Happy UN day to all of you.
This United Nations Day belongs to all of us because the UN after all belongs to all of us: we the people. It is a day to celebrate our joint achievements over the past years and recommit ourselves to the important work ahead of us in Belarus and around the world.
Belarus has always been a leading proponent of the UN ever since it helped form the world body as one of its 51 founding members. While continuing to lead global efforts on important issues such as disaster response, the fight against human trafficking and a vocal advocate of middle-income countries within the UN, it is rightly becoming known as a regional champion of the Sustainable Development Goals. Belarus was also the first post-Soviet state to establish a UN representation within the country 25 years ago.
All of us together have been over these years been working on a whole range of challenging issues in this country: from addressing environmental challenges and the fall-out from Chernobyl to fighting HIV and TB; from dealing with migration and refugees to combating human trafficking and domestic violence; from supporting economic growth and working with entrepreneurs to empowering marginalized groups such as women, children, and the elderly. This partnership for development has yielded significant results. Belarus has practically achieved almost all the MDGs, in particular reducing poverty from almost 42% in 2000 to 5.7% in 2016. Belarus is currently ranked 52nd out of 186 countries by UNDP’s Human Development Index.
But our work is not complete. As in other middle-income countries around the world where the UN is working, Belarus too faces challenges in ensuring that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged have access to services and opportunities just as much as everyone else. We have to do more to ensure the rights of the 561,961 people living with disabilities in the country are protected, respected and fulfilled. We can do more to prevent suicides especially among children. We can do more to prevent new cases of HIV infection among teens, which has increased in the past year. We can do more to reduce the number of death causes by non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardio-vascular diseases, which is currently 89% of all deaths in the country. We can do more to increase the life expectancy of men, which is currently 66.5 and is 11.5 years less than women. We can do more to ensure appropriate protection of the thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons who have fled conflict from Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. We can do more to support the 21 Rayons in Belarus that are still considered the worst-affected by the Chernobyl disaster. We can do more to support small businesses, which still account for less than 30% of GDP. We can do more to protect bio-diversity, promote responsible consumption and waste management. We can do more to ensure energy efficient housing and transport and switch to clean energy.
The Belarus National SDG Council is now leading an initiative to fully align the SDGs and national priorities and strategies. As we all support these efforts, we need to seize the opportunities that new technologies offer and innovate development solutions that anticipate future scenarios. We need to think more creatively about how to promote meaningful public-private partnerships that increase financing for development impact, boost the economy, improve infrastructure and enhance essential services; we need to deal with the risks and exploit the opportunities of disappearing borders and demographical changes due to migration and ageing; we need to ensure young people’s education match the emerging job market here and elsewhere; we need to make sure health and other social services are getting to everyone in need effectively and efficiently; we need to do even more to protect bio-diversity, mitigate the impact of climate change, reduce the risks of disaster, improve energy efficiency and create a green economy so that future generations may have what we have enjoyed.
If we are to do all this effectively it means understanding that different people require different development solutions. Treating people exactly the same way through our assistance when they are unequally positioned inherently reinforces inequality and vulnerability. We will need to make more effort to collect disaggregated data so that we understand these differences. This is what the world meant when we committed together to “leave no one behind” in achieving the 17 SDGs.
At the same time, instead of limiting ourselves to fulfilling human need we must look at realising human potential. This means spending more effort to understand what capacities different people have and what capacities we can help them to build. We need to understand where they can get to someday, no matter who or where they might be right now.
We will then not only make a change in the lives of individual people and their families, but we will together build the nation and the world that we want – for ourselves, our children and the children of our children. All of this must be done taking into account the unique development context of Belarus, the promise and opportunities of the SDGs and underpinned by the universal values, principles, norms and standards of the United Nations.
This is my fifth and final UN Day in Belarus, as many of you know. Since the beginning of my time here, I have traveled many times to every region of the country trying to understand the distinct challenges in each, but also discovering the common opportunities across regions.
The impact of the work we all do together is well documented. The statistics and numbers are abundantly clear. But it is the anecdotal evidence that showed me how you are making a real difference in the lives of those who most needed a difference. The difference was what I saw written on the faces and heard in the simple words of men, women and children I have met around the country.
Looking to the future, the importance of our global work through the United Nations is more important and more urgent than ever. As conflicts, terrorism, nuclear weapons, inequality, natural disasters and climate change threaten our very existence. As we ramp up our efforts around the world, let us also recommit to continue our collective work making a tangible difference in Belarus – all of us together. It is your ownership, your leadership, your generosity, perseverance and passion that made the difference.
In particular, let us exploit the global reach of the UN family to create a knowledge exchange that bring to Belarus the best and most innovative and cost-effective development solutions from around the world while exporting the same from Belarus to countries where it is needed.
Let us redouble our efforts through the UN to use international and national expertise and the convening and facilitating role of the organisation to ensure that nobody is really left behind and that everyone not only participates in achieving the SDGs, but also that these goals are achieved for everyone – especially the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized.
Everyone’s voice is important. Everyone’s dream must be celebrated. Everyone’s fears must be addressed. Everyone’s vulnerability must be recognized. Everyone’s potential contribution must be accounted.
Through a mutually respectful dialogue that seeks to understand each other we will no doubt create a better world for our children than we found ourselves. The world we want through the United Nations we have.