Charlotte Petri Gornitzka is Assistant Secretary-General and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Partnerships; Robert Piper is Assistant Secretary-General, Director of Development Coordination Office; and Ulrika Modéer is Assistant Administrator of UNDP & Director of Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy.
– The COVID-19 pandemic upended almost every aspects of life as we know it. Even those countries that are supposed to have the means to manage the spread and mitigate the effects are struggling.
Besides the $5 trillion stimulus package that the G20 economies agreed to deal with the pandemic, individual countries are also devising various measures to shore up their health care systems, stabilize their economies, and assist affected workers and businesses.
Even before the full brunt of the coronavirus outbreak reached some of the poorest countries, the economic impacts are already being felt. With declining global demand for raw materials, breakdown of global supply chain, and mounting debt burden, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to exceed $220 billion.
The urgent shouldn’t crowd out the important
With greater uncertainty and fear of global recession looming large, governments are looking for resources needed to lessen the socio-economic pains of the crisis. In this process, official development assistance (ODA) won’t be spared and could come under increased scrutiny.
Decisions made now will have potentially devastating – or transformative – impact for years to come. Despite the economic and political pressure, we must protect ODA, which is needed more than ever.
The spread of COVID-19, especially in places with weak governance and health infrastructures, is expected to be overwhelming if the international community does not act now.
For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, many countries have the lowest number of physicians per capita in the world while some experience ongoing conflicts, making it difficult to fight the virus.
The collateral impact of COVID-19 on health, education and nutrition systems will be extremely damaging, and in many cases irreversible, for children and society at large. And when the world opens up again, the resilience of the weakest health systems will dictate how well we do against future threats.
The UN Secretary General argued that “this human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive and innovative policy action—and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.”
It is critical for the international community to fulfil the humanitarian appeal for COVID-19 response while protecting existing commitments to long-term development and other ‘silent’ emergencies.
Doing so will help protect the most vulnerable people from being exposed to the effects of COVID-19 and preserve hard-earned development gains in fighting global poverty and expanding basic services.
Left to their own devises, fragile nations may risk the breakdown of socio-political order, civil unrest and state collapse, further exacerbating the dire situation.
Flexible funding key to tackling COVID-19
COVID-19 is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a development crisis. Development agencies are supporting countries to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the crisis.
The effectiveness of their response to certain degree depends on the flexibility afforded to them in funding and operational procedures.
To tackle this uniquely complex health and development crisis, the adequacy and flexibility of funding to development agencies are pivotal. Flexible “core” funding is already making a difference in the COVID-19 response to reach people in need faster, empower local actors, deploy essential supplies to the frontline, and protect the most vulnerable – children, refugees, women.
This enabled the affected communities to practice due diligence and self-driven discretion to immediately respond to threats of the pandemic, while waiting for the pledged assistance to arrive. For instance, in Nigeria, funding flexibility allowed UNICEF to come up with an innovative solution to fight misinformation around COVID-19 while UNDP was able to support the government double the ventilator capacity in the country.
Collaboration, not competition
The COVID-19 pandemic is a devastating crisis in history. But it also posits an opportunity to remind the global community why multilateralism is vital to securing the world’s peace, security, and prosperity.
We witness how the health crisis of today’s globalized world interlinks global economy, geopolitics, and social values. Our effective response to the public health crisis should be seen as key to resolving the ensuing economic, humanitarian, and development challenges.
Understanding this interlinked and complex reality of COVID-19, governments need to work together closely to take coordinated actions and share scientific information, resources and expertise.
It is this strong motion for collaboration that underpins the UN agencies commitment to reinforce the humanitarian-development nexus to jointly respond to the COVID-19 crisis, working closely through the UN Crisis team, humanitarian response plan, UN Response and Recovery Fund for COVID-19.
For example, in Guinea-Bissau, WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, and IOM joined hands to help build isolation facilities and triage space, and procure necessary equipment for COVID-19, both for the national hospital as well as for the re-modelling of the UN clinic.
With strong solidarity and effective cooperation, the international community will not only arrest COVID-19, but also use the emergency to build back better health systems and a more inclusive and sustainable economy.