The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is an agency within the United Nations (UN) dedicated to development and improving the lives of global citizens. Present in 177 countries and territories today, UNDP promotes development through poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, and environment and energy for sustainable development. General Assembly (GA) Resolution 2029 (XX) established UNDP by combining the Expanded Program of Technical Assistance and the United Nations Special Fund into one agency. UNDP additionally plays a vital role in the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), which coordinates the development objectives of 32 UN funds, departments, programs, and agencies in order to achieve more lucrative results. The Administrator of UNDP serves as the Group’s Chair and follows only the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General in UN rank.
A 36-member Executive Board, established in 1993 by GA Resolution [A/RES/48/162], creates UNDP policy and oversees its work on the ground within Member States. Under direction from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to which it reports annually, the Board also coordinates the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS). The mandate of the Board includes implementation of GA resolutions and coordination of ECOSOC development efforts. It specifically receives information from and provides guidance to the heads of UNDP, UNFPA, and UNOPS; ensures that these programs’ activities and strategies align with their responsibilities as given by the GA, ECOSOC, and the UN Charter; monitors program performance; approves country plans and budgets; encourages and examines new initiatives; and submits annual reports and recommendations to ECOSOC. The 36 members of the Executive Board include representatives from eight African States, seven Asian States, five Latin American and Caribbean States, four Eastern European States and twelve Western European and Other States. ECOSOC elects all members for three-year terms except those from the Western European and Other States group, as it may decide its own internal alternation.
Millennium Development Goals
As one of UNDP’s primary focus areas concerns achievement of the MDGs, UNDP programs have focused on MDG progress since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000. The UN subsequently established eight MDGs to improve global equality, health, and education through realistic and achievable development targets and a timeline stretching to 2015.
Today, UNDP is one of the key agencies of the UN working to achieve the MDGs. It contributes by overseeing Member States’ progress in this regard, by giving policy and technical guidance, and reviewing negative and positive reports with Member States. Millennium Development Goal 8, namely to create a global partnership for development and address the special needs of least developed countries, is a goal created to ensure the achievement of the first seven goals. While progress has been made, unpredicted circumstances such as the global economic crisis threaten progress and leave major gaps for improvement. Since 2008, UNDP, along with the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), has become a head agency of the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force established to ensure the achievement of MDG 8. Additionally, UNDP continues to support the MDGs through the MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF), a major result of the 2010 High-Level Plenary Meeting at the UN General Assembly (more commonly known as the “MDG Summit”). Through the MDG Acceleration Framework, UNDP may observe existing programs within states and identify obstacles that prevent the programs from becoming effective in meeting the given MDG, whether the program involves agriculture, health, infrastructure, etc. When a given state receiving aid detects an MDG target not progressing sufficiently, the MDG Acceleration Framework will intervene using the following steps: identify the intervention needed to achieve the MDG, identify reasonable solutions, and create an action plan to achieve the solution. The contributions by UNDP to achieving the MDGs now will greatly impact the international development agenda following 2015.
The Human Development Report
UNDP has commissioned the annual publication of the Human Development Report (HDR) since 1990.20 The HDR aims to return the focus of the development discourse to people as the “real wealth of the Nation.” Prior to this, the numerical values of a country’s wealth as defined by gross national product (GNP) determine its level of development. The in- depth reports changed the international perception of development by calculating qualitative Human Development Index (HDI) based on a population’s average achievement of a “long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.” The HDI expands the quantitative values of GNP to include qualitative measures of health and knowledge; it considers levels of equality, health, education, poverty and sustainability as well as income. UNDP releases HDRs at the global, regional, national, and sub-national levels.
The HDR allows UNDP and the UN network to identify priority needs by more accurately determining which areas are more in need of what type of aid. For example, the most recent international report published in 2011 notes the relation between environmental degradation and economic growth and development. Based on the findings, the HDR focused on the theme of sustainability and equity for regions particularly behind in the past decades. Observing the HDI also helps UNDP determine the progress of the MDGs. International media have referred to the reports as “the authoritative measure of poverty and deprivation” and “the most influential piece of writing of the last decade” regarding governance.
Challenges & Critiques
One of the central critiques of UNDP relates to its work in producing academic data and instruments focused on measuring and understanding development. The Human Development Report has been the subject of criticism in the academic community, and this criticism has challenged UNDP to be an active participant in dialogue to improve its programs. While the accessibility and ease of understanding of the HDR has been praised, it has also been criticized as representing an overly simplistic view of development, for being premised on flawed or incomplete methodologies, and for lacking external validity or for being insufficiently robust or redundant. The Programme made an effort to address criticisms of the HDI, and, by extension, the HDR process in 2010 in preparation for that year’s HDR, and has examined the results of this review and modification of the index. Modifications made by the UNDP in an effort to be responsive to criticism and to improve the work of the organization included broadened indicators of human development, and addition of a Gender Development Index (GDI). The GDI, introduced to the HDR in 1995 in an effort to recognize the gendered aspects of development, has also been criticized. Academics have encouraged modifications to the measure to increase its validity and usefulness, and raised concerns surrounding a perceived lack of difference in measured results between the HDI and GDI, a lack of data necessary for forming a valid instrument, and methodological concerns. Suggestions include a simplification of the GDI to make it more accessible to policymakers and non-academics. Both the United Nations Development Programme and the terms of international development have evolved greatly since UNDP was established in 1965. The organization continues to evolve its practices in response to changes in the global community and dialogue with both the academic community and key stakeholders in development at the state level and within civil society. The various focus areas of UNDP have made great contributions to many developing states, and, with the help of the Human Development Report/Index, UNDP has made an effort to broaden the conception of development. Considering the areas in great need of development and the fast approaching MDG deadline of 2015, direction given by UNDP Executive Board is of utmost importance.
Both the United Nations Development Programme and the terms of international development have evolved greatly since UNDP was established in 1965. The organization continues to evolve its practices in response to changes in the global community and dialogue with both the academic community and key stakeholders in development at the state level and within civil society. The various focus areas of UNDP have made great contributions to many developing states, and, with the help of the Human Development Report/Index, UNDP has made an effort to broaden the conception of development. Considering the areas in great need of development and the fast approaching MDG deadline of 2015, direction given by UNDP Executive Board is of utmost importance.
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