Discussion
18 Dec 2020 - 17 Jan 2021

Impact of COVID-19 on global development goals

SparkBlue • 12 December 2020

Welcome to the joint discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on global development goals.

Please answer any of the below questions (including the question numbers in your response). Feel free to introduce yourself if you wish. We look forward to hearing from you.
 

 

  1. What key lessons have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in reaching global development and humanitarian goals through interagency collaboration and joint work?
     
  2. How do you see the role of UN agencies evolving in order to address social and economic impact of COVID-19?
     
  3. What would enable UN agencies to contribute more effectively to transformational change and better leverage key partners to catalyze change and achieve the global development goals?
     
    1. Please specify which stakeholders and partners in your opinion should be prioritized and the various ways they could be better engaged: multilateral organizations, governments, civil society, private sector, foundations, young people, etc.
       
    2. Please specify how UN agencies can address external constraints and challenges that could potentially hinder progress in the next 10 years.
       

 

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Comments (24)

Sandra Aslund Moderator

Thank you for the insightful discussion over the past two weeks. Several important points have been raised, such as the need for the discussion to evolve from talking about COVID-19 in isolation to discussing compound risks that cut across multiple sectors. To better meet these complex challenges, the UN must have available resources to invest in preparedness and prevention. Furthermore, it is also important to devote resources for thorough evaluations to capture lessons learned. There was also a call for the UN to play a strategic role in supporting communities to scale up interventions and innovative solutions to meet the crisis communities face.

It was also emphasized the UN need to better support the inclusion of women in the planning and preparations for disasters and risks, such as health pandemics, as well as recovery and response. This is particularly important in the current situation where we see an increase in violence against women and girls as well as a pushback against human rights where sexual and reproductive rights are increasingly contested.

We look forward to more engagement on this important discussion of the impact of COVID-19 and how the UN should strategically engage for transformational and sustainable change.

Natasha Lamoreux

I think a key lesson was that the UN System was unprepared for COVID-19, despite many credible reports and news coverage from scientists and others warning that a global pandemic like COVID-19 was at our doorstep.

We need to do a better job of listening to the credible predictions of scientists and healthcare leaders and other analysts, not just to continue to respond to COVID-19, but to begin to prepare for the next crisis, which may come in the form of a global health pandemic, but may come in form of other crises.

We need to learn the lessons from Ebola response, which was that analysis and evaluation of Ebola response was cut short--with key, valuable lessons lost, once that crisis began to come under control and donors began to shift focus to other things.

We should stop talking just about COVID-19, but start talking about COMPOUND RISKS more generally (which indicate disruption across multiple sectors and populations, with health, economic, educational, security and ecological reverberations, for example). COVID-19 was (and is) a Compound Risk. Capacitating the UN System to be prepared for and understand how to respond to and manage compound risks will do much more for our future preparedness than a singular focus on COVID-19.

https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/08/11/compound-risk-hurricanes-wildf…

 

Henia Dakkak Moderator

I do agree that preparedness is key, but investment in preparedness for compounded risks is so low by all stakeholders (governments, UN agencies, donors, communities, people). Unless we have a whole of society approach to preparedness and accountability that is when can make a difference. It is similar to the prevention. Everyone knows that prevention is better and cheaper than cure, but the investment in behavior change and capacity building which is not visible does not attract the needed investment or political will for change

You points are valid

Natasha Lamoreux

Henia Dakkak I think the point you raise above that " investment in behavior change and capacity building which is not visible does not attract the needed investment or political will for change" is essential here.

Longer-term thinking, planning and programming is the only way that I see to achieve transformational behavioral change within societies--and within the UN system itself, which has many spaces which don't truly champion inclusion of women and those from the most marginalized spaces.

How do we use a short-term 3-4 year strategic planning period to adequately capture and work towards goals that take undoubtedly much longer in achieving?

Natasha Lamoreux

All UN Agencies across the system must do a better job at including women and supporting Member States in including women in all aspects of planning and preparations for disasters and risks, such as health pandemics, as well as recovery and response. Without women's inclusion we will fail to achieve transformational change. Women should not be limited to inputting on 'gender' issues, but rather recognition of inherent value in the different skills, perspectives and lived experiences that women bring to all aspects and all levels of planning, preparedness, response and recovery is essential.

