Placing Human Development at the Centre of the Post-2015 Development Agenda: A New Global Compact for the Future We Want

Delivered at the inaugural Mahbub-ul Haq Lecture in Lahore, Pakistan.

Mr. Iqbal Riza, Former Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General,
Madam Justice Nasira Javed Iqbal,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am truly honoured and privileged to deliver this first Lecture in honour of the memory and legacy of the late Dr. Mahbub-ul Haq. I am especially grateful to Dr. Khadija Haq, for bestowing this honour upon me, and upon the United Nations and ESCAP, by inviting me to deliver the first Haq Lecture.

Having known Dr. Haq, and having worked with him in the 1990s at the United Nations headquarters in New York, I deeply admired him as a man of vision. At that time, Dr. Haq was trying to change the development discourse through a transformative concept of human development, and he was doing so by developing the Human Development Index, along with his long-time friend Professor Amartya Sen, another giant from the subcontinent in development economics. For me Dr. Haq was a man of great courage and an inspiration to all. I will always regard him a giant of a 'thinker' who dared to defy his time, and uphold his belief in the equal rights and values of the human person, women, and men, and what humanity can be when we put human development at the core of our endeavours.

Speaking at a conference organized by ESCAP to coincide with the inauguration of its South and South-West Asia Office in New Delhi, on 15 December 2011, Professor Sen paid rich tributes to Dr. Haq who pushed him relentlessly to develop an index that would capture human development better than measures based on Gross National Product (GNP).

The human development concept placed people at the centre of development. Dr. Haq wrote: “For too long, development has been treated as synonymous with the growth in GNP […] There is no automatic link between economic growth and human progress. The concept of human development brings economic growth and human lives together. It is concerned with the processes through which human capabilities are built, how people participate in economic growth, and how they benefit from an increase in national production […] The concept of human development is, therefore, a comprehensive philosophy of life. It places people at the centre […]”. Over the past two decades, the concept of human development has captured the imagination of policy-makers across the world, and has pushed governments to pay attention to promoting human wellbeing alongside the search for higher GNP.

The global attention which the concept of human development, as articulated by Dr. Haq, had begun to receive with the publication of Human Development Reports since 1990, continued to gather momentum. A number of global events followed, which served to underline people-centered development, including the UN Conference on Education for All, and the World Summit for Children, both held in 1990; the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit; the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights; the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; the World Summit for Social Development, and the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, in 1995; the 1996 World Summit on Food Security; and, even though we lost Dr. Haq prematurely in 1998, this culminated in the adoption of the Millennium Declaration at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, which formed the basis for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),.

The concept of human development, as pioneered by Dr. Haq, has therefore been a major turning point in global development discourse. It brought human development to the forefront of government action – in measureable terms – and placed real pressure on governments to ensure that they prioritize the improvement of people’s lives. It provided a rallying point for the international development community.

This greater consciousness among governments, the international community, civil society, and people at large, about human development and basic human needs, has helped beyond doubt to change the development landscape. Much has been achieved, for example, over the past 13 years as a result of the adoption of the MDGs. Millions of people around the world now enjoy better wellbeing because of the MDG campaign, its annual and ongoing monitoring, policy advocacy, and more importantly, the action and investments by the national and local governments to achieve them.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

MDGs as an Unfinished Agenda

Allow me to begin today by examining where we are on human development based on the MDG's. Let me share with you some key findings from the Asia-Pacific MDGs Report 2012/2013, which is the latest in a series of reports that has been prepared by our ESCAP/ADB/UNDP regional partnership on MDGs.

The Asia-Pacific region has made a number of major achievements. On average, the region has already achieved the MDG on the reduction of extreme poverty. It is also an early achiever on access to safe drinking water; gender parity based on school enrollment; reducing the prevalence of HIV and TB; increasing forest cover and protected areas; as well as on lowering CO2 emissions.

There are, however, wide variations between our subregions and between and within countries in terms of MDG achievement. There are also variations across goals, with most countries and subregions of Asia and the Pacific making only slow progress on the reduction of child and maternal mortality.

Despite our achievements, Asia-Pacific countries still account for the bulk of world’s deprived people, including more than 60% (or 763 million people) of those living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day); nearly 70% of underweight children under the age of five; and more than 70% (1.74 billion people) of those without proper sanitation. It is clear therefore that the MDGs are unfinished business in Asia and the Pacific.

There are also still large numbers of people in our region who live only just above the extreme poverty line – in ‘near poverty’ – who cannot manage a decent existence. If $2 a day is used as a benchmark, the number of Asia-Pacific poor doubles to 1.64 billion. Therefore, about 900 million people living between the levels of $1.25 and $2 a day remain vulnerable, a number which has actually increased since 1990.

