UN Volunteer Programme vital to addressing Development challenges in developing countries Says Brian Bowler

Ambassado BrianBowlerNew York, April 7, Malawi’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Brian Bowler has said the United Nations Volunteer Program plays a major role in addressing numerous challenges ranging from poverty, climate change to HIV/Aids epidemic in Malawi and other developing countries.

Ambassador Bowler was speaking on Tuesday when he addressed an informal consultative meeting of the executive board of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) whose theme was “The relevance and critical role of volunteerism for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.” The meeting was co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Malawi and Switzerland and the United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV).

“As we all know, the role of volunteerism in the implementation of Agenda 2030 cannot be overemphasized. This was evident in the planning process of the Agenda 2030, where volunteer engagement emerged as a viable mechanism to compliment the action of governments in addressing development challenges, particularly at the local level,” Ambassador Bowler said, adding that the implementation of agenda 2030 depended on citizen participation.

Ambassador Bowler highlighted some of the activities that the United Nations Volunteers Programme has embarked in Malawi since its partnership with the Government. He said the UNV has provided technical assistance to the Government and the people of Malawi in key development sectors such as agriculture, fisheries management, private sector development, social economic planning and decentralization, disaster management, HIV and Aids prevention and treatment as well as environmental protection and health care delivery systems.

“In the early 2000s, when the country was faced with the HIV and AIDS pandemic, UN Volunteers, among other partners provided the much needed support to address the attendant problems, through the Southern Africa Capacity Initiative (SACI), a sub-regional response programme which UN volunteers were deployed to fill the human resources gap created in the public sector as a way of stabilizing the situation, said Bowler.

He said the UNV has also supported the Government in managing the decentralization process. UN Volunteers worked with the District Officers and District Assemblies to formulate District Endowment Profiles for the 28 districts of the country as well as developing systems for financial management in the districts.

“Perhaps most importantly, UNV and UNDP partnered with the Ministry of Health to recruit and deploy UN Volunteer medical doctors in districts and referral hospitals throughout the country. Over 200 international UN Volunteer doctors, both specialists and general practitioners, have served in various capacities in public hospitals since the project stated in 2004, Ambassador Bowler said.

Some achievements of the UN Volunteer Doctors include: 

  • Skill enhancement as the Doctors trained and transferred capacity to Malawian health workers.
  • Some UN Volunteer Doctors initiated special clinics and community outreach programmes, e.g., Heart Clinics in Mzuzu, Cardiovascular Clinic in Nkhota-kota, Dental outreach services.
  • Doctor patient ratio in central hospitals where International UN Volunteers Doctors served (60-90%) reduced from 1:60,000 to about 1:30,000. Number of patients on doctor’s waiting list reduced by 50%.
  • Health Workers trained in ART (Anti Retro-viral Therapy) from 0 in 2006 to close 5000 and more than 41,000 patients enrolled on ART treatment register in 651 sites country wide.  

Over ten international and national volunteer service agencies are operating in Malawi, including: the United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV), Volunteer Service Organization (VSO), Malawi Red Cross, Progressio, Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), World University Students of Canada (WUSC), Peace Corps, Bunda College Volunteer Scheme, AISEC, National Youth Council of Malawi, and NAPHAM, just to mention a few.

Bowler also noted that Climate change has affected many countries in the sub Saharan Africa, including Malawi. In the case of Malawi, in particular, he said the impact of the current El Nino spell has been manifested by prolonged drought, thereby exacerbating food shortage and rural poverty.

“Within the framework of the UNV Global Programme of Disaster Risk Reduction and Community Resilience, UNV is working with UNDP to develop a joint programme to address the effects of this problem. In the same vein, UNV has developed a project concept note with UNICEF to support Youth and Adolescent action. This programme is meant to address the numerous challenges facing the young people in the country, said Ambassador Bowler, adding that, in addition, a new partnership has been established with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to help the agency in its food security project through the deployment of monitoring and evaluation capacities. He went to say that Malawi is also a recipient of the Green Climate Fund, for which UNDP has requested UNV to provide a specialist climate change capacity, to coordinate the programme activities.

Ambassador Bowler told the meeting that Malawian nationals have also made various contributions to the international peace and development agenda.

“Malawian volunteers have served in countries such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sierra Leone, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Thailand, CAR, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Timor-Leste,” he said.

“It is important to note that in 2014, 19 Malawians served as International UN Volunteers in other countries as development economists, programme officers, food aid and humanitarian specialists as well as ICT experts. Hence, demonstrating the inclusiveness that volunteerism brings to engaging and contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. This is a very good expression of South-South Cooperation (SSC), and UNV offers an excellent modality to do intentional SSC, in close consultation with respective national Governments such as Malawi,” said Bowler.

In concluding his statement, Ambassador Bowler pointed out that the implementation of the SDGs at the country level presents a good opportunity for UN Volunteers to engage at both national and community levels. He said UNV has provided support to the government in the mapping out of the country needs during the ‘My World” survey. In this regard, he said, it will build on the experience gained in the prioritization, domestication and implementation of the development goals.

United Nations Volunteers contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilizing an increasing number and diversity of volunteers, including experienced UN Volunteers, throughout the world. UNV embraces volunteerism as universal and inclusive, and recognizes volunteerism in its diversity as well as the values that sustain it: free will, commitment, engagement and solidarity.

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