few short years, the Campaign, presently active in more than 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Arab region—has achieved remarkable success. Countries have made headway in reducing the silence and stigma surrounding the condition and have begun to strengthen health and social support systems to ensure that fistula becomes part of the past. The continuing existence of fistula points to the discrimination that women continue to face and their lack of access to essential health services.

Next week, Ministers of Health from the African continent will meet in Maputo to plan ways to expand access to sexual and reproductive health. The meeting, hosted by the Government of Mozambique—with the support of the Africa Union Commission, the European Commission and UNFPA—is focused on scaling up sexual and reproductive health services throughout Africa towards the goal of universal access. This is a matter of the utmost urgency, given the high unmet need and tragic loss of life and productivity. UNFPA is committed to working with African governments and ministries of health to redouble efforts and to galvanize greater international support for sexual and reproductive health in Africa.

We are also looking forward to the Third International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, which will take place in Bangkok from 20 to 22 November. The Bangkok meeting will provide an opportunity to take stock of what the parliamentarians have achieved so far in their own countries and to review together ways in which we can support national legislative bodies to ensure the integration of population and reproductive health into national development strategies, with adequate budgetary allocations.

Mr. President,

In view of the importance we attach to partnering with others to maximize results, I am pleased to report on a number of initiatives we have undertaken in recent months to strengthen partnership.

A few months ago, I met with my colleague, Ann Veneman, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to discuss how we can work more closely together in areas of mutual interest to our organizations. We discussed, among other things, more closely linking infant and child health with maternal and reproductive health, in order to provide comprehensive services to mothers and children.

In June, World Health Organization (WHO) and UNFPA issued a joint communiqué that identified a number of priority areas for cooperation in sexual and reproductive health. I am confident that this will generate greater progress on the ground for expanding access to these life-saving services and ensure that WHO and UNFPA are working together in a coordinated and coherent manner.

Last month, I met with Paul Wolfowitz, the President of the World Bank. We had an opportunity to exchange perspectives on various issues of interest to both organizations. The meeting was positive, with mutual agreement that the Bank and UNFPA would continue to work and collaborate together at the field level in the area of population and development.

On a related matter, my colleagues and I would like to thank governments for their continued support to the issue of Reproductive Health Commodity Security. With your support, great advances have been made in ensuring that life-saving supplies are available and used by those who need them. Many countries have already created unique budget lines in their national budgets for contraceptives and other commodities and have incorporated contraceptives into national essential drugs lists. Other accomplishments include the strengthening or establishment of national coordination committees for reproductive health commodities, and the drafting of national plans.

The challenge now is to maintain the progress made with this country-driven approach so that these advances do not stagger or lose momentum. One way of continuing our pledge to sustainability is the development of the Global Programme to Enhance Reproductive Health Commodity Security, which you will hear about in more detail at an informal briefing tomorrow afternoon. We are actively seeking funds for this exciting initiative and your support will be crucial for its success.

International Migration and Development

Mr. President,

In a few days, the General Assembly will hold its High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. The various dimensions of migration—from population dynamics to international economic, political and cultural interrelations, as well as human trafficking—cut across the ICPD agenda. The contribution of migration to the development of both sending and receiving countries has not been fully recognized. And, regrettably, the abuses associated with migration have not been addressed with the urgency required. Today, nearly half of all migrants are women and many of them are young.

The high-level dialogue represents a critical opportunity to ensure that the needs and human rights of women are adequately recognized and addressed and their contribution to poverty reduction and development is enhanced. As I mentioned earlier, just last week, my colleagues and I launched this year’s State of World Population report, entitled A Passage to Hope: Women and International Migration. The report calls for greater attention to be paid to human rights and gender in migration debates and policies. This year we also launched a youth supplement, Moving Young, which calls attention to the challenges young migrants face.

During the high-level dialogue, UNFPA will co-sponsor with the Swedish Government and the World Bank a side event on the theme, “Women on the Move”. The objective of the side event, to be held on Thursday, is to highlight the implications of international migration to women. A day before this, we will co-sponsor another event with the International Organization on Migration on “Female Migrants”, during which we will present the outcomes of a roundtable on the subject held earlier this year.

National Ownership and Leadership

Mr. President,

The central focus of our efforts at UNFPA and our interactions in the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and within United Nations Country Teams is to respond better to the needs of programme countries and people. We are committed to results and accountability. We firmly share the position in the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review and the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, that national ownership is key to achieving development objectives. As we align ourselves with budget support and sector-wide approaches at the country level, UNFPA is focused on supporting national leadership, policymaking, implementation capacity and South-South cooperation in this new aid environment.