Henia Dakkak Moderator

UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and UNWomen invite you to share your views and support the joint deliberation and dialogue on COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing to light and exacerbating pre-existing social, economic, and political inequalities, including inequalities of wealth, health, wellbeing, social protection, and access to basic needs including food, health care, and schooling. The pandemic is bringing about a sharp increase in income inequality and jobs crises for low-paid workers. Health inequalities also pose major issues in this pandemic; as of December, 2017, half of the world's population did not have access to essential health services. Vulnerable populations (including the poor, older people, people with previous health conditions, people who are incarcerated, refugees, and Indigenous peoples) are bearing a disproportionate burden of the pandemic.

The abrupt shift to an online economy came in the context of a deep, pre-existing digital divide in high-quality digital access. It is important to take concrete steps with the digital industry and governments to accelerate universal access to digital services, including public–private financing to extend connectivity to hard-to-reach populations.

Among the most urgent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are hunger and food insecurity for poor and vulnerable populations. The pandemic also poses great concerns for mental health, especially for lower-income populations, and there is high inequality in the provision of services for mental health, especially in lower-income and middle-income countries. The gender dimensions of COVID-19 must also be prioritised, in recognition of the documented increase in unplanned pregnancies for teenage and young women, and the increase in gender-based violence.

Henia Dakkak Moderator

I do agree Natasha about including women in all aspects of planning, preparedness and decision making for disasters and risks. Gender inequality and structural racism and systemic inequities put people of color and the economically vulnerable at heightened risk in the face of both climate change and pandemics. 

The most affected and at-risk women’s voices and leadership are not being included for an informed and effective COVID-19 humanitarian response.

Currently as evident in COVID-19 response, the potential leadership of women and local women’s organizations in particular in pandemic preparedness and response is not being sufficiently leveraged. 

It is important to note that negative social norms is  leading to reduced protection of most affected and at-risk women and girls.

So how and in what way can we change the narrative in your opinion and ensure women participation in preparedness planning and response?

 

Henia Dakkak Moderator

With COVID-19 impacting 193 countries around the world, the United Nations has developed a large-scale response across its various agencies to combat the crisis.

As Secretary-General Guterres stated, “COVID-19 is the greatest test” since World War II; “it is more than a health crisis. It is a human crisis.”

The UN chief has released an updated plan to counter COVID-19, which emphasizes the need for countries to act in concert and outlines ways to suppress transmission of the virus, safeguard people’s lives and their livelihoods, and learn from the crisis to build back. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) – the global coordinating authority on the UN’s response – and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) organized a humanitarian appeal for the most vulnerable countries, bringing together existing appeals from UN partners, as well as identifying new needs.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, we face a human tragedy, and a public health, humanitarian and development emergency. For the first time since 1945, the entire world is confronted by a common threat, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or faith. But while COVID-19 does not discriminate, our efforts to prevent and contain it do. For that reason, the pandemic has hit the poorest and most vulnerable in many countries and societies hardest. Therefore stronger health systems and Universal Health Coverage must be a priority.

It is important for us as UN agencies working on strategic plans to define how we are going to achieve this task going forward. 

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda

 I founded and run Rozaria Memorial Trust in rural Zimbabwe and are part of the COVID19 response mechanism at various levels. We even offered our RMT Educational and Counselling Centre as an emergency response Centre and standby isolation centre in support of the district effort.

My experience is that the UN is too upstream working mostly with government, big international and national organisations. Resources for impactful work does not reach communities in a significant way. The assumption is the community rooted or headquartered organisations need "capacity building" when actually what they need most are opportunities to scale up their innovations and creative solutions to a crisis.

We have seen amazing entreprenuership spirit and creative as communities had to be resilient and find solution in COVID19 response. For instance as Rozaria Memorial Trust we started to produce liquid soap that we supplied to all the local clinics in two districts and also some schools and quarantine centre. Post COVID19, big business which is prioritised for re-capitalisation will then flood the market with these products and displace some of this local efforts. This is where the UN must play a strategic role of building local capabilities for economic regeneration of resource in communities and create employment.

 

Henia Dakkak Moderator

@Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda thanks for your comments and interventions. One of the main sustainable goals number 17 is about partnerships. Although the UN system works Upstream on policy work and to strengthen systems, in humanitarian situation/crisis and in the COVID-19 the UN work in direct humanitarian response and partner with many local communities.

