Press Releases

    ECOSOC/6014
    10 July 2002

    Economic and Social Council Concludes Session on International Development Cooperation

    Dialogue Marks Discussion of United Nations Operational Activities

    NEW YORK, 9 July (UN Headquarters) -- The Economic and Social Council today hosted dialogues with key members of the United Nations country teams for Eritrea and India as it concluded its consideration of the Organization's operational activities for international development cooperation.

    Simon Nhongo, the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator for Eritrea, said the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) had created the first opportunity for all United Nations agencies to work together in a structured manner at the field level in Eritrea, and had provided partners with a unified "United Nations position".

    Still, he said, the challenge was to ensure national ownership of cooperative initiatives which was vital for ensuring sustainability and establishing multi-year funding frameworks. He added that while effective coordination had reduced duplication and competition for resources, the teams' work had been hampered by inadequate human resources, inadequate and untimely information flow from all administration levels and delayed establishment of coordination mechanisms at national and regional levels.

    Bruce Campbell, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the country's team mission was to contribute towards fostering peace and good governance, achieving post-conflict recovery and strengthening basic social services, building sustainable livelihoods and stimulating economic growth. Those strategic objectives aimed to achieve the overarching goal of poverty reduction.

    Representing Eritrea's country team was the thematic group on health and nutrition -- one of six such groups working to address specific areas of concern within the country. Participating in the discussion were Christian Balslev-Olsen, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); Teclemichael W. Giorgis, Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission; Nsue-Milang, of the World Health Organization (WHO); Eva Jarawan, World Bank; and Ivan Camanor, UNICEF. Also on the panel was Zemui Alemu, Director of Primary Health Care in Eritrea's Ministry of Health.

    Brenda Gael McSweeney, United Nations Resident Coordinator and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in India, said it was among 18 pilot countries to begin formulating UNDAF in 1997. Together with Government and other partners, they had selected the promotion of gender equality and strengthening decentralization had been selected as the strategic cross-cutting priority themes for the United Nations system in that country.

    Placing United Nations development cooperation in the context of official development assistance, she said ODA contributed a modest 8 per cent of total expenditure on the social sector in India, 3 per cent of that amount given to the United Nations system contribution on the ground. Even with modest funding, the role of ODA in the education sector had contributed in catalytic ways towards achieving the national goal of universalizing elementary education.

    A good deal of the discussion was given over to consideration of the Janshala programme, which Sumit Bose, Joint Secretary (Elementary Education), in India's Ministry of Human Resource Development described as a unique partnership between United Nations agencies and government.

    The objective of Janshala, he said, was to enhance community participation, improve the performance of teachers and ensure the participation of girls. Among its achievements was the establishment of 2,000 alternate schools in unserved habitations and community involvement in micro-planning exercises.

    Also participating in the dialogue were Mauricio Bussi, representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Maria Calivis, representative of UNICEF; Job Zacharia, Director of Elementary Education and National Programme Manager for the Janshala Programme; and Sharda Jain, Director of Sandhan. Also on the panel were Alka Narang of UNDP, Chetna Kohli of UNICEF, and Usha Bapna, District Education Officer and State Programme Director of Janshala Rajasthan.

    The Council will meet again tomorrow morning to begin the coordination segment of its 2002 substantive session.

    Background

    The 2002 substantive session of the Economic and Social Council met today to hold a dialogue with the United Nations system country team for Eritrea and India, as part of its consideration of operational activities of the United Nations for international development cooperation.

    Dialogue with United Nations System Country Team for Eritrea

    SIMON NHONGO, United Nations Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator for Eritrea, introduced the panellists and noted that the group gathered today was the thematic group on health and nutrition. After giving a brief rundown of Eritrean history and social conditions, he offered an account of how the thematic groups had come into being.

    TECLEMICHAEL W. GIORGIS, Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission, also provided historical and geographical information on Eritrea. The country had a population of around 3 million people. It was divided into six administrative zones and was one of the least developed countries. In May 1991, Eritrea's Provisional Government had been formed and, in May 1993, following a referendum during which its people chose independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea became the 183rd United Nations Member State.

