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World must "build back better" from the COVID-19 crisis, U.N. urges

The United Nations is calling for an international response to COVID-19 worth at least ten per cent of global gross domestic product, as the pandemic continues to ravage healthcare systems, economies and lives all over the world. 

This week, Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, published a call to action for the world’s health systems to step up in response to COVID-19, and for Governments to focus on their most vulnerable in the wake of a pandemic that has dramatically altered the entire world.

“On their own, national-level actions will not match the global scale and complexity of the crisis,” Mr. Guterres said in the report, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity.

“This moment demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies, and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries, who will be the hardest hit.”

Developing countries should get the best chance to manage the pandemic, or risk COVID-19 becoming a “long-lasting brake on economic recovery.”

The world will need to respond to the immediate healthcare and economic disasters, but also to build society back better than it was before, Mr. Guterres said.

If the world’s Sustainable Development Goals and climate change actions been further advanced, the pandemic might have been faced by a more resilient world.

“A hard truth is that we could have been better prepared for this crisis.

“Instead, most countries have underinvested in health systems; facilities are insufficient for the level of the unexpected demand and rely heavily on imports. 

“Most countries are characterized by weak, fragmented health systems that do not ensure the universal access and capacity needed to face the COVID-19 health crisis.”

On the economic front, the pandemic’s effects have come after a year of the slowest global growth since the global financial crisis in 2008.

The world is now in a recession, and stock markets have plummeted. The situation for developing countries, least developing countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states is of particular concern, the United Nations report states. 

“The spreading of the virus to these countries will further weaken an already fragile macroeconomic picture, where debt accumulation has outpaced the growth of income even before the crisis. 

“In addition, in some of these countries, the required hygiene and sanitation standards and social distancing measures are hard to implement.”

“Tragically, the COVID-19 crisis risks reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty and exacerbating already high levels of inequality within and between countries.”

Developing countries are home to clinically and economically vulnerable populations and large informal private sectors with no access to fiscal support, which is of even greater concern.

The International Labour Organisation has predicted unemployment in lower middle income countries like Samoa could be as high as 2.8 million.

To help developing economies, international support is desperately need to fund stimulus packages and debt relief.

Debt restructuring will be a priority, and it should including immediately waiving interest of debt for 2020, debt referral, reduction, swaps and more instruments.

While the International Monetary Fund Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust can help poor countries with some immediate debt relief, developed countries will need to step in and help.

This also needs to include local Government focusing on helping small and medium enterprises and businesses opportunities for women and youth. Grants and subsidies should go towards helping pay rent, utilities, wages and more to help these businesses, and the informal sector, the report states.

“When we get past this crisis, we will face a choice – go back to the world we knew before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to this and future crises.”

“This crisis has brought home the precarious nature of today’s economy for so many people. Billions of people are either not benefitting from the global economy – the 700 million in extreme poverty; the 1.3 billion without access to basic needs – or not receiving their fair share.”

The World Health Organisation has estimated the world needs US$100 billion over the next five years to prepare for, and prevent the next pandemic in 67 low and middle income countries, and all countries have to increase their primary healthcare spending by at least one percent to close coverage gaps.

“Let us rebuild our systems in a way that results in greater opportunities and equal outcomes for women and men. 

“Let us not be content that people have washed their hands during this crisis but help ensure sustainable access to basic handwashing for the 40 per cent of the world’s population without access to water and sanitation today.”

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