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‘Urgency to act’ for sustainable development, greater than ever as pandemic continues

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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.

Emerging stronger

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. 

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Niger: World Bank Approves $250 Million to Boost Long-Term Growth

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The World Bank Board of Directors today approved a total amount of $250 million in International Development Association (IDA) credit and grant to help Niger develop its human capital and to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19.  

The Second Laying the Foundation for Inclusive Development Policy Financing (DPF) is the last operation in a programmatic series aimed at reducing gender gaps and providing cash transfers to households that are mostly affected by COVID-19. The program will also help expand access to electricity and potable water, improve debt management and transparency, and reduce fiscal risks. 

“The new program will help the Government pursue the reforms started to create enabling conditions for sustained and accelerated medium-term growth and tackle key structural challenges related to stark gender inequality and low access to key infrastructure,” said Joelle Dehasse, World Bank Country Manager for Niger. “This operation has been adjusted to reinforce actions that complement the government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the CODIV-19 pandemic.”

In 2019, Niger’s economic performance remained robust, driven by strong performance in the primary and tertiary sectors. Real GDP growth was 5.8 percent, with 1.9 percent per capita growth. However, since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is straining the country’s economy, mainly due to increased spending on health and social assistance services for vulnerable households. The pandemic’s adverse impact on regional and international trade, and on foreign direct investments is also severely affecting the country’s economic and social development.

“The adoption of reforms through this DPF series will help improve the livelihoods of communities in these times of COVID-19 pandemic,” said Luc Razafimandimby World Bank’s Senior Economist and co-Task Team Leader for the project. “Beyond the much-needed quick fixes, the DPF maintains its core structure to protect the future, which will also sow the seeds of post COVID-19 recovery through mutually reinforcing measures.”  

The operation is a result of an extensive consultation process involving government officials, development partners, civil society, and other key partners. It is fully aligned with the Government’s strategy through the National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021) and also with the World Bank Country Partnership for Niger (CPF 2018-2022).

* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.6 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $21 billion over the last three years, with about 61 percent going to Africa.

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World Bank releases first comprehensive stock-taking of infrastructure services in Asia

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A new World Bank report presents data about infrastructure provision in three key sectors is Asia: road transport, electricity, and water and sanitation. As the first comprehensive, regional stock-taking of levels of supply, quality, and affordability of infrastructure services, Infrastructure in Asia underscores the need to better understand current levels of service delivery to facilitate governments’ infrastructure planning and financing. Well thought-out investment planning helps raise economic growth rates, increases competitiveness, offers new economic opportunities, and bolsters improvements in human capital.

Building a more extensive body of knowledge about the health of infrastructure provision worldwide is a priority for the World Bank. Infrastructure in Asia is the first step of a new research effort that will expand to other regions. The report is organized to provide regional overviews by sector, followed by country snapshots.

Over the past few decades, a large part of Asia (both East Asia and South Asia) has enjoyed strong economic growth and steady social development. Nevertheless, the region faces significant constraints in infrastructure investment. This is exacerbated by Covid-19 pandemic and the short-term challenges of a slowing global economy, higher borrowing costs, and geopolitical tensions. Longer-term, the region is highly susceptible to the effects of climate change, so infrastructure development must be sustainable and climate resilient.

Imad Fakhoury, Global Director for Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees at the World Bank, underscored two crucial points in this context, “We must focus on smarter investments. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money, but harnessing technology, Infratech, and building efficiencies based on data so we can do more with less.”

He continued, “We also need better ‘infrastructure governance’—including strengthening policies, insitutions and investments, better planning, robust project preparation, investment prioritization, screening to decide whether to procure a project publicly or with private-sector support, and strong attention to resilience, quality, transparency and fiscal sustainability. This is crucial for accerating move towards resilient recovery stage as part of COVID-19 crisis response and rebuilding better.”

When it comes to building infrastructure that truly delivers economic and social impact, quality is as important as coverage. Governments worldwide and their development partners increasingly recognize the importance of resilience and quality in infrastructure service delivery. Infrastructure in Asia goes beyond appraising coverage levels to provide a set of key indicators that serve as proxies of multiple dimensions of infrastructure quality.

In addition to looking at the quality dimensions of infrastructure, the report’s signature contribution is its compliation of extensive and disparate information and data—otherwise time-intensive to gather and compare across sectors and countries—into a single volume.

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Global cooperation is our only choice against COVID-19

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WHO/PAHO recommendations have been instrumental in the Juarez Hospital in Mexico City. UN Mexico/Gabriela Ramirez

With more than 18.5 million cases of COVID-19 reported worldwide as of Thursday, and 700,000 deaths, the UN’s top health official again appealed to countries to unite in the fight against the disease

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) was addressing the Aspen Security Forum, which brings together top-level present and former government officials from the United States.

The Americas remain the current epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For all our differences, we are one human race sharing the same planet and our security is interdependent – no country will be safe, until we’re all safe”, he told the virtual meeting.

“I urge all leaders to choose the path of cooperation and act now to end this pandemic! It’s not just the smart choice, it’s the right choice and it’s the only choice we have.”

Invest in preparedness

Tedros said the pandemic has “stress tested” the global political, economic, cultural and social infrastructure, pushing national health systems everywhere, to their limits.

“The world spends billions every year preparing for potential terrorist attacks but we’ve learned lessons the hard way that unless we invest in pandemic preparedness and the climate crisis, we leave ourselves open to enormous harm”, he said.

As no country can fight the virus alone, Tedros said “our best way forward is to stick with science, solutions and solidarity, and together we can overcome this pandemic.”

Against “vaccine nationalism”

During a question-and-answer session moderated by US network TV news host, Lester Holt, the WHO chief was asked about ensuring fair distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine when one is developed.

Tedros warned against “vaccine nationalism” in a globalized world.

In April, WHO and partners launched the ACT Accelerator to speed up development of vaccines and medicines against the disease, and to ensure that they will be available to people everywhere.

“But to make it happen, especially fair distribution, there should be a global consensus to make a vaccine, any product, a global public product. And this is a political choice, a political commitment, and we want political leaders to decide on this,” he said.

“What we’re saying is sharing vaccines, or sharing other tools, actually helps the world to recover together, and the economic recovery can be faster and the damage from COVID-19 could be less.”

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