UNITED NATIONS, MediaGlobal News–Held last month in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, the 2013 Commonwealth Local Government Conference attracted the attention of many political and business leaders, local authorities, and international agencies. Among the speakers at the conference was UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, who spoke extensively on the theme of “putting local government at the heart of development.”
Representing the UN agency tasked with helping local governments in developing countries achieve success, via the Millennium Development Goals, Clark spoke of various initiatives that UNDP has undertaken to support local governments in these countries.
In her speech, Helen Clark stressed that “local governments with clear mandates, adequate financing, and sufficient capacity help drive development. Your convening power is used to bring public, private, and non-governmental stakeholders together.”
Clark gave examples of UNDP campaigns to help local governments expand immunization, health care, and HIV prevention. In Africa and Asia-Pacific, local governments have worked with ministries and development partners to give families incentives to send their children, particularly girls, to school. These incentives, which included providing free basic schooling and transportation, as well as feeding programs, have helped increase school attendance.
UNDP Communications Specialist Vincenzo Pugliese provided additional information in an exclusive statement to MediaGlobal News. UNDP is coordinating a global program to support the design and implementation of municipal action plans on HIV focusing on the most vulnerable populations in large cities. This program also aims to develop the capacity of high-risk and often criminalized groups to promote and protect their health and human rights. According to Pugliese, this is a global program, but he mentioned specific examples in Latin America: Dominican Republic, Guyana, Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil.
“In Porto Alegre, Brazil, UNDP supported the city authorities to undertake a joint review of HIV-related policies, laws, programs and services targeted at marginalized groups, specifically men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, and injecting drug users,” Pugliese stated. Porto Alegre’s health department endorsed the plan and pledged to fully fund its activities, which include scaling up health and social services covering prevention, treatment, and care for the most vulnerable populations in the city.
Clark reminded conference-goers that many people and communities have yet to see the benefits from reaching the MDG goals. “The role of local governments is critical to reaching those left behind, including women, indigenous people, ethnic minorities, people living in remote areas, youth, the disabled, and other excluded groups.”
Progress to date has not been evenly shared within or across nations. Pugliese mentioned that the data presented in countries’ own national MDG Reports point to stark disparities. According to the UN global 2012 MDG report, despite significant progress made in the last decade, poverty still remains widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.
Countries and communities with the least MDG achievement also often face violence and armed conflict — often worsened by poor governance. Such violence has affected and uprooted millions who experience enormous obstacles in terms of safety, security, and accessing basic services such as education and health. Significant disparities can also exist between rural and urban areas in developing countries.
Related to the local obstacles that UNDP face in its work with local governments, Pugliese noted that they lie in adequately addressing the disconnect between national policies and local level capacities to implement.
“Even in the most fragile countries, governments have a vision or a plan to address the most urgent development challenges,” Pugliese told MediaGlobal. “However, often, these plans are not backed up by concrete investments and local capacities to effectively deliver services to the people most in need.”
UNDP has been addressing this challenge by combining support to local governments and communities with targeted policy support at the national level. Such collaboration has been demonstrated for example through initiatives to support decentralization so that local government have the right resources and capacities to respond to local communities’ priorities while building accountability and transparency.