Burundi + 7 more

Press conference by UNDP Administrator

While countries ravaged by war make the headlines, their recovery from violent upheaval is a story rarely covered, yet economic recovery is a formidable challenge such devastated nations face, according to a report released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The report, "Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity," is a comprehensive analysis focusing on three critical factors: the importance of local ingenuity to guide recovery; the State's role in promoting that ingenuity, and the policies needed to rebuild battered economies and reduce the risk of conflict recurrence.

Launching the report at a UN Headquarters press conference, UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis, said the challenges outlined in the report were huge, and there were no easy answers. He explained that the report was careful to emphasize that in the domain of post-conflict economic recovery, as was the case with many other domains, one size did not fit all and that there was no model that would work for everywhere and for everything. The report stressed the importance of indigenous "drivers" of recovery, the local actors, individuals, communities and local enterprises. At the end it brought out the message that recovery has to be domestically driven. It also emphasized macro-economic policies, growth mechanisms and the issue of inequality in those societies.

The study cited examples of countries that had succeeded in rekindling post-conflict economies. Mozambique, for instance, was one such country that had sustained remarkable rates of growth in the 15 years since hostilities ceased. There were also other examples where economic growth had been weak and in a way such countries had been "trapped" into long-term post conflict low-growth situations. It also emphasised the crucial need to rehabilitate public capacity and the State.

He said in the broader context of the current global financial crisis, UNDP had again focused on the complementarity of market mechanisms and the State; and clearly in a post-conflict situation where basically the States had collapsed, one of the biggest and most important challenges was to have a functioning State. But at the same time within that State, there was the crucial importance of having the participation of various stakeholders; bringing together those who had opposed each other; the very important message that elections should not be a winner-take-all phenomenon, but that elections were one stage in trying to build a much more participatory political process.

In particular, he said, UNDP, which had previously concentrated a great deal on supporting elections, had learned over the last few years that that was just the first step and he cited Kenya as an example that showed that having a fair and honest election was important but did not solve the problem when societies were deeply divided. Thus, participatory processes and the power-sharing mechanisms became critical to building both post-conflict and preventative type of mechanisms, as in the case of Kenya. In that regard, sustained external support and action were necessary, but at the same time it was vital that such external support focused on those points highlighted by the report. In this way, there was no long-term dependency on aid processes and international mechanisms that did not support the domestic dynamics.

That holistic view of post-conflict recovery was based on experience UNDP had gained working in many countries around the world, many of them devastated by violent conflict.

He said the study also called on international partners to support debt relief, which provided much-needed breathing space in the early post-war years, to generate employment. This was the best way to ensure that economic growth benefited the majority of the population, and to support national efforts to rebuild the capacity of the State and secure its legitimacy.

Speaking at the same briefing, Kathleen Cravero, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, on the role of women in post-conflict economic recovery, observed that it was well established from "hard-won experience" that women suffered disproportionately during crises and were often barred from full involvement in the recovery process.

Whether it was widows stopped from inheriting their husbands' land, young girls who were kidnapped and abused by militants during war, or women who had no access to credit to start small businesses in the aftermath of conflict, it was women who remained the backbone of their communities before, during and after any given conflict. The report made four specific recommendations regarding the involvement of women in post-conflict economic recovery, she stated.

First, the end of a conflict could offer an important window of opportunity to redress pre-war inequities, including gender discriminations. It was a time to build back better; for example, the property rights of women could be, and had been, advanced in a number of recovery processes. However, it was necessary to remember that there were examples where the status of women had actually regressed, if important or deliberate steps were not taken.

Secondly, women could and should be "drivers" of their own recovery. Time after time, women had proven their resilience and resolve in war-torn environments; forming collectives that tackled everything from family reunification to micro-credit associations. Those informal groups, she said, provided central services that their governments had ceased to deliver and they built trust within and among communities. "It's a powerful step in the peace-building process", she added, "And what we have learned in a number of different countries, which is highlighted somewhat in this report, is that women often identify with each other as women over and above any other identification they might have with an ethnic or political group. And this is an extremely important association to build on."

The third recommendation, she said, was that issues affecting women needed to be integrated in all post-conflict policies and programmes, ensuring that girls and women had equal access to employment opportunities, education, health and finance. That was not only a moral imperative, she said, but made good economic sense supported by recent United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) studies, which showed that in situations where women were given priority access to agricultural and other financial or productive inputs, production could go up as much as 20 per cent.

Fourth, and equally important, women should be afforded equal participation in peace processes. Of the 12 peace agreements that had been reached over the ten-year period between 1991 and 2001, only four -- El Salvador, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste -- had included a provision directly related to women and in some of those, they had been provisions that were difficult to get implemented.

Continuing, she explained that the four recommendations were not just coming out of theory, but out of experience on the ground. She cited Nepal, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia and elsewhere as "powerful examples" where the programme of including women in post-conflict economic recovery had worked well. "In Rwanda, the role of women in post-genocide recovery is now world-famous. They mobilized themselves to take on roles traditionally played by men; reached across divides and led the reconciliation process in Rwanda," she said.

She added that UNDP experience on the ground confirmed that women needed to be seen as problem-solvers and decision-makers in achieving both economic recovery and lasting peace.

Responding to a correspondent's question, Mr. Dervis said that although it was too early to tell how the emerging global financial sector crisis would affect UNDP's programme delivery, it was clear that the UN system would face a very challenging 2009 brought about by the economic slowdown in the world's rich countries that also affected the developing countries to the extent that much of the progress made in fighting hunger and poverty was endangered. He hoped that the underlying long-term structural issues were not forgotten because of the very real short-term challenged that had to be addressed.

To a question on what role there was for South-South cooperation, particularly among countries that had similar post-conflict problems, Mr. Dervis said there was a great deal of experience that could be shared and many lessons learned, even given the fact that things were very different even within the South. However, UNDP, through its Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery and its South-South unit, tried to make those lessons available by taking them from one country to another in roughly 50 countries.

Additionally, he welcomed the engagement of some of the developed countries which offered assistance, including financial assistance, beyond their immediate neighbourhoods to countries on other continents, as well as some of the "bi" southern actors who were becoming more and more important, and their financial resources were considerable.

Asked if there were any signs that the wealthier countries were beginning to hold back or put certain projects on hold as a result of the global financial crisis, the UNDP chief said there had been no signs so far of any resource cutbacks for official development assistance (ODA) or programmes being delayed, but it was too soon to tell. However, it was a source of concern. He noted that the picture would become clearer in the 2009 budgets and the budget commitments of 2009 and 2010 whether ODA-financed programmed were endangered or not.

"We're worried because clearly the fiscal effort that is being organized to overcome the financial sector crisis is quite important. Deficits in major, rich developed industrialized countries are definitely going up. Nobody quite knows by how much at this point, but we see an increase in deficits," he said.

Acknowledging that there will be those fiscal pressures, he added that, nevertheless, ODA was not a huge percentage of GDP, and varied between .015 per cent of GDP up to 1 per cent in very few countries. (He mentioned Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.) He said he felt that, despite fiscal pressures, commitments to the poorest countries could and should be met as the figures involved to meet their requirements were not large when looked at from a broad perspective.

He noted that there were, however, other problems. Lending by banks to developing countries showed signs of going down already, so that commercial access to finance could be a problem for some of the developing countries. Another source of worry was the direct foreign investment (DFI) by private companies, which had been one of the positive aspects of the last five years, in that it had reached record highs. The new crisis had put a question mark on whether that would continue over the next few years since corporation may also be retrenching some of their expansion plans in response to the crisis.

For information media - not an official record