    Priorities for 2002-2003 involved meeting immediate needs for emergency humanitarian assistance, rebuilding infrastructure, and restoring a stable and supportive fiscal and macroeconomic framework. Demobilizing soldiers and reintegrating them into the economy was also key. The strategy followed would be based on a comprehensive poverty assessment, which would provide a clear understanding of the extent, depth, distribution and causes of poverty.

    CHRISTIAN BALSLEV-OLSEN, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), briefed the Council on Eritrea's "complex emergency", including the protracted conflict and ongoing drought between 1998 and 2002. He stressed that, although conflict, full-scale war and drought had characterized that five-year period, it was also when the common country assessment (CCA) and United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) were developed.

    He said that prior to November 1997, although there were areas of disagreement, there had been a generally harmonious relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Once the war broke out in 1998, fighting spread along the border and civilians were displaced in both countries. While the war was taking its toll, the erratic rainfall was putting further pressure on the humanitarian situation in Eritrea. Sporadic food distribution and exhausted coping mechanisms quickly led to massive famine.

    Making matters worse, thousands of internally displaced persons -- some 1.5 million people by 2002 -- fled conflict areas and forced farmers off land which produced some 75 per cent of Eritrea's cereal grains. The broad infestation of landmines rendered towns and villages in many areas inaccessible. By 2002, some 523,000 people remained affected by drought and famine. He said that in the later stages of the conflict, the tremendous human and economic toll had become apparent. In June 2000, the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was signed.

    The health and nutrition situation during the period had been characterized by a lack of basic health services, outbreak of communicable diseases, malnutrition, threat of the spread of HIV/AIDS, stress and psychological trauma, and greater risk of maternal deaths. Currently, one third of the population was dependent on food aid. The drought had not only decimated crops, but had severely reduced livestock numbers. Internal markets and external trade had been disrupted. The damage to water supplies had exacerbated problems with sanitation. The conflict had also severely affected the country's education system.

    Mr. NHONGO next briefed the Council on the coordinating mechanisms and structures within the country. Using a graphic, he highlighted the six thematic groups that were operating during the five-year complex emergency. Those groups included food and security, water and sanitation, shelter and household items, health and nutrition, return and rehabilitation, and education. Underpinning that structure was the Information Coordination Centre, supported by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

    He noted that the thematic groups were co-chaired by country representatives within government ministries, along with relevant United Nations representatives. For example, he said the health and nutrition team worked in coordination with Eritrea's Ministry of Health. He emphasized that the teams had organized field visits, particularly targeted at camps for internally displaced persons and drought areas.

    Highlighting some general achievements, he noted that effective coordination had reduced duplication and competition for resources, and planning tools had facilitated integrated planning amongst all partners. Constraints had included inadequate human resources among all partners, inadequate and untimely information flow from all administration levels, and delayed establishment of coordination mechanisms at national and regional levels.

    NSUE-MILANG, of the World Health Organization (WHO), gave a rundown of health and nutrition challenges. He noted that overcrowding, insufficient water and sanitation, and lack of food increased the risk of poor health. The thematic group's objectives included: to respond to the health and nutrition needs of the complex emergency; to coordinate the health and nutrition humanitarian response; to monitor trends of health and nutrition status in camps for internally displaced persons and host communities; and to mobilize sufficient resources to respond to priority health and nutrition needs.

    He said that among the members of the thematic group were the Eritrean Ministry of Health; various United Nations agencies; bilateral donors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Coordination meetings were held and task forces were assigned to deal with specific issues. He noted that measles immunizations had been carried out and malaria prevention and treatment efforts had been undertaken. Initiatives to prevent HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases and to provide psycho-social care had also been made.

    Among the group's achievements in the area of coordination were targeted responses which had addressed the needs of the most vulnerable populations and the mobilization of adequate resources to meet the health and nutrition needs of the displaced population during the first two years. Constraints faced included limited reserves of drugs and consumable supplies, water scarcity and declining support of donors of non-food aid.

