26 January 2006

Statement at the 2006 First Regular Session of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board

by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director


Good morning and Happy New Year. Once again, it is a pleasure to address all of you as members of the Executive Board. I would like to thank H.E. Ambassador Carmen María Gallardo Hernández, Permanent Representative of El Salvador for her leadership, and I would like to welcome our new President, H.E. Ambassador Valeriy Kuchinsky, Permanent Representative of Ukraine and his bureau. To the members of the outgoing Bureau, I would like to thank you for your hard work. And to all members of the Executive Board, I would like to thank you for your continued support.

I would also like to pay a special tribute to my colleague Imelda Henkin, our Deputy Executive Director of Management, who recently retired after 31 years of dedicated service. My colleagues and I extend to her much appreciation and gratitude and best wishes for the future. I would also like to pay tribute to the outgoing Associate Administrator of UNDP, Zephirin Diabre and extend a warm welcome to the incoming Associate Administrator, Ad Melkert. We pledge to our colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) the continued cooperation of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Mr. President,

The year 2005 was a momentous period filled with negotiations. It was marked by the achievement of global consensus on the international agenda for peace, development, security and human rights. There is no doubt that 2006 will be pivotal in advancing the commitments made at the World Summit, including United Nations reform.

We look forward to the attention that will be given this year to the issue of migration, starting with the Commission on Population and Development in April, and the General Assembly High-level Dialogue in September. UNFPA is contributing significantly to these important events. Our State of the World Population report for 2006 focuses on women and migration, and we hope it will generate further discussion and action to protect their human rights. Beginning this year, we will be launching simultaneously a report prepared by youth on the same subject so that we hear the views of young people each year on important population and development issues.

Distinguish Members of the Board,

Today, I will focus on UNFPA’s four priorities for this year. The first and most important priority for UNFPA in 2006 is follow-up to the World Summit. The second priority is United Nations reform, which is critical to move the Summit outcome forward. The third priority, related to United Nations reform, is accountability. The fourth and final priority, related to all others, is regionalization.

Summit Follow-up

Mr. President,

By any measure, the agreement reached at September’s World Summit represents a big step forward. World leaders committed themselves to, and I quote, “achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015, as set out at the International Conference on Population and Development, integrating this goal in strategies to attain the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration, aimed at reducing maternal mortality, improving maternal health, reducing child mortality, promoting gender equality, combating HIV/AIDS and eradicating poverty.”

Needless to say, all of us at UNFPA are very pleased with this outcome. This is the highest level of endorsement of the critical role that reproductive health plays in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. And I thank you, our Member States and partners, for your determination to ensure that universal access to reproductive health by 2015 remains a global development priority—and constitutes a target to measure progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

UNFPA welcomes the resolve of world leaders to promote gender equality and eliminate pervasive discrimination and violence against women and girls. We agree that progress for women is progress for all. And we welcome the increased attention being paid to gender within the United Nations system. UNFPA has been calling for such attention and increased resources to this area for years and we are committed to making greater progress with partners for gender equality.

Today, I would like to stress the need to fully mobilize our efforts and run full speed ahead. We have nine years left in the countdown to 2015 and we need to be relay racers so we can register greater success. As many of you have said before and as the Secretary-General has repeatedly told us, it cannot be business as usual. We need to work together as never before, in a coherent and coordinated fashion, with a unity of purpose and sense of urgency, to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

In every region, UNFPA is working to ensure that the goals of universal access to reproductive health by 2015 and gender equality are included in national development strategies by 2006, as our leaders have told us. We know that investment in the social sector reduces poverty and inequality. We are paying special attention to gender-based violence, an area in which we have experience in dozens of nations. As a priority this year, we will work with partners to ensure that increased resources are mobilized and allocated in national budgets to advance sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights and gender equality. As part of this effort, we are working to mobilize increased commitment and capacity to achieve reproductive health commodity security.

As you know, reproductive health commodity security underpins our work. It is a key part of the Fund's overall management plan, and a priority area for follow-up to the World Summit. Since the last Board session, the Global Programme to Enhance Reproductive Health Commodity Security has been sent to some 20 donors. A number of pledges have been made, and we continue to work with key global partners to refine and build support for this important initiative. We look forward to hosting the April meeting of the Global Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition here in New York and to further strengthening our work together so that nationally driven efforts lead to reductions in commodity shortfalls and sustainable commodity management systems at the country level. Only through such sustained and sustainable efforts can the right to sexual and reproductive health be realized.

