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Address at the Norad Conference 2013

Oslo, 11 December 2013

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, dedicated his address to results in health and education at the Norad Conference 2013.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to be here to discuss results in health and education with you.

The last few days have been very poignant here in Norway. We have had the Nobel peace prize ceremony for the OPCW, the organisation working for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

At the same time as this conference is taking place, we are witnessing one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history unfolding in Syria.

The very limited access for humanitarian assistance in Syria is unacceptable.

I recently visited the Zaatari  refugee camp in Jordan. 550.000 Syrian refugees reside in Jordan. It was a moving experience to listen to some of those who had recently fled across the border, telling me about friends affected by chemical attacks.

Notwithstanding the continuing humanitarian catastrophe, at least we are making sure that president Assad can no longer use these weapons against civilians.

Also, yesterday there was a memorial service for Nelson Mandela, watched all over the world. The best way for us to honour his legacy is to be inspired by his values and principles: tolerance, inclusiveness, forgiveness, and caring about the eradication of poverty and hiv/aids. He was a tremendous inspiration in the health sector in recent decades.

We should bear this in mind in our own work in this field: one man can make a huge difference, along with the right policies.

I remember visiting Johannesburg around the year 2001 as a young Minister for the Environment, debating the Millennium Development Goals. I remember all those convinced that halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 was impossible; however, that particular target has already been reached.

When the global village comes together and sets clear targets, it is possible to make huge differences. Now we must ensure that we do our utmost in the remaining period — 750 days. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has agreed to head a group under the UN Secretary-General to speed up progress towards the MDGs.

In parallel, we are working on the next set of targets for 2030. We should be equally ambitious here, and think as much out of the box as we did in 2000. We should accept no less than an ambition to eradicate all extreme poverty before 2030 (applause).

If we work together, we can achieve this: and health and education are very important parts of this picture.

We know that nine out of ten children now go to primary school — this is good — but challenges remain; there may be 100–150 pupils in class; or perhaps they only attend school for two to three years. Education systems need to be fixed. This is a big challenge, but we are moving in the right direction.

I had a meeting with the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr Gordon Brown, in London the other day. We agreed that many things needed to be achieved in parallel: better schools, quality teachers, and making the most of the great opportunity represented by online education: this could enable us to have the best minds in the world teaching, followed up at the local level by local teachers. We must be innovative and make sure that the poor children of the world gain access not merely to education, but to better quality education. In order to do this we must fix the education systems and increase their capacity so that they can deliver education in developing countries. For that you need economic growth, and a tax base: if the tax base only accounts for 10 per cent of GDP, and half of it is being spent on the military, there is 5 per cent left to spend on education, health and other services.

Turning to health, we know that maternal and child mortality rates have been reduced significantly.

The number of women dying in connection with giving birth has been nearly halved.

The number of new hiv/aids infections is declining, and one third of the infected are receiving treatment. This is also a significant achievement, but now we must make sure that medication is made available to all those in developing countries struggling with this disease.

Access to safe drinking water has reached record levels — but the picture is complicated by the climate change that is taking place at the same time.

The debt burden on poor countries has become lighter;

A large number of developing countries (emerging markets) enjoy high growth rates, and better conditions for trade.

Indeed, global economic growth also benefits developing countries; we know that 6 out of the 10 fastest growing economies are African. However, it is important that their natural resources are extracted in a sustainable manner, creating inclusive growth, and that revenues trickle down: the income belongs to the people, not the leaders.

To sum up, this progress on the Millennium Development Goals shows that:

The world can unite around ambitious goals — invest, innovate, and deliver decisively.

It shows that partnerships between donors, agencies and NGOs are often very powerful. And that we must encourage more public-private partnerships.

We are still in a global situation where many countries are implementing budget cuts as part of austerity programmes due to budget deficits. Unfortunately, also official development assistance (ODA) is affected by cuts. Hence we need to be innovative and bring the private sector on board.

This is not a new policy; it has been on the agenda ever since Monterrey and the creation of the Millennium Development Goals. But we need to be even more innovative. There are available funds in the private sector, but we need a strategy. We need partnerships that can unlock investment in strategic sectors.

