Statement by Ambassador Hjálmar W. Hannesson
Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations
“Recognizing the achievements, addressing the challenges
and getting back on track to achieve the MDGs by 2015”
General Assembly thematic debate
New York, 2 April 2008
Let me begin by thanking the President of the General Assembly for organizing this thematic debate on an issue that lies at the heart of this Organization, the Millennium Development Goals. We are halfway towards the year 2015, and we believe this is a good time for stocktaking and addressing thoroughly the challenges ahead.
At the outset, I would like to associate myself with the statement on sexual and reproductive health and rights, made by the distinguished representative of Sweden on behalf of the five Nordic countries. The eight MDGs are not only equally important in themselves, but are also highly related and mutually reinforcing. Emphasizing poverty, education and health, will have a lasting effect on sustainable economic and social development.
We are not half way to the goal of halving poverty and hunger. Even though progress has been considerable in some regions, progress in others is seriously lagging behind. Sustained economic growth is a necessary premise for generating recourses for the fight against poverty and hunger. The current downturn in the global economy is therefore particularly worrying. But economic growth is not a sufficient precondition for poverty eradication; we need a comprehensive approach to development, which will generate pro-poor growth that benefits all segments of society.
Iceland’s development policy focuses on the poorest of the poor, and the greatest part of our bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA) is targeted to the needs of LDCs. Recent hikes in the price of staple foods are particularly worrying. Food security has been an important aspect of our development cooperation, particularly related to the fisheries sector. We have also increased our emphasis on food security through increased support for the UN World Food Programme. We will continue to maintain our policy of channeling the largest share of our development cooperation to people living in extreme poverty and hunger.
The role of education in poverty reduction is undisputed, and education is an essential part of a comprehensive approach to development. It is important in this context that we focus both on the quantity, and the quality of education. Not only do we need to assist developing countries in facilitating access and enrolment at all levels; but we also need to give sufficient attention to important education results such as literacy and numeracy. Our firm belief that education is the key to success, has been the cornerstone of our national and international development policies.
Projects in this area have taken place at various levels, ranging from primary and adult education, to training and capacity building in fisheries in the partner countries, as well as support to higher education. Iceland hosts two of the United Nations University training programmes, the geothermal and fisheries training programmes.
Women play a fundamental role in sustainable development, and are too often – and sadly - the poorest of the poor. Experience has shown that support for the education, health and economic activities of women not only has a significant impact on their own lives and well-being, but has a multiplier effect for their communities. For this reason we have increasingly directed our development cooperation at gender specific projects. This has been done through our bilateral programmes in the partner countries and through support to the work of UNIFEM, and through other multilateral activities.
The WFP school feeding programme, one of the programmes that Iceland supports, is a good example of our combined work on poverty, education and health. In the year 2007 and 2008, Iceland’s contribution will provide 45.000 children in Malawi and Uganda with nutritious daily meals at school, making it easier for them to concentrate and learn. An equal number of children attend primary school in Iceland.
The fact that three out of the eight Millennium Development Goals focus on health exemplifies the close link between health and development, and signifies the pressing need for assistance in this field. Poor health and lack of access to health facilities contributes to slow economic and social growth, as well as sustained poverty.
For these reasons the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA) has focused on supporting the health sector in its partner countries. In addition, Iceland has supported a number of multilateral efforts in this area, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Iceland has also for years supported UNFPA's campaign against fistula.
The MDGs can only be achieved by forging a true global partnership. To conclude Mr. President, I would like to highlight the importance of the upcoming meeting in Doha in November on Financing for Development. We will not achieve our goals without increased financing from all available sources. The Government of Iceland stands ready to shoulder its responsibility. We aim to be among the top ODA contributors, our development assistance having doubled over the past four years.