On the bigger picture, we welcome recent moves towards increased levels of debt relief and official development assistance. Only a global partnership for development and capacity building can bring success. Vital to this partnership is the commitment of developing nations to drive their own development, invest in their own people, and properly monitor their own progress towards internationally agreed development goals.

Mr. President,

We know that innovative pilot projects are necessary, but we also know that if these are not scaled up to reach more people, we will continue to fall short of our goals. In leading the ICPD agenda, we are working to leverage the use of larger resources from national governments and other development partners into national programmes. We believe in country-led and driven development using national processes, systems and institutions.

The ICPD agenda is based on human rights; therefore, the promotion of human rights is critical to our work. We are using culturally sensitive approaches to promote human rights and to expand local understanding and knowledge of these rights as they relate to people’s daily lives and gender and sexual and reproductive health, which are considered sensitive in some cultures. We are committed to the right to development and economic, social and cultural rights and the promotion of the full range of human rights in a comprehensive and integrated way.

To improve maternal health, we are working with governments and the new Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. In every region, we are focused on ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health in all national health programmes and improving health systems for delivery. In Africa, where needs are great, we have launched a maternal health initiative to support countries in the implementation of their national roadmaps to scale up programmes on family planning, skilled attendance at delivery, emergency obstetric care and obstetric fistula. UNFPA has provided significant support in the process towards the development of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Framework for Africa, which was adopted early this week by the Africa Union at its Summit in Khartoum. We are committed to moving forward and supporting countries as they progress in this area.

In the area of HIV/AIDS, UNFPA continues to work to better link HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights and to intensify HIV prevention. In this regard, I would like to thank the European Union for the statement on World AIDS Day, highlighting the important role of sexual and reproductive health in combating HIV/AIDS.

UNFPA is committed to carrying out the recommendations of the Global Task Team on improving AIDS coordination. We will continue to focus our work with partners in three priority areas: HIV prevention among young people and adolescents; comprehensive condom programming of both male and female condoms; and HIV prevention in women and girls which requires a gender perspective and the protection of women’s rights. Newly added responsibilities include meeting the sexual and reproductive health needs of women living with HIV and leading the United Nations system in addressing issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and sex work. We take these roles very seriously, and we are committed to doing our part, through joint United Nations support to countries, to expand HIV prevention.

Mr. President,

The latest global AIDS figures show that HIV prevalence rates have declined in a few countries, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Haiti and others. Changes in behaviour, such as increased use of condoms, delay of first sexual experience or abstinence and fewer sexual partners have played a key part in these declines. I am convinced that UNFPA has contributed to these successes. In Zimbabwe, for instance, where HIV prevalence declined sharply, especially among youth, analysis shows that UNFPA’s support to the comprehensive nationwide condom programme played a substantial role.

In the area of population and development, we are making progress as well. It was heart warming to hear from officials in Botswana during my visit a few months ago of the contribution UNFPA made to building national capacity in the area of statistics and census. The most recent census in Botswana was undertaken fully by national expertise and the country is now self-sufficient in this area. It is stories of success like this one that keep us at UNFPA optimistic—knowing that investing in people at the country level is the key to national development. I will report in the Annual Executive Board session in June on our intention to review and energize regional demographic centres to build greater capacity and expertise for population and development. This is just one part of our effort to support South-South cooperation.

Mr. President,

As we all know, partnership is at the heart of development. And critical to these efforts is United Nations reform.

United Nations Reform

UNFPA is committed to a more effective and cohesive United Nations system. As United Nations Development Group (UNDG) Executive Committee members, we met recently to discuss speeding up reform and making sure it has a meaningful impact on United Nations country teams as they serve their national counterparts. We all agree that change is necessary to improve coordination, and deliver the results that are expected and promised. We need to continue to tackle duplication and competition. We need a more rational division of labour based on comparative advantages. We need to reduce transaction and administration costs. And we need to change our own internal organizational cultures and staff mindsets with incentives and rewards for those who work in teams.

There is much good thinking and analysis going on and there is no doubt that we have come a long way. The common country programme, joint offices and joint programmes and the strengthened Resident Coordinator system are important steps forward. UNFPA is fully committed to these steps and to going even further.

In large part, the real demonstration of the relevance of the United Nations system in the context of the debate on global architecture and aid effectiveness comes down to the role played by the Resident Coordinator and the United Nations country team. The Resident Coordinator has to be a real team leader. New aid modalities and the current United Nations reform atmosphere demand a shift in the business model of the United Nations—towards a leadership role for the whole system in building national capacity, fostering national ownership and aligning our processes with national ones.