Let us turn for a moment to subregional progress and challenges. South Asia, for example. has also made remarkable progress in poverty alleviation, and is on track to achieve the poverty MDG. It has already achieved the targets pertaining to gender equality in primary education enrollment; the incidence and prevalence of TB; forest cover and protected areas; CO2 emissions per GDP; safe drinking water; and is also on track enrollment not only for primary education but also gender equality in secondary education. However, the enrollment figures do not capture drop-out rates, nor the quality of education.

Also, like most other subregions, South Asia has found it challenging to meet the targets in respect of maternal and child mortality, in sanitation, and in bringing down the proportion of underweight children. Despite progress, South Asia today represents the largest concentration of poverty, hunger, and other deprivations. South Asian countries also rank very low in terms of the Human Development Index compared to Southeast Asian countries, for example.

In other words, it might well be argued that, despite the MDGs, we still have a great deal of deprivation and insecurity. But this would surely have been worse in the absence of the MDGs. Some empirical evidence, as documented in the ESCAP/ADB/UNDP MDG reports, suggests that most countries accelerated their rates of progress in poverty reduction after introduction of MDGs. Even though the progress on infant, maternal, and child mortality has been slow, in 25 of the 48 countries for which data was available, the rates of progress have been accelerated, and a further 16 maintained them.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Human Development at the Core of the Post-2015 Development Agenda

The MDGs have, therefore, definitely helped in raising awareness of aspects of human deprivation, and the need to accelerate progress on them. We are in a race against time to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – and I believe that much can still be accomplished with a last big push to 2015. We must, therefore, emphasize the importance of meeting international commitments and shared responsibilities, including those relating to Official Development Assistance (ODA), access to markets, technologies, and essential drugs as enshrined in MDG 8, notwithstanding the importance of mobilizing domestic and regional resources. I also want to stress that the focus on MDG's is actually a very basic approach to human development.

While we need to redouble our efforts to achieve as much as possible by 2015, the discussion has started on a more comprehensive development agenda beyond 2015. However, the world has changed. The MDGs were conceived largely in a world of optimism, given rise by the end of the Cold War. We saw unprecedented consensus in the international community at landmark United Nations conferences and summits in the 1990s, which produced our internationally agreed development agenda, including the MDGs. The sharp recovery from the financial crises of the late 1990s and subsequent boom in the global economy, raised the prospect of continued progress at the dawn of the new millennium. It seemed that the era of boom and bust had given way to an era of “great moderation”.

In less than a decade however, great moderation tumbled into a great recession. Since 2006, we have seen excessive volatilities and hikes in key commodity prices, culminating in the food and fuel crises in 2007, followed in 2008 by the worst financial and economic crisis that started in the developed West since the Great Depression. These events have pushed millions back into poverty and seen a wavering of commitments made by the international community – reflected in unfulfilled development pledges and falling aid flows. Furthermore, the risks of climate change threaten to reverse our achievements and to undermine future gains

So, it is indeed a great feat that many Asia-Pacific countries have been early achievers in reducing the incidence of poverty. Furthermore, this has been achieved despite the region being hit by many significant natural disasters since the adoption of the MDGs.

When we discuss moving “From the Millennium Development Goals to the United Nations Development Agenda beyond 2015”, we must be mindful of the changed circumstances which have made closing development gaps more challenging and which have strained global consensus.

Despite the ongoing impact of the global financial crises, Asia remains the center of gravity of the global economic recovery, has created an expanded middle class, serves as a hub for International trade, investment, and technology transfer. However, despite such progress, most of the world's poor and hungry still reside in Asia, not only in the LDC's but also in the increasing number of middle-income countries of the region. In other words, our people can live in the same region or the same country, but in different worlds.

There is, therefore, a growing momentum across the region for greater participation by people in shaping their collective future, particularly driven by growing inequalities that effect poorer and excluded segments of society. People are calling for a new development agenda built on human rights, and universal values of equality, justice, and security. Better governance, more accountable public institutions, and the private sector underpins many of these causes.

As Asia continues its development journey, rethinking and reinvesting in itself, it has to lead by putting human development at the core of the post-2015 development agenda, if we are to build the future we want.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A Transformative Agenda for Asia-Pacific

Addressing these challenges calls for a new development model, based on structural changes for equality, inclusiveness, resilience, and sustainable development, as a more integrated whole. The next phase of development has to be driven by a transformative agenda that is people-centered, cares for our planet, and which generates shared and sustained prosperity. As you may be aware, the report by the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda, called for a universal agenda to be driven by five big, transformative shifts.