    BRUCE CAMPBELL, of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), discussed assessment, planning and tools aimed at results-based management. Among the rapid assessment activities undertaken were: determining population size and target populations; nutritional surveillance in 41 camps; nutritional surveys in selected camps; reproductive health equipment needs assessment; and a nutritional assessment in drought-affected areas. The assessments had provided a sound foundation for all the work being undertaken to address humanitarian needs in the country.

    He noted that baseline demographic and target population data were available for all health interventions. Tools established had assisted in clarifying and prioritizing health interventions. Detailing the constraints faced, he said some partners had been unable to share financial data, which had made for "blind spots on our map". Others were providing in-kind contributions and technical assistance -- which was hard to quantify -- rather than financial contributions.

    Mr. NHONGO turned next to a description of key events in the CCA and UNDAF process, which aimed to lead the country from humanitarian response to sustainable development. Even while the conflict was going on, he said the CCA process continued. So the appointment of the CCA committee took place subsequent to the launch of the humanitarian appeal in February 2000. The final CCA had been drafted in December of that same year. The UNDAF Steering Committee and theme groups were appointed in February, following Eritrea's acceptance of the United Nations plan for a temporary demilitarized zone along its border with Ethiopia. This year, he continued, UNDAF negotiations with the Government took place in February, and the Framework had been officially launched in May.

    Explaining the CCA/UNDAF coordination mechanisms with the aid of a slide presentation, Mr. CAMPBELL noted that the country team's mission was to contribute towards fostering peace and good governance, achieving post-conflict recovery and strengthening basic social services, building sustainable livelihoods and stimulating economic growth. Those strategic objectives aimed to promote the achievement of the overarching goal of poverty reduction.

    In pursuing those objectives, he said United Nations agencies would undertake joint programmes, participate in common monitoring and evaluation activities and ensure transparent and accountable use of resources. He added that the country team had identified several cross-cutting issues, namely, gender, environment, capacity development and vulnerable population groups. He said that it was not by design but as a matter of evolution that earlier working groups were now focused on humanitarian and crisis response in their respective areas.

    Mr. NHONGO then shared conclusions, lessons learned and recommendations. He said UNDAF had created the first opportunity for all United Nations agencies to work together in a structured manner at the field level, and had provided all partners with a unified "United Nations position". Experience gained from humanitarian coordination would better equip the community for pursuing achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

    As Eritrea moved out of the complex emergency phase, the demand for development support had increased. The CCA/UNDAF could be prepared even while emergency phase interventions were under way. National ownership was a matter of principle and serious commitment on the part of the Government, as was complete integration of external resources with national efforts. Capacity-building was one of the most vital cross-cutting commitments prescribed for all development.

    Gender, he said, was another cross-cutting commitment prescribed for all agencies in UNDAF and was required to be mainstreamed in all United Nations interventions. HIV/AIDS was yet another cross-cutting issue that was integrated in most partners' programmes. He noted the vital role played by OCHA in Eritrea.

    Given the uncertainty over the magnitude of any crisis, it was always imperative to develop a contingency plan, which included emergency response operational guidelines for all thematic groups, he said. To address human resource constraints, partners could provide appropriate expertise on a short-term basis. The UNDAF coordinating mechanisms must be flexible enough to address a crisis as it emerged. The challenges still to be faced included national ownership, which was necessary for sustainability, establishing multi-year funding frameworks and ensuring joint programming.

    The floor was then opened for questions and comments.

    The representative of Italy said he would like to know more about the role of bilateral donors in the framework of coordination.

    The representative of Uganda said that, in spite of the recent war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the two countries shared many common links. Regional coordination was, therefore, key. He asked how successful efforts had been at coordinating efforts in the region.

    The representative of the United States asked for further information about financial resources. She was pleased to hear about the effectiveness of OCHA in Eritrea. She wanted to know more about the situation regarding the thematic group on return and recovery.

    Responses to Questions and Comments

    Mr. CAMPBELL said the role of bilateral donors was a critical element of the UNDAF process. But in Eritrea, several meetings with the Government had made clear that the UNDAF process would be based on negotiations with the United Nations. So bilateral partners -- either for the provision of technical assistance or financial resources -- were brought in as members of the thematic groups.