In response to the programme countries’ own demands for making United Nations support more effective, coherent and meaningful, we need, as a United Nations team at the country level, to have one country programme document. This should be prepared through a simplified and consultative process, which supports the government’s development priorities. This step alone would save an enormous amount of time and unleash energy in the direction in which it is urgently needed—for action on the ground and implementation.

Mr. President,

My message is simple: We need to spend less time in the paper world so we can engage more actively in the real world. Today, we are bogged down by paperwork and processes over processes—it is a cry I hear in every field office I visit when meeting the United Nations country team —and we desperately need to reduce the number of our documents and also the processes that produce them.

Given international consensus on the need for country-led and driven development, UNFPA believes that the reform process itself should neither be overly orchestrated in New York nor overly bureaucratic. We need to understand that processes are a means to an end, and not an end in themselves. Let’s make sure that in redesigning the global architecture—we do not get too far removed from the people we are meant to serve. I believe that we need to stay grounded and connected. Many times the most innovative solutions rise from the bottom up. I consistently tell the United Nations country teams to work together and not to wait for instructions from us at the UNDG at heasquarters. I tell them do it, succeed, and then tell us how you did it based on your local knowledge, partnerships and expertise.

Our experiences tell us that it is at the country level where the difference will be made. We need stronger teamwork and coordination at this level so we can be more effective in assisting countries to build capacity and achieve their development goals. The story about Botswana's self-sufficiency in census is just one example of this national capacity- building dream.

To improve aid effectiveness, we also need to do more to facilitate debate on important issues within communities and nations, and dialogue among people, especially women and youth, and national governments. The Charter of the United Nations begins with three simple words—We the Peoples—and we should be guided by those words as we move forward in the United Nations reform. Our ultimate goal at UNFPA is to ensure that the ICPD and the Millennium Development Goals are achieved within the larger development agenda, aimed at reducing poverty and inequality, and protecting human rights.

Mr. President,

I recently returned from South Africa and Banda Aceh and both visits gave me new insights into what is needed to improve effectiveness in development and humanitarian response, which are increasingly linked. There is no doubt that as a United Nations country team, we need to join hands and work together as one. In South Africa, I saw one example of a country taking the leadership in the common country assessment and adopting it as the only document for articulating its national needs. This is what national leadership and national ownership are all about and it was gratifying to see. I was proud to represent the UNDG Chair in the National Stakeholders Forum on the CCA/UNDAF. South Africa is an example to be emulated.

But I also saw the regional group of various agencies, known as the Southern Africa Regional Directors Team, trying to work together to assist United Nations country teams and governments to deal with the triple threat of food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and weakened capacity for governance. There are many teething issues in learning how to work together in a coordinated and cohesive manner, but I believe it is work in progress from which we can learn a great deal. I also saw the coordination work going on in Aceh, through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which included United Nations agencies as well as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and here there are also many lessons to carry forward. In Aceh, I learned that the correct person in the correct place can make the difference in the leadership position to bring the international and national communities together.

Mr. President,

There is no doubt that one of the greatest challenges to development today is conflict. Here I would like to welcome the creation of the new Peacebuilding Commission. We consider this a major step towards fostering lasting peace in countries emerging from conflict. And we are particularly pleased with the international community’s recognition of the vital role of women in preventing and resolving conflicts as well as building and fostering a lasting peace in their communities. To build peace, UNFPA believes that women and young people must play a central role.

As you know, UNFPA is engaged in 40 countries that are in some stage of conflict, emergency or recovery. And our role is very clear. We work with partners to deliver reproductive health information and services, including HIV prevention and preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence. UNFPA is also working to build the capacity of women's groups; empower women and youth to participate in political processes; ensure that women's rights are integrated into law reform and that accurate population data is utilized to respond to people’s needs and promote and protect their human rights. We are also proud of our work to train peacekeepers and uniformed services in gender, HIV prevention and reproductive health and rights. In Latin America and the Caribbean, we have supported 14 governments in institutionalizing gender and sexual and reproductive health in their national police or armed services or both.

These areas form a core part of our contribution to the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security and they also constitute the areas in which we hope to engage the new Peacebuilding Commission.

The two cases studies presented yesterday, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are just two examples of how important it is to invest resources in the transition phase and what a difference it makes when the United Nations agencies work together in an integrated way along with their national partners. It is truly a win-win situation.