Take Africa as an example: 60 per cent of the world’s arable land that is not cultivated is in Africa. Clearly we need investments in infrastructure, irrigation and other areas. We need a comprehensive plan involving both the private sector and national governments to unlock such investments. This will help us achieve the total eradication of extreme poverty by 2030 even faster.

Still, we must remain realistic and keep in mind that a lot remains to be done before 2030. We must never be naïve about the challenges:

Discrimination continues. Against women and girls, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups.

In some cases it is getting even worse.

Countries in conflict can never achieve progress on health and education. Quite the contrary: Syria was a middle income country five years ago. Now it is on the same level as developing countries, and facing a serious humanitarian crisis.

War and conflict can wipe out thirty years of development in a matter of weeks. Preventing and resolving wars and conflicts is the most effective thing we can do to promote development.

The Government of Norway is therefore doing a lot in this field. Perhaps we are not successful in every single project. But in Colombia, when President Santos and the FARC are negotiating after 50 years of conflict during which approximately more than 200.000 people have lost their lives, this is the best investment one can make.

The quality of education, as I mentioned, is often below acceptable standards, something that has to be included in the post-2015 development agenda.

Women’s participation in the labour force has been challenged by the financial crisis.

Furthermore, due to the lack of a global agreement on emissions, CO2 emissions globally are rising, and biodiversity is steadily being lost.

And the level of aid from traditional donors is under pressure from competing demands.

I am particularly concerned about girls’ access to education, and the health of girls and women in poor countries.

The Government is now stepping up its work on education— because without education, there can be no development.

Unfortunately, over the last eight years we have seen the proportion of our development assistance budget allocated to education drop from 12 % to less than 6 %.

Investment in education, done right, is one the best investments we can make, especially when it is made in girls’ education:

  • We know that a girl attending school will tend to marry later and have children later.
  • Both mother and child are more likely to survive birth.
  • And the mother will be better able to nourish and care for her children --- because she is more likely to get a safer and better paid job.

So, education is key.

However, the significant progress achieved in primary education enrolment rates has stagnated since 2008. Several countries risk not reaching the education MDG by 2015.

This is why we are scaling up the amount we invest in education in next year’s budget. We will continue to do so in the coming years.

It is particularly difficult to reach the last 10 per cent of children, who are not attending school.

More than half of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, in fragile states or conflict zones, or they are children with disabilities.

In 2014 we will increase our investment in education by 240 million Norwegian kroner.

In the health sector, dealing with the hiv/aids epidemic has taught us valuable lessons:

In the 1990s, contracting hiv/aids was too often the equivalent of a death sentence. Medicines were unavailable or too expensive.

Then governments, grassroots movements, local communities, civil societies, NGOs and multilateral organisations mobilised.

New initiatives, such as the Global Fund for hiv/aids, tuberculosis and malaria, the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) and others have pushed down the price of medicines for consumers in poor countries.

The Global Fund for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis has contributed to saving 8.7 million lives.

All of us in this room are indeed privileged to be working on providing opportunities of this kind to those who lack them.

How can we devise a policy that is proactive, future-oriented and ambitious enough to enable us to reach these goals?

We have also seen significant progress in other parts of the health sector:

The Gavi Alliance has contributed to saving over 5 million lives by vaccinating children, in partnership with Unicef and WHO.

Norway and other donors are working to provide better access to safe and inexpensive contraceptives for poor women.

A trust fund in the World Bank, financed by Norway and others, is supporting the introduction of results-based and cost-efficient financing in health systems.

We must continue to make progress.

Our Government will allocate a high level of funding to the development assistance budget. We will also have a firm focus on results, which brings us back to Norad’s report, which we have in front of us today.

We will therefore give priority to:

Systematic evaluations to guide future budget allocations;

and openness on the effects of Norwegian development cooperation.

This is something that the Norwegian people expect of us.

We must learn from the past, so as to know how we best can allocate future resources.

As Winston Churchill once remarked – the farther backwards you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.

If we all work together, the results we achieve in the next 16 years will be at least as impressive as those we have  achieved since 2000.

The Norwegian Government and myself are your partners, whether you represent an international organisation, an NGO, the private sector or a government. We have a lot to do — so let’s get started!

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