    Mr. NSUE-MILANG added that the said health and nutrition sector had benefited most from the coordinated approach. At the height of the conflict, the respective agencies had been able to mobilize resources as soon as needs were identified.

    Mr. NHONGO said regional coordination involving countries in the Horn of Africa was generally provided by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Framework, but the United Nations had managed to organize meetings between the country teams of both Ethiopia and Eritrea in order to promote peace-building, harmonize humanitarian efforts and enhance confidence-building efforts between both countries.

    Also on regional coordination, EVA JARAWAN, of the World Bank, said that at a recent meeting in Nairobi, participants had decided to create a network to share experiences on HIV/AIDS, with the aim of coordinating a broad regional response to the pandemic. The Bank had been particularly pleased to see representatives of both Eritrea and Ethiopia participating in active information exchange during that meeting.

    Mr. NSUE-MILANG highlighted the Horn of Africa Initiative, which had sponsored several meetings and conferences on health and nutrition issues. He hoped that out of that initiative would emerge positive cross-border initiatives, particularly immunization programmes.

    Mr. NHONGO said there was a resources problem at two levels -- either they were not coming in at all or they were not being made available in a predictable or timely manner. As far as external resources were concerned, he gave as an example an Italian pledge of $20 million at the onset of the conflict. Those resources had been funnelled through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). But due to complicated procedures -- as the money moved from Rome to New York and then on to Eritrea -- the UNDP was using its own resources pending the deployment of the funds from Italy.

    As far as the return and rehabilitation working group was concerned, he said that at the height of the crisis, all the focus had been on life-saving initiatives. The recovery group had been revived since the tensions had cooled somewhat.

    Mr. BALSLEV-OLSEN said it was important to underline that each agency had procedures for emergency situations. Joint programming was important to achieve what UNDAF was all about. Joint assessment, planning and programming had just been undertaken on the repatriation of people from the Sudan.

    IVAN CAMANOR, UNICEF, said that in the second year of the emergency a decline in response had been seen. That was in part due to a change in priorities. Other conflicts had developed in other parts of the world and attention was being paid to diseases such as AIDS.

    Mr. CAMPBELL said there had been some positive experiences in terms of overnight conversion of core resources into humanitarian resources, which had allowed for very rapid flow. Based on assessments in the area of reproductive health, an order had been made on Tuesday and critical supplies had been received four days later on Saturday.

    The representative of Sweden said the challenges presented were really crucial to taking United Nations collaboration further. Joint programming was a way forward to enhance United Nations efficiency. Resources on a predictable basis were key. He asked how the multi-year funding framework could be used as a tool in the CCA/UNDAF process. He asked if the country programmes had been amended in any way when they had been elaborated on. He also asked about how lessons learned could be used in the development of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs).

    Mr. NHONGO said joint programming was a challenge in the sense that it was difficult at the country level to put "all our funding in one basket" because of financial procedures and the lead government agencies being dealt with. The different funds, agencies and programmes had different mandates and dealt with different ministries. The UNDAF provided an opportunity to plan together. That was an example of the value added from the process. He added that without resources it was difficult to undertake meaningful planning.

    Mr. BALSLEV-OLSEN said quite a lot had been done jointly because the context had clearly stipulated the humanitarian need. All had been deeply involved in the same conflict. He stressed the integration that existed between the specific country programmes and UNDAF. He noted that, despite progress made, there was a long way to go in the area of joint implementation.

    Mr. CAMPBELL said that interpretation of joint programming had at first been seen as a "thorny issue". The HIV theme group had an integrated work plan, which was the result of meetings held among all the actors. Such a method helped to increase efficiency and reduce redundancy. The ideal sequence would be CCA, then UNDAF, then the country programmes. The country programmes mirrored the language in the CCA and UNDAF. The PRSP was now unfolding.

    Ms. JARAWAN said the Government took the lead in formulating the PRSP. The World Bank, the UNDP and other agencies supported the Government. Many partners were involved in the preparation of the PRSP.

    Dialogue with Country Team for India

    BRENDA GAEL McSWEENEY, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in India, introduced the team members.