Mr. President,

We have heard during this Board session how the United Nations system and Pakistan responded to the devastating earthquake that shook northern parts of the nation in October 2005. I would like to extend condolences to the people and Government of Pakistan for the losses they have incurred. I would also like to inform you that UNFPA has contributed to the international response. Our quick and timely deployment of mobile clinics saved many lives. As of last count, over 96,000 people were treated by our mobile health units, over 528 babies were delivered and over 200,000 hygiene packs were distributed. UNFPA, as an active member of the United Nations country team, is the first United Nations agency to have put in place by the end of January three permanent prefabricated structures to assist in recovery and rehabilitation.

Overall, at UNFPA we are striving to be more entrepreneurial and innovative in our approach so that we can work effectively with partners to support governments to build capacity and scale up their responses. We are working with a variety of national and international NGOs to expedite the urgent and rapid response to crises.

We believe that our relatively small size and focused mandate gives us a comparative advantage in being nimble and quick to respond, though with the growing demands placed on us by the United Nations reform, this is becoming harder and harder as staff are under greater pressure than ever before.

Overall, we know that adequate human and financial resources are key, but we also know that just as important as resources is being resourceful, and effectively responding to the reality on the ground. I can assure you that we are making every effort to be as resourceful as possible.

Let me give you an example. In India, we were the only United Nations agency that, upon short notice, joined the health sectorwide approach and pooled a majority of its resources to support the Government in this nationally driven effort. UNFPA was able to refocus quickly its efforts on complementing the governments’ own programme. Looking forward, we are finding more and more ways to complement the governments’ programme, including in the areas of adolescent sexual and reproductive health, with our technical expertise, both at national and state levels.

I believe this example—there are many more, we are involved in Sector Wide Approaches in 27 countries—embodies the spirit of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. That spirit is focused on national ownership; alignment with national policies, processes and systems; harmonization; managing for results and accountability.


Mr. President,

The 2005 World Summit called for an organizational culture of accountability, transparency and integrity. UNFPA is fully committed to this vision. One of our organizational priorities for 2006 is to increase accountability to our beneficiaries, stakeholders and to each other within UNFPA.

In simple and practical terms, this means doing the right things in the right way at the right time—making the greatest positive impact on the lives of the people we serve, optimizing the use of our resources, and managing risks while developing a culture of transparency.

We have updated our internal control framework to better manage the risks, which, like any business, we have to take in our operations. The revised framework will help foster a culture of accountability in the Fund and improve audit compliance. As I mentioned, there is no accountability without transparency. In this connection, I am pleased to inform the Board that I have taken the decision to constitute an Oversight Committee of five independent members, with expertise in audit and finance, and knowledge of the United Nations system. The committee, whose stewardship is assured by the Director of the Division for Oversight Services, reports directly to me. Its membership and charter meet prevailing industry standards. This is an important step for us, and I believe it is an unprecedented step in the UN system. I have also directed our internal Programme and Management Committees to play a stronger leadership role in monitoring and reviewing performance and delivery.

Our ultimate goal is to build a coherent and transparent system of accountability for achieving results across the organization. To do so, we have devised several outputs, along with corresponding indicators and targets, which we are committed to achieve this year.

In terms of organizational accountability, we have commenced a comprehensive process to establish the next multi-year funding framework as the primary instrument of accountability at each level of the organization. We must be able to fully account to all of our stakeholders for the performance of UNFPA. To improve overall performance and results, we are putting in place an automated country office pilot scorecard by the end of 2006 that will enable management to identify gaps at the country level and take the necessary remedial action. These improvements, which will be carried out in a fully participatory manner with our colleagues in the UNDG and members of the Executive Board, will significantly strengthen the clarity of the unique roles of UNFPA for which we are accountable to ensure overall results-based management.

Mr. President and Members of the Board,

I am pleased to inform you that since the last Board session, the Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed me as the Chair of the High-Level Committee on Management. It is a great honour to work with colleagues from all over the United Nations system, members of the Chief Executives Board. And it is also a great responsibility since the Committee deals with reaching agreement across the United Nations system on standardizing our human resources, financial systems, Information Technology systems, audits, and other systems.

In November, the Committee decided that all United Nations system organizations adopt the International Public Sector Accounting Standards effective no later than January 2010. This is a significant step forward and will have a positive impact on the quality, comparability and credibility of United Nations system reporting, with consequential improvements with respect to accountability, transparency and governance.