What do these key transformational shifts mean for Asia and the Pacific? The reality is that the existing Asia-Pacific growth path has not seen the fruits of prosperity sufficiently shared, and has exacted a high toll on our fragile natural resources. Inequalities have widened in many countries, and the “race to the bottom” has seen a slide in labour standards and industrial safety, growing exploitation of migrant workers, women and girls, as well as environmental damage.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

For Asia and the Pacific:

“Leaving no-one behind” means touching the lives of nearly two-thirds of humanity, of whom nearly 1.7 billion live on less than $2-a-day, 763 million are extremely poor, and 542 million go hungry. We need to ensure that they have access to basic services, including modern and sustainable energy, fresh water, and adequate sanitation; good healthcare, quality education, and social protection services. It means promoting, protecting and fulfilling our commitments on human rights, including eliminating all forms of discrimination, especially against women and girls. Investments in people are needed to build resilience and reduce vulnerability. ESCAP’s Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2013 has shown that these investments for more forward-looking development oriented macroeconomics are within the means of most countries, although countries with special needs will require partnership, greater support and solidarity.

“Putting sustainable development at the core of the development agenda” means changing how we live, produce, and work. It means that the “grow first, distribute and clean up later” approach cannot sustain growth, or meet the aspirations of both current and future generations, for an adequate standard of living within our planetary boundaries. A change of paradigm in key sectors such as energy, agriculture and fisheries, water resources management, and urban development, will be essential to meet the basic needs of people in a way that promotes both resource efficiency and social equity. In Asia we have a situation of uneven growth and opportunities where some countries are facing severe energy and water shortages while other have them in abundance. The need for greater regional cooperation to share resources, and develop regional public goods must be on our sustainable development agenda. ESCAP’s Low Carbon Green Growth Roadmap for Asia and the Pacific, provides examples of some successful practices in the region.

“Transforming economies for jobs and inclusive growth” means touching the lives of world’s 73% working poor, and the 1.1 billion workers who are in vulnerable employment in our region, with more than 80 million young people who are looking for jobs. It also means that the belief that low wages are necessary to attract foreign direct investment and promote economic competitiveness and growth, has lost credibility. Low wages contribute to low domestic demand. Income insecurity and very low wages also hinders investment in human capital.

“Building peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all” means recognizing freedom from fear of conflict and violence, as the most fundamental human entitlement. The Asia-Pacific region is still home to a number of long-term, internal conflicts, many of which are the results of prolonged deprivations, and injustices along different fault lines such as gender, ethnicity, and religion. They are also the result of a lack of voice by the marginalized, coupled with an absence of accountability of those in power. We need open, effective, and accountable public institutions to address social exclusion, gender inequality, injustice, crime, and corruption – to ensure good governance and peaceful societies.

“Forging a new global partnership” means building genuine global partnerships, based on trust and not on conditionality. This is particularly critical for some of the most important development challenges faced by our region, including the need to rebalance trade, manage speculative flows of finance, ensure food security and livelihoods, secure appropriate development financing, promote technology transfer, and create conditions for fair trade. Many issues affecting human security, such as migration and natural disasters, also require both global partnerships and closer cross-border cooperation. Although the primary responsibility lies with individual countries, no country can tackle development challenges alone – we need a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability. It is ultimately about building greater levels of trust for humanity.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

From Vision to Action

A universal global development agenda must recognize all the principles of Rio+20, and take into account the fact that countries and regions have different initial conditions and resources, and that there has to be sufficient flexibility to adapt the agenda at the local, national, and regional levels – with countries in the driver’s seat.

We also need to look very specifically at the means of implementation for this new development agenda. It will be critical to find innovative sources of financing, and to create fiscal space by making spending and taxation more progressive. Although, ODA will not be a basic pillar of the post-2015 development agenda, it is still an unfulfilled promise that needs to be addressed.

What we are looking for is low-carbon growth, that is high on decent jobs, high on poverty reduction, and high on reducing inequality. In this context we need to address climate change and issues of volatility, ensuring that development gains are not lost due to natural or manmade disasters. We need to strengthen the resilience agenda, for our people and the planet.

Business has to be part of the solution. The business community cannot regard social and environmental concerns as external to their business. Modern business management should seek not only to increase market share, but to increasingly widen the market itself, shifting from a narrow share holder to a broader stakeholder approach. In an age of diminishing resources, falling demand and shrinking revenues, the interests of our ‘bottom billion’ are the interests of business’ bottom line.

Sustainable growth means strengthening all three pillars of sustainability – economic, social, and environmental – and recognizing that long-term prosperity requires a careful balance between benefits reaped today and ensuring the well-being of our people and our planet tomorrow.

The argument which we are making in Asia and the Pacific is that inclusiveness and sustainability are both interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Growth can only be inclusive if it is more sustainable, and it can only ever be sustained in the long-term by ensuring that it benefits the widest possible number of people, across generations.