In 2016, during the World Humanitarian Summit an agreement was reached to advance the Grand Bargain with many stakeholders including donors and member states and World Bank to make sure that at minimum 25% of financial resources needs to be provided to local community organizations. The 4 UN agencies have country offices in Zimbabwe. It will be good to reach out to UN country offices and engage in discussion. Sometimes the challenge with community based organizations is how to organize themselves in a network and elect representatives that can speak on their behalf. I do agree a lot of the knowledge, innovation and capacity exists within community based organizations and non governmental organizations especially that they know first hand what is needed to be implemented and have the local understanding of the context and languages.  We need to amplify their voices and meaningful participation so we can make sure that localization and sustainability is the way forward for the new strategic plans. Your comments are important and we will ensure that we take an action to ensure that community based civil society are supported as equal partners in fighting COVID-19 and we engage them in implementation of programmes to support service delivery. 

Frances Guy

thanks Henia for reminding us of the commitments of the grand bargain. perhaps the starting point for a joint strategic plan from the 4 agencies should be a renewal to that commitment to ensure that AT LEAST 25% of funding is going to NGOs in the south - I rewrite the wording intentionally.. the commitment was not about passing money through international NGOs or UN agencies to local implementers but was a commitment to ensure direct funding.  UN. Agencies should lead the way but should also remind donors of that commitment. 

Henia Dakkak Moderator

In April 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General said that “people – and their rights – must be front and centre” of our response to COVID-19.

Since then the worsening pandemic has only served to underline the importance of human rights for shaping the response to this public health emergency and its broader impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. The pandemic is taking place against a backdrop of rising violence and pushback against human rights, where hard-won gains in women’s rights, in particular sexual and reproductive rights, are increasingly contested. Therefore, how can UN work to address this push back on human rights, gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights?

Sandra Aslund Moderator

Thank you Heina, for bringing up this important issue of push back on human rights, and in particular the rights of women. To add to your point, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that a 10% drop in reproductive health care due to Covid-19 equals 15 million unintended pregnancies in low and middle-income countries, including an increase in maternal deaths. The effort of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be at the cost of women’s health and human rights. As Heina asked, how can the UN address the push back on human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, and safeguard the hard-won gains in gender equality?

Sandra Aslund Moderator

The UN Secretary General has highlighted the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on women and girls globally, called for a push to prevent “years, even generations” worth of progress on women’s empowerment, from being lost to the pandemic. At the same time, women make up the majority at the frontlines, as health care workers and caregivers.  However, women are vastly underrepresented at the decision-making table and in leadership positions in the COVID -19 response. How can the UN respond to COVID-19 and at the same time address this unequal power structure and contribute to transformational change?

Henia Dakkak Moderator

If we have to prioritize one thing, it should be ensuring that girls don’t go back to despair, teenage motherhood, and premature death. Girls must have the chance to flourish and pursue a bright future in spite of COVID-19.

Girls are profoundly impacted by the pandemic in multiple ways: by the economic effects on their families and the resulting food insecurity, by the increase in domestic violence and child marriage, or by the closing of schools, among other factors.

In Bangladesh for example , research by the Power and Participation Research Centre and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development shows that COVID-19 is creating millions of “new poor” – people whose income was 40 percent above the poverty line but have fallen below it as economies are disrupted. A recent study by the Centre for Research and Information, a Dhaka-based non-profit, estimates that the “new poor” now totals 38 million – roughly one in five Bangladeshis.

Similarly, food insecurity is on the rise. Another survey by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development found that Bangladeshi households are spending less on food as their incomes drop: Compared to pre-pandemic levels, food expenditure shrunk by 22 percent in rural households, and by 28 percent in urban slum households.

On top of this, depression, crime, and addiction are rising among urban youth in the absence of schools, which have been closed in Bangladesh since March. Violence against women, both domestic and outside the home, is growing. A study by the Manusher Jonno Foundation, a Bangladeshi NGO, in 53 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts found nearly 2,900 child victims of domestic violence in June, up from about 2,170 a month earlier.

Yet it is with the closing of schools that the potential damage may be most profound. When schools are closed for months, the loss is more than just the course material that would have been covered:

In all of this, girls are especially at risk – of being the victims of violence, of being forced into a child marriage, of dropping out of school, of not having the opportunity to pursue their talents and dreams

What should be done? Governments, donors, and non-governmental organisations, particularly in the Global South, all have a role to play.