As I Chair the High-Level Committee on Management and work with all United Nations agency members of the Chief Executives Board, I will be guided by the principles of the Paris Declaration and United Nations reform.

Mr. President,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of UNFPA. Working with them is indeed a privilege. They are hard working, skilled and dedicated. But I must caution that the heavy load being placed on our staff due to all the reform and related processes is a little overwhelming and is taking its toll. We are expected to function like our sister agencies with only one sixth of their human resources! Nonetheless, we are committed to doing so.

Here, I would like to stress that learning and training continue to be key drivers in our human resources strategy. In 2006, UNFPA is committed to ensuring that our field staff members, regardless of category or contractual status, are provided with key learning and training opportunities to meet the demands placed on them. This will include e-learning courses on programming issues and language proficiency and cultural sensitivity training so we can be more effective as we carry out our work. In addition, the UNFPA Executive Committee has recently endorsed a revised rotational policy, which is founded on the need to ensure staff renewal, learning and optimal performance.

We are also working to improve internal communications from the top to bottom of the organization, bottom to top and peer-to-peer. We know we need to continue to change the culture within UNFPA to become more accountable and results-based and to do so, internal communication is key.

Mr. President,

Allow me now to turn briefly to our financial situation. I am very pleased to report that UNFPA registered another record-breaking year in 2005 in terms of support. We now count 171 Member States as donors, up from 166 in 2004. Last year, every single nation in sub-Saharan Africa pledged funds to UNFPA and with the exception of one, every country on the African continent has paid or pledged support in 2005. This tremendous show of support is a vote of confidence in UNFPA and a symbol of international commitment to the ICPD agenda and the achievement of the MDGs. I would like to thank governments for making 2005 a banner year.

I would also like to thank specifically and pay tribute to the African countries for articulating their commitment to the ICPD Programme of Action not only verbally, but through action. We salute you and if such commitment demonstrates something, it demonstrates that Africa is on the move forward and upwards. Congratulations to each African country.

While I am grateful for your support and the confidence you place in us, I am concerned that the levels of funding still fall far short of what is required and what was stipulated in the ICPD Programme of Action and other agreements. I would like to assure you that I am committed, as are my colleagues, in response to your support and trust, to improving our performance and achieving results across the board. I would also like to request the Executive Board members and the United Nations membership at large to consider increasing their contribution for 2006 and beyond so that UNFPA can continue to move ahead and play a significant role as a facilitator of national action and a solution provider, as it is expected to do.


Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

As I informed you at the previous Board session, the UNFPA Executive Committee has decided, in principle, to proceed with regionalization of the Fund. Our priority in 2006 is to lay the groundwork for UNFPA to become a stronger field-centred organization.

Our goal is to strengthen UNFPA’s regional and country-level presence in support of capacity development, advocacy, policy dialogue and technical assistance. Regionalization will imply moving some of the organizational units and/or functions to the regions, and establishing a field-based organizational structure, with integrated managerial, programmatic and technical functions. In addition to being closer to countries we serve, we will be able to increase collaboration with sub-regional and regional institutions. We believe that a realigned presence at the regional level is the most appropriate way to meet expectations and deliver greater results. We strive to make a stronger contribution to meeting national development priorities and advancing the ICPD agenda at the country level.

We have defined a clear work plan for regionalization, which will lead us to the definition and adoption of a specific UNFPA regionalization model. The model will be costed and a revised budget for its implementation will be submitted to you for approval in January 2007. We will keep you informed of our progress through informal consultations throughout the year and I will report on developments through my statements in the Board.


Mr. President,

In conclusion, I would like to stress that development history since 1946 is filled with starts and stops, the next big idea, and repeat performances. We now have an opportunity to embark on a new path. We have our key goals in place and if we focus like a laser on working together to fully implement and monitor them, with a unity of purpose and sense of urgency, we stand a decent chance of success.

UNFPA staff members around the world are doing their utmost to promote the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. This is our unbroken commitment.

We are pleased to present Board members with our Country Profiles for Population and Reproductive Health: Policy Development and Indicators , which can be found at the back of the room. The volume contains policy overviews by country and by region, maps and a broad array of demographic statistics and indicators to measure progress towards the ICPD and Millennium Development Goals. We are sure you will find it most useful.

I would like to stress that throughout the course of this year, we would like to work more closely with the Board on the priorities we have set for ourselves: operationalizing the 2005 World Summit outcome; advancing United Nations reform; regionalization; and of course increasing accountability. We count on a spirit of partnership as we move ahead.

I thank you.