UNRC’s Interview with UNB: Inclusive growth keeping environment unhurt matters

Diversifying economy, investment in human dev keys to further growth 

United Nations in Bangladesh is working closely with the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that Bangladesh achieves new global goals – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and related targets by 2030. 

Mia Seppo, who joined the United Nations Country Team in Bangladesh as the Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in November 2017, talked to DhakaCourier exclusively on a number of issues that matter.

Appreciating the current economic growth in Bangladesh, the United Nations has laid emphasis on having an ‘inclusive’ growth without compromising with environmental sustainability.

“It’s important that the growth is inclusive. It’s important that the growth doesn’t compromise on environmental sustainability,” said UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka Mia Seppo.

She said it is also important that the growth that Bangladesh is witnessing creates jobs, particularly for youths.

The UN official said all need to work so the growth continues to keep the whole country as its part involving both men and women.

“The journey that Bangladesh has struggled since independence in less than 50 years is remarkable. That’s something the country can be proud of. The country should take inspiration from that to move forward in terms of its development agenda,” Seppo said.

She, however, said there is a challenge around ‘diversifying the economy’ and the challenge is around environmental sustainability and climate change.

Seppo, also UNDP Resident Representative in Bangladesh, laid emphasis on investing in human development that is required to reach the sustainable middle-income country goal.

“I think the investment in human development, skill development, in health and education is absolutely the key,” Seppo said.

Emphasising the importance of addressing environmental concerns, she said some air is not safe to breathe. “That should be a concern for all of us.”

Talking about Dhaka’s air quality, she said the air quality should be a ‘wake-up call’ for all and all should start thinking of it to have a smart, sustainable and environment-friendly city.

Seppo said some of the aspects in life which are not measurable in GDP but which is critical for human wellbeing like the “air we breathe, the food we eat, the public spaces we move, the way we interact. The environmental aspects have to be kept in mind,” she said.

The UN official said the beauty of the country – Bangladesh — is known to be so green and it is known to be so colourful.

Inclusive Society

On the next election, she said they ‘obviously hope’ it will be a participatory election. And there will be no violence though, she said, violence was seen in some of the previous elections and that is a concern.

“We hope to see a commitment across all actors towards a non-violence election,” she said hoping that the Election Commission which has managed many elections in the past will be able to administer the process fairly.

“This will lead to a credible result,” said the UN official adding that it will be another good step forward in strengthening democracy in Bangladesh.

Seppo, however, said it is much more important that what is the expectation of Bangladesh citizens as it is their election, they cast the votes and it is about their future. “This is Bangladesh election.”

The UN official laid emphasis on implementation of the goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.

“So, it looks at fair and participatory peaceful and inclusive societies,” Seppo said adding that it is kind of important reflection of development course that has changed from MDGs to SDGs.

The UN official said the goal 16 is equally important for all countries — big and small. She said there are lots of good laws in place in Bangladesh which really need to be implemented effectively.

Seppo also said Bangladesh has a range of independent constitutional institutions. “It’s important that these are independent, and the citizens of Bangladesh have trusts on them.”

The National Human Rights Commission, Information Commission, Election Commission and Anti-Corruption Commission — all of these institutions have very important role to play, she said.

On freedom of media, the UN official said Bangladesh has a very vibrant media and it needs to continue having so in order to keep public engaged, keep public informed and providing impartial information on what is going on. “It’s important to have continued freedom of media.”

On implementation of new set of global goals – SDGs, she said Bangladesh should take inspiration from the MDG success.

SDGs are more ambitious agenda and these take much more concerted efforts involving governments, private sectors and civil societies.

“Bangladesh has done a lot (so far),” Seppo said highlighting issues related to financial needs assessment that has already been done.

Seppo said, “So, there’s a very good basis. I think it is really important to know what kind of social protection policy is needed to make sure that those are left behind are included.”

Create conditions for Rohingyas’ safe return

The United Nations (UN) has called on Myanmar to create required conditions for the ‘safe and sustainable’ return of Rohingyas to their homeland from Bangladesh and engage UNHCR in the discussions on return.

“We certainly call on Myanmar to create those conditions for return as well as to engage UNHCR in the discussions on return,” said UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka.

She also urged the Myanmar authorities to give unfettered humanitarian access in Rakhine State so that assistance can reach all the needy groups in society.

The UN official said any ‘rush return’ will not be a sustainable return.

“But it’s an ongoing process and I think it’s a bit unfair to say there has been delays caused by Bangladesh,” said Seppo adding that the preparatory work which is happening now is critical.

On January 16, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on ‘Physical Arrangement’ which will facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland from Bangladesh.

The ‘Physical Arrangement’ stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start of repatriation.

Bangladesh has already handed over a list of 8,032 Rohingyas which is being verified by the Myanmar authorities to start the first phase of repatriation on the ground. Around 7 lakh Rohingyas took shelter in Bangladesh since August 25 last year.

“I see it as a process,” said the UN Resident Coordinator emphasising that it is important not to see something as hard and fast conclusion.

Seppo said they also hear about firm commitment from the government of Bangladesh that any return has to be “voluntary” ensuring safety and dignity of Rohingyas and make their return sustainable.

“This is very reassuring in terms of government commitment to these key principles,” said the UN official.

Bangladesh has said it will not repatriate anybody “without his or her will” but urged the international community to keep up pressure on Myanmar for creating conditions in Rakhine to make Rohingya repatriation sustainable.

Bangladesh officials said keeping up pressure on Myanmar is necessary so that it remains sincere and committed to the repatriation process and fulfill its obligation of creating conducive environment with ensured livelihood in safety and dignity in Rakhine.

The UN Resident Coordinator said there are media reports that people are still fleeing and conditions for safe return are not there.

“Return is not just reconstruction of buildings,” she said stressing the need for looking into issues in line with Kofi Annan Commission recommendations.

Asked about the fund flow, the UN official said there is lot of competition in terms of funding and addressing the crisis as the world today has so many crises.

“We’ll do all we can from the UN through our capacities and our machineries to mobilise resources and remind international partners and donors of the commitments that they have made in terms of global burden sharing,” Seppo said.

She said the living cost of one million Rohingyas cannot be shouldered by Bangladesh alone. “I hope there’ll be a good response in the second week of March (joint response plan).”

Asked about the role of global powers, Seppo said the UN has a role to play in terms of providing the forum to member states to have a dialogue about the situation.

“It has been discussed in the UN Security Country very frequently,” she said adding that the government of Bangladesh and its foreign policy used the UN to bring attention to have a dialogue about the crisis.

Seppo continued: “That’s something that needs to be continued recognising the complexity of the crisis and also recognising the unsolved crisis in Cox’s Bazar.”

The UN official said the nature of the response will change the focus on the remaining burning humanitarian needs and lifesaving needs. “That’s top priority.”

She said support is needed for the host communities to make sure that they do not carry the biggest burden of the crisis, and laid emphasis on addressing the burden on forest, water, paddy field, agriculture and land.

Asked about the potential disaster risks, Sheppo said, “It is almost like a double dose of poison.”

“You’re seeing potential natural disasters within manmade disasters. So facing a scenario of natural disaster within manmade disaster is really scary and it is daunting,” said the UN official.

Seppo went on saying, “The challenge is that even with the perfect engineering solution, even with the perfect awareness campaign, even with the perfect preparedness plan, you would still have challenges.”

She said they are moving along with all the preparatory works. “UN agencies are working together with a range of partners, international NGOs, locals NGOs, RRRC and local authorities.”

The UN official said they are still in dialogue with the government as how to deal with the need for relocation.