We cannot afford to race to the bottom on labour standards, industrial safety or environmental protection. We cannot allow loss of lives of workers, or for toxic pollution to simply be shifted from developed to developing countries. People from around the world, and across the Asia-Pacific region, are asking for a new social contract for sustainable development, between the state and its people, and between the state and the market.

This social contract has to promote citizens’ engagement, translating growth into productive employment for all. It has to adopt policies for the fairer redistribution of wealth, economic assets and opportunities – where there is better resource management and effective delivery of quality basic services to all. It also has to ensure better financial governance, addressing issues of money laundering and corruption, and encourage greater accountability of both the public and the private sectors, at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

Finally, regional cooperation and integration can play an important role in implementation of the development agenda. One aspect of regional cooperation could be sharing best practices in closing the development gaps. There many such best practices such as Pakistan’s Benazir Income Support Programme; India’s national rural employment guarantee scheme, which has benefited 48 million households in 600 districts in 2012-13; and conditional cash transfers in Bangladesh that are leading to achievement of MDG goals with respect to maternal and child mortality.

Regional economic integration has assumed a new criticality in the context of the continued subdued and uncertain outlook for the world’s advanced economies. ESCAP has proposed a four-pillared approach covering: integration of the region’s markets; providing seamless connectivity; financial cooperation to close infrastructure gaps; and through a regionally-coordinated approach to address shared vulnerabilities, such as natural disasters and financial food and energy insecurity. This approach can provide countries in the region with new opportunities to sustain their dynamism by unlocking regional complementarities, building on regional strengths to create shared prosperity.

In this context, ESCAP’s Ministerial Conference on Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration, held in Bangkok in December last year, adopted the Bangkok Declaration which seeks to advance and institutionalize this four-pillared approach to regional cooperation and integration. In addition to broader regional cooperation and integration, as one of the least integrated subregions in the world, South Asia has many under-exploited opportunities for wider economic integration as well. ESCAP’s South and South-West Asia Office has begun to assist the subregion in unlocking this potential. Our subregional office just hosted a regional conference on transport connectivity and trade facilitation in Lahore last month, jointly with the Ministry of Commerce of Pakistan.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


In conclusion, therefore, the people-centered human development approach developed by the late Dr. Mahbub-ul Haq and his friend Amartya Sen, which found expression in the Millennium Declaration, has truly been a game-changer for the world.

Today millions of people, especially in the developing world, have emerged from the trap of extreme poverty and are enjoying better lives because of the MDGs. As we approach the 2015 deadline for MDG achievement, while redoubling our efforts to achieve as much as possible, it is time to think of the successor development agenda beyond 2015.

This agenda must build on the MDGs, and take into account the changes that have come about since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration. At best, the MDGs will have addressed only half of all poverty, hunger, and other deprivations. We need a new global compact for human development to complete this unfinished agenda, while also addressing the rising inequalities, productive job creation for harnessing the potential of young women and men, as well as resilience to natural disasters and other shocks.

An important new challenge is to address economic, social, and environmental challenges in a holistic manner. The new development agenda has, therefore, to be people-centric and planet-friendly. A new global compact for the future we want is necessary to realize this ambitious agenda. It should be transformative and should have a well-defined global partnership, with commensurate commitment of transfers of resources, market access, technology, and other resources for augmenting productive capacities in poor countries and closing development gaps. South-South and regional cooperation would play increasingly important complementary roles in this compact.

I believe that the global community owes it to Dr. Mahbub-ul Haq to adopt and implement such a visionary new global compact, to wipe out poverty and hunger from the face of our planet, but also to ensure a sustainable growth path and shared prosperity.

In honouring a great son of Pakistan, I would like to end by saying a few words on the present government's long term development program of 'Vision 2025' which aims at transforming Pakistan into a self sustained high income country with reforms in every major sector. To achieve the objectives of ‘Vision 2025', Pakistan is working on its Eleventh Five Year plan (2013-2018). And we must not forget that these “Five Year plans” were introduced by Dr. Mahbub-ul Haq at the time he was the Federal Finance Minister, and the current Prime Minister was the provincial Finance Minister of Punjab. So we can say that the vision for future progress of this government was influenced by the vision of Dr. Mahbub-ul Haq. Since this inaugural lecture is taking place in this historic city of Lahore-- 'the final resting place of Dr. Mohammad Iqbal' who has inspired the human soul, I know that with all your help, with the intellectual support of LUMS and the Mahbub-ul Haq human development center, Lahore can be the leading light in the country and beyond on human development as it seeks to build an” inclusive city” as part of the country's 2025 development plans.

With these words, I am honoured to pay many tributes to the memory of Dr. Haq. May his spirit and vision live on.

I thank you.