    SUMIT BOSE, Joint Secretary (Elementary Education), Ministry of Human Resource Development, said the Janshala (community schools) Programme was a unique partnership between United Nations agencies and Government. He then showed a film of the "Janshala" Programme.

    In India, the responsibility of providing elementary education is shared by the Union Government, the State Government, and local self-government, he continued. After giving an overview of the history of education in India since independence, he highlighted progress made since 1951. For instance, literacy had gone up from 18 to 65 per cent, and female literacy had risen from 9 to 54 per cent. There had been a four-fold increase in schools and a five-fold increase in the number of teachers. About 99 per cent of the population was now served.

    Quality had been improved through better infrastructure, an expanding institutional network for teacher supports and increased use of information and communications technology (ICT) in learning, among other things, he said. Children with disabilities, marginalized groups and girls had been a special focus. Government expenditure on education had risen from $650 million in 1951 (or 0.68 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP)) to $778 billion (4.11 per cent of GDP). External assistance was less than 2 per cent.

    The past decade had been most significant in education, he went on. For the first time since independence, there had been a decline in illiteracy rates in 2001. However, half the female population was still non-literate and certain disadvantaged groups required special efforts. There was a need to constantly improve the quality of education. An additional $20 billion was required over 10 years for the universalization of elementary education.

    He said the objective of Janshala was to enhance community participation, improve performance of teachers and ensure participation of girls. The overarching approach had been to encourage partnerships with NGOs. Among its achievements was the establishment of 2,000 alternate schools in unserved habitations and community involvement in micro-planning exercises.

    Regarding lessons learned, he stressed that it was not simply a matter of building new schools, but also of maintaining them, ensuring that teachers attended school regularly and that children learned in a joyful environment. The programme had emerged as a laboratory for various innovations, and its partnership with United Nations agencies had led to beneficial synergies.

    Ms. McSWEENEY said India was among 18 pilot countries to begin formulating UNDAF in 1997. Together with government and other partners, promoting gender equality and strengthening decentralization had been selected as the strategic cross-cutting priority themes for the United Nations system in that country. Besides the heads of the agency decision-making group, there were 11 thematic and inter-agency working groups on issues ranging from gender to decentralization and education.

    Placing United Nations development cooperation in the context of official development assistance (ODA), she said ODA contributed a modest 8 per cent of total expenditure on India's social sector. Of that amount, 3 per cent went to the United Nations system on the ground. Even with modest funding, its role in the education sector had contributed in catalytic ways towards achieving the national goal of universalizing elementary education.

    At the 1995 India Development Forum in Paris, she said, elementary education had been identified as a priority sector, resulting in the birth of inter-agency working group on education. With diverse mandates and perspectives, as well as five different line ministries and departments, the group had an integrated and holistic approach. Partnerships and global and national best practices had further enriched the Programme. An innovative feature was the involvement of the village community -- parents, teachers and the school management -- in planning, implementing and monitoring their children's education.

    MAURICIO BUSSI, representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO), describing the evolution of the Janshala Programme, said the Inter-Agency Working Group on Education, established in 1996, constituted an integral part of the inter-agency collaboration mechanisms already presented. The Group had formulated a Programme Support Document, whose implementation had begun in 1997. The Janshala approach and strategies were forward-looking and reflected UNDAF priorities in India of promoting gender equality and strengthening decentralization.

    A key challenge, he continued, was how to channel funds efficiently from the central level to villages and communities with an emphasis on ensuring speed and accountability while allowing flexibility. Activities implemented and coordinated at the national level were supported by the UNDP. At the State and district levels, consultations with stakeholders identified the extensive network of UNICEF State offices as the most effective route for channelling funds.

    Outlining some of the achievements yielded by the Programme, he said that in the area of collective advocacy, the Working Group was providing a forum for joint decision-making and dialogue among partners contributing to greater coherence, and had added impetus for new experiments to extend the coverage and quality of primary education. Secondly, the shared vision behind the programme had been the impetus for achieving clarity and complementarity of roles among such relevant key actors as government institutions, United Nations organizations and civil society.