Capacity development and ownership of national development strategies are essential for the achievement of international development goals, including the MDGs. UNFPA is working with the UNDG on an overall framework for the United Nations work at country level to enhance our contribution to national capacity development. It is important that the United Nations system works together through the United Nations Country Teams. The overall goal for the United Nations Country Team at country level is to support national counterparts to develop their capacities to own, lead, manage, achieve and account for their national development priorities. The intent is to catalyse United Nations Country Team thinking and to provide possible tips to take their capacity development efforts forward collectively in their analytical work and strategic planning.

The recent interest in several countries to explore the establishment of one/joint United Nations offices reflects a bold effort by Member States to consolidate the lessons learned regarding coordination of the United Nations system at the field level. UNFPA supports these efforts and will assist in developing the necessary capacity to ensure that field coordination leads to high quality assistance, with value added. A coordinated United Nations team is key for national capacity building and we have to allow for flexibility so that the UNDG can be as supportive and effective as possible in assisting countries and their people. Yesterday we had an opportunity to hear from South Africa about the development of the first nationally owned Common Country Assessment and UN Development Assistance Framework, which is tightly aligned with its own development strategy, and the Government is using to coordinate its international cooperation. This example is worth sharing and learning from. We pay tribute to the Government of South Africa for its leadership and vision.

To ensure that the work of UNFPA does foster greater national capacity, we are working to ensure that the new medium-term strategic plan we are currently developing reinforces the guiding principles of national ownership and capacity building, in line with the Paris Declaration, the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review and the World Summit outcome.

I would like to pay tribute to the staff members of UNFPA, who are highly skilled and dedicated. Over the past five years, we have focused on strengthening country offices starting with the field needs assessment, which formed the basis for the transition and our strategic direction. Steps taken have included learning and training opportunities, redeployment, relaxing overly bureaucratic procedures, increasing the number of posts at the country level, upgrading posts, and raising spending ceilings in order to encourage innovation and our ability to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, while at the same time ensuring accountability.

However, you and I know that this is not enough. There is still a need to do more so that all UNFPA country offices can deliver stronger results.


Towards that end, the regionalization process is a key additional step and constitutes a priority. While we recognize the need to directly strengthen capacity at the country level, and we have been trying for the past five years, we know that in spite of the efforts that have been taken so far, within our resource base, we still do not have the critical mass we need to perform at the required level in the new aid environment in response to the demands placed on us.

It is a well known reality that UNFPA country offices are often composed of one international staff, the Representative, who can hardly attend all meetings, especially within the context of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, Sector-Wide Approaches, and other national processes, and his/her constant involvement in policy dialogue and advocacy with national stakeholders, including civil society organizations and community groups. We are also stretched in our ability to effectively work within United Nations processes at the country level.

Therefore, now we must take a bigger leap. With regionalization and the bringing together of programmatic and technical support, we will be able to provide country offices with more quality assistance. For example, when a country embarks on a national process, such as a Sector-Wide Approach, the regional team will be able to provide, from the beginning to the end of the process, comprehensive and integrated technical and programmatic support. In this way, we will ensure that sexual and reproductive health, population and gender are fully integrated into national policy dialogues.

Having integrated technical and programme teams located in the regional offices, closer to the countries we serve, will allow UNFPA to respond in a timely and effective manner to those countries requesting assistance. The pooling of resources at the regional and subregional level will allow us to engage in capacity development in a more cost-effective manner, ensuring better knowledge-sharing and coordinated planning with other United Nations agencies at the regional level. The aim is to enhance national capacity, ownership and leadership.

As I informed you yesterday during the briefing on regionalization, we will continue to keep the Executive Board informed about progress and engaged in the process. In this connection, we expect to have additional informal sessions between now and the end of October, in addition to other consultations with regional groups. Let me reassure you again that we will continue to be guided by the very important perspectives you have shared with us to ensure that the final package meets our common goal: to make UNFPA a more effective organization within the context of United Nations reform.

And I want to assure you that the standard for any proposal is whether it strengthens our support for country offices to deliver better and for countries to achieve their development goals. From all the evidence we have, there is no way to improve substantially the performance of our country offices without integrating the programme and technical functions at our Geographic Divisions, increasing the capacities of those Divisions and placing them in the field. This obviously would have cost implications, which will be formally submitted to the Board in January for decision.

Emergency Preparedness, Humanitarian Response, Transition and Recovery

Mr. President,

Tomorrow, the Board will be taking up the report on UNFPA’s Role in Emergency Preparedness, Humanitarian Response, Transition and Recovery—a report of great significance to the strategic direction of UNFPA.

