As COVID-19 upends lives and livelihoods across the planet, the UN on Monday held a wide-ranging policy discussion stressing a range of multilateral solutions to ease the pandemic, while also getting back on track towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Our commitment to achieving the SDGs has not changed, but the urgency to act has”, said Mona Juul, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as discussion over the topic, “Joining Forces: Effective Policy Solutions for Covid-19 Response”, got underway online.
She maintained that while working towards breakthroughs that will help the world overcome the health emergency, including a vaccine, “we are only beginning to realize the true scale of the social and economic crisis that lies ahead of us”.
Nearly half the global workforce is in immediate danger of being unemployed, while other global goals are being reversed, such as the increase in global poverty for the first time since 1998, with some regions slipping back to levels last seen 30 years ago.
Malaria mortality levels threaten to revert to those of 20 years ago and violence against women and girls “has become a shadow pandemic, with the number of victims increasing to the hundreds of millions worldwide’, she bemoaned.
“These are incomprehensible setbacks to our hard-won development gains”, stressed the ECOSOC chief, but “we must ask ourselves: how can we find solid footing in the new evolving normal?”
‘Build back better’
And although this virus impacts everyone, it has not been an equalizer, but instead has exposed and compounded inequalities in societies.
“These disparities should be our catalyst, and our call to build back better”, she said, maintaining that national responses be shaped by human rights and that country-specific global action take special situations into account.
Ms. Juul maintained that the pandemic has “put a spotlight on the need to strengthen multilateral cooperation, governance, and above, all global solidarity”.
Noting that “we are currently tossing and turning through dangerous waters”, the ECOSOC president pointed to the SDGs as “our chart to see us through the storm”.
“Now is truly the time to fulfil our promise of leaving no one behind”, she concluded.
SDGs ‘clear compass’
Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed told the meeting that lives and livelihoods everywhere depend on the UN’s ability to support Governments in tackling this “unprecedented health, humanitarian and socio-economic crisis”.
Calling the SDGs “a clear compass” to direct us, she cited the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, as the world’s chart.
“We will need to keep in mind dual imperatives: to respond urgently to stem the impact of the pandemic, while helping Governments and people respond in a way that recovers better, more resilient, future”, flagged the deputy UN chief.
And while we are all in this together, she underscored the “immediate priority” of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable countries and communities who risk being left behind.
When allocating resources close attention will be paid to the needs of conflict- and disaster-affected countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, according to Ms. Mohammed.
Turning to the UN’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to catalyze joint action on the ground for the most vulnerable countries and communities, Ms. Mohammed spelled out: “We estimated billions and are receiving millions”.
In closing, she offered the UN’s “full commitment” in supporting Governments and ensuring that “lives are saved, livelihoods are restored, financial resources are mobilized, and that the global economy and the people we serve can emerge stronger from this crisis”.
Other key voices
Describing the coronavirus pandemic as “a human crisis of historic magnitude”, Liu Zhenmin, who heads up the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) said it had “destabilized global economic growth” and led the world into a major global recession that threatens all the SDGs.
The DESA chief stressed the need to build on lessons learned throughout the crisis to accelerate progress during the Decade of Action and delivery for sustainable development” and to turn the tide against inequality.
The Director of the Internatioal Labour Organztion (ILO), Guy Ryder, maintained that an effective response to COVID19, which protects the most vulnerable first, requires global solidarity and multilateral action, with international coordination on health, social and economic policy.
Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet maintained that human rights were at the core of the COVID-19 crisis and encouraged vocal support to step up efforts to leave no one behind.
Qu Dongyu, Head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) emphasized the impact of that the pandemic is having on food security and nutrition, pushing for effective policy solutions for the global pandemic response.
The Executive Secretary for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, encouraged a coordinated and coherent global response to the adverse social, economic and financial impact of the pandemic.
And Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also weighed into the discussion: “There can be no going back to business as usual”, he spelled out.