The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed development gains for millions in poor countries, creating an even more sharply unequal world, according to a new UN report released on Thursday.
“The global economy has experienced “the worst recession in 90 years, with the most vulnerable segments of societies disproportionately affected”, said the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing in their Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2021, pointing out that some 114 million jobs have been lost, and about 120 million people have been plunged back into extreme poverty.
The highly uneven response to the pandemic has “widened the already yawning disparities and inequities within and between countries and peoples”, according to the 60 international agencies that authored the report.
And while an historic $16 trillion in stimulus and recovery funds released by governments worldwide have helped to stave off the worst effects, less than 20 per cent of it was spent in developing countries.
By January, all but nine of the 38 States rolling out vaccines were developed countries.
Before COVID-19, around half of least developed and other low-income countries were under threat of, or already experiencing, debt distress. Coupled with falling tax revenues, that has subsequently sent debt levels soaring.
In the world’s poorest countries, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could be pushed back another 10 years, warns the report.
The report says that immediate action is needed to address widening inequalities, rebuild better, and prevent the development reversal.
“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries”, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said.
Meanwhile, Liu Zhenmin, Head of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) that produced the report, flagged that countries must be helped to stay afloat financially and to invest in their own development.
“To rebuild better, both the public and private sectors must invest in human capital, social protection, and sustainable infrastructure and technology”, he said, adding that the “troublingly retrogressive” gap between rich and poor countries, requires “an immediate course correction”.
Among other things, the report suggests providing ultra-long term fixed interest financing to developing countries and realigning capital markets with sustainable development, by removing short term incentives along the investment chain.
The report emphasized that sustainable development must be conscious of risk, to respond to the crisis and reset so-called “future-proof” global systems.
It maintained that lessons learned today can allow reforms to be put in place that create resilience ahead, such as international financial architecture and policies that support financing for development.
“To change trajectory, we need to change the rules of the game”, Ms. Mohammed said. “Relying on the pre-crisis rules will lead to the same pitfalls that have been revealed over the past year”.
To combat corporate tax avoidance and reduce harmful tax competition, the report underscored the need for a global solution on taxing the digital economy along with better technology to combat illicit financial flows.
And to reduce the overmighty market power of the digital tech giants, it suggests a review of regulatory frameworks, such as antitrust regulations.
Additionally, to reflect the reality of a changing global economy, including an increasingly digitalized world, labour market and fiscal policies must be modernized.
The report also advocated for a global reporting framework to hold companies accountable for their social and environmental impact and incorporate climate risks into financial regulation.
“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis”, said the Deputy Secretary-General.
Climate Finance: Climate Actions at Center of Development and Recovery
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) called access to climate finance a key priority for Asia and the Pacific as governments design and implement a green and resilient recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Speaking at the United Kingdom Climate and Development Ministerial—one of the premier events leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in November—ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said expanding access to finance is critical if developing economies in Asia and the Pacific are to meet their Paris Agreement goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.
“We can no longer take a business-as-usual approach to climate change. We need to put ambitious climate actions at the center of development,” Mr. Asakawa said. “ADB is committed to supporting its developing member countries through finance, knowledge, and collaboration with other development partners, as they scale up climate actions and push for an ambitious outcome at COP 26 and beyond.”
ADB is using a three-pronged strategy to expand access to finance for its developing members as they step up their response to the impacts of climate change.
First, ADB has an ambitious corporate target to ensure 75% of the total number of its committed operations support climate change mitigation and adaptation by the end of the decade, with climate finance from ADB’s own resources to reach $80 billion cumulatively between 2019 and 2030. ADB has also adopted explicit climate targets under its Asian Development Fund (ADF), which provides grant financing to its poorest members. ADF 13, which covers the period of 2021–2024, will support climate mitigation and adaption in 35% of its operations by volume and 65% of its total number of projects by 2024.
Second, ADB is enhancing support for adaptation and resilience that goes beyond climate proofing physical infrastructure to promote strong integration of ecological, social, institutional, and financial aspects of resilience into ADB’s investments.
Third, ADB is increasing its focus on supporting the poorest and most vulnerable communities in its developing member countries by working with the United Kingdom, the Nordic Development Fund, and the Green Climate Fund on a community resilience program to scale up the quantity and quality of climate adaptation finance in support of local climate adaptation actions.
Improving Transport Connectivity in Central Asia Requires a Coherent Approach
The combination of infrastructure and logistics improvements, reduction in border delays and tariffs, and harmonized standards across countries could have a significant positive impact on Central Asian economies, said experts during an online regional briefing “Connectivity in Central Asia: Challenges and Opportunities” hosted by the World Bank.
Studies show that improved transport corridors generate economic development around them. Better road accessibility also allows more people to have access to jobs, education, healthcare, and opportunities, leading to poverty reduction.