One year ago, the Executive Board reaffirmed the importance of the work of UNFPA in humanitarian and transition settings. In recognition of that role, the Board raised the ceiling of the UNFPA emergency fund from $1 million to $3 million per year. At the same time, the Board requested UNFPA to develop a comprehensive strategy on emergency preparedness, humanitarian response, and transition and recovery.

Members of the Executive Board, I am pleased to report that we have completed work on the strategy, which is ready for your review. The three-year strategy will be introduced tomorrow morning. Over the past year, we held extensive stakeholder consultations, organized external evaluations of UNFPA capacity, and undertook a global staff survey of humanitarian training needs. The strategy before you builds on lessons learned and an analysis of programme country needs. More importantly, it ensures that the issues of gender, reproductive health and data are integrated into emergency preparedness, crisis response and recovery programmes and enhances the capacity of UNFPA and its partners to respond effectively.

Humanitarian crises – whether caused by armed conflict or natural disaster – hurt women and girls the most. The right to sexual and reproductive health applies to all people at all times, including those in communities experiencing crises or recovering from them. This strategy—which focuses on building constituencies and capacity—will ensure that UNFPA and the wider humanitarian community are able to respond more effectively to such crises, to ensure a gender-sensitive response, protect the reproductive health of individuals, and strengthen their prospects for recovery and well-being.

Allow me now to make a few brief remarks about Lebanon. Just two weeks ago, I had the privilege of representing the United Nations Development Group at the Stockholm Donor Conference for Lebanon's Early Recovery. UNFPA, together with the United Nations system, is supporting Lebanon’s plan for early recovery while planning significant support to the National Reconstruction Conference to be held in Beirut later this year. It is to the credit of Lebanon, and the Swedish Government that hosted the meeting, that they gave us the first example of the critical importance of ensuring that resources are made available for the recovery phase, which is often forgotten, in the funding that goes from humanitarian assistance to development. Early recovery is a stepping-stone towards a more comprehensive recovery and reconstruction process.

UNFPA is committed to working with the ministries and civil society organizations in Lebanon, within the United Nations Country Team, to support these efforts. I would like to thank all governments that responded to our emergency appeal to ensure a coordinated and effective United Nations response.

Financial Matters

Mr. President,

Let me now introduce our report on UNFPA’s Annual Financial Review.

From 2004 to 2005, total income to UNFPA increased by $62.8 million or 12.5 per cent to $565 million. UNFPA resources surpassed the $500-million level for the second year in a row, the highest total ever. This included $365.8 million in regular resources. However, we need to put these figures into perspective. In 1995, regular resources to UNFPA peaked at $312.6 million, followed by a declining trend reaching $249.8 million in 1999. In the meantime, the demand for reproductive health services, including HIV/AIDS prevention, has continued to grow.

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome two first-time donors to UNFPA in 2006, Monaco and San Marino. Last year, our number of donors reached a record high of 172, and together with my colleagues, I thank you for your continued support. I would also like to restate our firm intention to reach $400 million in regular resources in the very near future. Increased and sustainable regular resources would enable UNFPA to deliver its programmes to help countries attain the goals of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the MDGs. UNFPA will continue to focus on increasing and achieving more stability and predictability in contributions to regular resources, the foundation and bedrock of the Fund’s operations.

Regarding expenditures, total expenditure increased by $71.9 million or 15.9 per cent to $523.3 million in 2005, of which $68.1 million (95 per cent) was attributable to increase in programme activities.

The balance of unexpended regular resources carried forward from 2005 to 2006 totalled $48.6 million, representing 13.3 per cent of income for the year. The somewhat higher carry-over from 2005 to 2006 is due to a combination of factors in the context of today's challenging and changing aid environment. Many of these are largely beyond our control including emergencies, security issues and changes in a number of countries, including public sector reforms and also common United Nations system programming processes. It is also important to look at implementation rates over a longer period of at least two to four years and to focus on the quality and effectiveness of programmes.


Mr. President,

Let me conclude by going back to where I started—the drive for system-wide coherence and further United Nations reform. Renewal is vital if we are to keep United Nations organizations relevant to the complex development conditions in many parts of the world. All of us who believe in the development mission of the United Nations must work to ensure that the genuine changes that are needed to bring the promise of a better life to the world’s poor do not become a source of contention and paralysis in our Board or elsewhere.

The focus of change must be putting people at the centre of development. It means building on what works. It means coherent guidance and support to United Nations system organizations to enhance the United Nations contribution to national capacity development. More importantly, it means never losing sight of the realities in which the majority of our fellow human beings are born, live and die. That means, for us, supporting countries in building capacity to collect and use data for effective planning; to protect and promote the rights of all, especially women and youth; to empower women and promote gender equality; and to provide information and services for sexual and reproductive health to protect and save lives and reduce poverty.

I thank you.