    One of the Programme's key features had been its linkages with UNDAF India's cross-cutting themes and with other key national programmes, he noted. The two cross-cutting themes of strengthening decentralization and promoting gender equality had, indeed, been central in all phases of the Programme from conceptualization to development and throughout its implementation.

    MARIA CALIVIS, representative of UNICEF, highlighted some of the lessons learned from the joint programming experience, noting that the success of the Inter-Agency Working Group was due to, among other things, a shared understanding, a shared vision and a shared sense of direction among all members of the Group. In addition, there was a clear delineation of roles among the agencies commensurate with the expertise of each one. That allowed for flexibility in the execution of the roles and complementarity of inputs.

    The Programme had been successful because it was government-driven, capitalized on the added value and role of the United Nations, offered a framework to mainstream and upscale best practices, and was a forum for wide participation by NGOs, resource people and academic institutions. The process was participatory and open, focusing on performance management, which meant joint reviews, joint field trips and a common database. The measure of the Programme's success was the impact of the contribution made, which was over and above what each agency singly could contribute in partnership with government and others.

    JOB ZACHARIA, Director of Elementary Education and National Programme Manager for the Janshala Programme, addressed decentralization of education in India. He said there were two teams: one on strengthening decentralization, and one on gender issues. After independence, there had been a renewed focus on decentralization. While most planning was at the Union and State Government, in practice the district was the most important structure for implementation.

    Janshala had selected the village as the unit of planning, he said. Those villages were then combined in a "block" of some 200 schools. Establishing a community-awareness programme through NGOs and community leaders, the Programme then embarked on an exercise of micro-planning, during which education was discussed. The villages themselves then made a plan, which was combined with other plans for the block. The Janshala plan was, therefore, established by the community.

    He emphasized that decentralization had to be organized on a democratic basis. After two years, 96 per cent of boys in the block and 87 per cent of girls were visiting school. New schools were opened on the decision of the community. Some 4,000 schools were brought into the education process and teachers were trained. Only an empowered community would be able to achieve universal education.

    Describing some of the constraints encountered, he mentioned teachers' resistance to the community role, shortage of teachers, and poor infrastructure.

    SHARDA JAIN, Director of Sandhan, a research NGO, said gender equality was hardest to achieve in the reality of deeply ingrained gender inequality. The girl child was often perceived not as a child, but as a small woman. A conceptual breakthrough had come through building a chain of community groups for gender equality, designing a strategy for education for girls and adolescent women. Voices from the community had provided critical insights for the Janshala Programme in that regard.

    Question and Answer Session

    The representative of Ghana sought clarification on the division of responsibilities between the Government and the communities in the Janshala Programme, asking how the financing arrangements were undertaken.

    Burundi's representative asked how the managers intended to cope with subsequent implications and consequences of the Programme.

    The representative of Japan noting that the presentation only referred to primary education, asked where the children who completed the Janshala Programme went when they finished. How did they address such issues such as road construction and school sanitation? How would they evaluate the outcome of capacity-building, particularly with regard to teacher training?

    On the division of responsibility, Mr. Bose replied that involving the community and creating community ownership did not mean that the primary responsibility of the Government for funding elementary education was diminished. Communities had added value to the Government's inputs.

    Regarding the consequences and follow-up of the Programme, he said the innovations of the Janshala Programme were now being expanded on a larger scale. In districts where earlier programmes, such as Janshala, were run, other programmes had a better chance of success.

    On evaluation of capacity-building, Mr. Zacharia said that the teacher training and capacity-building had only begun two years ago. At the end of this year, capacity-building would be evaluated and the linkages between capacity building and outcome indicators would be established. Financial devolution must be carried out from the district to the village level, he added.

    Ms. Jain said that the Janshala Programme had tried to experiment with two notions, that teachers should try innovative techniques and closer interaction between teachers and parents.

    Also on evaluation, Ms. MCSWEENEY said that results were being discussed in an ongoing manner. There were also annual reviews at the State level, in which representatives from one State would participate in the review of another State. Such annual reviews would contribute to many new insights.

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