“Connectivity is a complex issue and has wide-ranging impacts, affecting businesses, consumers, trade, logistics, economic growth and a country’s overall development,” said Jean-François Marteau, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan. “In Kazakhstan, our analysis shows a clear link between investments in infrastructure and the level of the gross regional product of the oblasts.”
Countries in Central Asia are some of the least connected economies in the world, with the region’s connectivity indicator averaging below 60 percent in terms of the ratio of access to the global GDP – the lowest on the spectrum. The cost to import and export from or to Central Asia remains high, undermining the competitiveness of Central Asian products abroad and resulting in expensive imported goods. For example, the cost of shipping a container from any of the Central Asian countries to Shanghai is five times more expensive than from Poland or Turkey.
“Countries in Central Asia are yet to realize the enormous potential of internal and external trade, and the key here is improving transport connectivity in a holistic way,” said Antonio Nunez, Program Leader for Infrastructure at the World Bank Central Asia. “We see significant returns on investments when they are combined with other improvements in reducing delays and trade tariffs. These measures together could boost the regional GDP by about 15 percent.”
Connectivity within countries in Central Asia is also limited with most areas in the countries suffering from insufficient infrastructure and expensive services, limiting access to services, activities, and jobs, and hindering the tourism potential.
In the past two decades, Central Asian countries invested heavily in improving infrastructure; however, the region still lags behind middle-income countries in terms of both investing and maintaining the infrastructure. Central Asia ranks low on key trade indicators, such as the number of days to clear imports and exports and the Logistics Performance Index.
Despite some recent progress, the latter has either remained at the same level or declined compared with 2010 for all Central Asian countries. According to CAREC data, investing in corridors has paid off in saved travel time due to higher speeds. However, these time savings are often lost at the borders due to inefficient procedures and capacity constraints.
Key challenges in improving connectivity in Central Asia include tackling the low productivity of the state-owned enterprises that dominate the transport sectors in the region, harmonizing the different standards, improving infrastructure quality at local, national, and regional levels, as well as improving governance and efficiency.
“Over the years, the region has launched or become part of numerous connectivity initiatives that vary across types of infrastructure and geographical scope. What is needed now is for the countries to prioritize the connectivity initiatives that work best for their economies,” said Lilia Burunciuc, World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia. “We at the World Bank will continue supporting Central Asia in understanding and improving connectivity through our advice as well as investments, which in the last 10 years have reached over $5 billion in this sector.”
Speakers underlined the importance of greener, more sustainable and smarter transport solutions that are integrated with urban planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality management systems and reduce air pollution. Globally, transport accounts for a quarter of energy-related GHG emissions. In the Central Asian capitals and larger cities, transport generates particulate emissions that exceed the WHO maximum levels, leading to various diseases and premature deaths.
Political and Security Uncertainty Slow Down Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery
Afghanistan faces a sluggish economic recovery from COVID-19 amid continued political uncertainties and possible decline in international aid, says the World Bank in its latest country update.
Released today, Setting Course to Recovery shows that robust agricultural growth has partially buoyed Afghanistan’s economy, which shrunk by around two percent in 2020—a smaller contraction than previous estimates. However, lockdowns, weak investment, and trade disruptions have hit hard services and industries, increasing hardship and unemployment in cities.
Growth is expected to reach one percent in 2021 and top around three percent in 2022 as the COVID-19 crisis fades. Per capita incomes are unlikely to recover to pre-COVID levels until 2025 due to fast population growth.
“The current political and security uncertainties have created serious hurdles to Afghanistan’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. A slower pace of recovery means higher unemployment, lower government revenues, and – ultimately – more difficult living conditions for Afghans,” said Henry Kerali, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan.
A full recovery will be challenging as many firms have closed and jobs were lost. Private sector confidence has weakened amid difficult security conditions, uncertainty about the outcome of the ongoing peace talks, the possible withdrawal of international troops, and potential sharp declines in future international aid support. Droughts are expected in 2021 and will likely reduce agricultural activity, further weakening growth prospects.
The report emphasizes that a strong and sustainable partnership between the Afghan government and its international partners is key to driving recovery and restoring private sector confidence. In that effort, the government needs to accelerate reforms to improve governance, fight corruption, mobilize revenue, and boost business. Simultaneously, donors can support private sector confidence through clearer multi-year aid commitments and by defining measurable priority reforms that condition continued grant support.
The Afghanistan Development Update is a companion piece to the South Asia Economic Focus, a twice-a-year World Bank report that examines economic developments and prospects in the South Asia region and analyzes policy challenges faced by countries. The Spring 2021 edition titled “South Asia Vaccinates,” launched on March 31, 2021, shows that economic activity in South Asia is bouncing back, but growth is uneven, recovery remains fragile, and the economic outlook is precarious. The report also focuses on the different dimensions of vaccine deployment and provides a cost-benefit analysis of vaccination in the region.
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