Raquel Ortiz

Let me start off by apologizing for the long post. Really excited to chat about these important issues. 

I believe the biggest lesson learned has to be the IMPORTANCE of Education around the world. We all say it all the time, and for those of us in Education, of course we live it. The pandemic really demonstrated this without a doubt, it became one of the biggest challenges for almost every nation (developed or not). Educational Agencies scrambled to create a system of education that was responsive to the safety needs due to COVID-19, schools needed to go online or create opportunities for remote learning. It demonstrated the outdated infrastructures that were insufficient to what was needed to connect students and families to educational systems. It demonstrated the school as a center of the community; where they are not only providing an education, but meals, safe spaces, socioemotional support for students, families, and staff.  It demonstrated the need to continuously develop and support professional development of teachers, the need to invest in tech for schools, the need for increased health and wellness programs in schools, access to clean water and sanitation, etc. Things we know, but even in middle income nations, and here in the US and other Western nations, it really exposed the cracks and the deficiencies that exist. 

I believe UNICEF and other UN Agencies have been doing God’s work during this pandemic. I know that many US based Educational districts have been looking at the data and guidance that UNICEF has shared throughout the pandemic, helping shape the response by Educational Districts across the world. Other large NGOs have also led the charge. The cross sector collaboration has to remain if we will effectively close gaps created by COVID-19, but also where they existed and persisted before.  

In order to continue to lead change and drive development UN Agencies need to evolve to continue to address issues of equity, poverty reduction, and supporting education across the world. The road ahead is daunting, in every area where the UN works to create better futures around the world, there is a lot of work to do, given the global impacts to almost every nation, developing or not.  Around the world, including Western nations, Distance Learning or the lack of any learning really challenged every government and nation to look hard at the status of their education system. It opened up the deficiencies that exist and really brought to the forefront the importance of Schooling and Education across the world. The respect for the teaching profession has gone up, the understanding of the role of a mother or caretaker was better understood, the role of women in not only a household, but in an global economy was highlighted. 

In short, the SDGs have never been more important - nations that were well on their way to meeting or exceeding these goals, were able to adapt to the needs of COVID and the pressures to the economy and development in general. In other areas, where growth towards SDGs has been challenging, they have struggled to provide education, health, housing, and economic support for their people 

Each country has to create a plan to examine learning loss, educational and Social Emotional impacts of COVID-19, as well as in other areas identified by the SDGs. The need to close gaps, the need to focus on  academic impacts but also focus the need on SEL and other components for students, families, and staff. It came with no surprise that Education systems that were prepared, invested in teacher training and capacity development, parent empowerment, and community infrastructures, experienced an easier transition to online learning. In countries where the opportunity gaps are wider, the gaps widened even further, I think that not only UNICEF, but almost all UN agencies need to address the issue of systemic changes to education. If what nation states are looking to is a return to “normal”, without learning from these difficult lessons learned and do not work proactively to address the deficiencies going back to “normal” will stunt progress to reach the development goals. 

In order to contribute more effectively to transformational change and better leverage key partners and stakeholders to catalyze the needed change, find the changemakers, and achieve the SDGs; the UN must work with a cross sector of orgs, government agencies, etc to build the improved roadmap to the SDGs. This absolutely needs to include the people impacted the most, those left out, those that struggled the most during the pandemic. It will be fundamental to pull in civil society, community organizations, youth, and when possible create opportunities to be led by youth and Community based partners and leaders.  

Looking at how we all need to collectively move towards progress in the next 10 years, we have to look at those parts of the theory of constraints (made me think back to Grad school!) These are the moving parts that can or will potentially hinder achieving the development goals. We need to focus on PPE - no not the personal protective equipment, but People, Policy, and Equipment. 

What do PEOPLE need to get back on track to the road to the SDGs? 

What POLICIES need to change, to facilitate growth and development? 

What EQUIPMENT is needed to facilitate the path towards development? 

We are all rebuilding, there is no switch we can flip to make the impacts of COVID-19 disappear. More than ever, this is the time for innovation, courage, and change.

"Normal" means we will go back to a world where young women and girls have access to less opportunities, are abused and raped, where children do not have access to clean water and sanitation, where millions live under the duress of war,  famine, and a endless list of challenges. This is the time to imagine a better world - using this period of rebuilding - to not build back to what was there before, but a better place for all.

I know that sounds cliche and pollyannaish, but if going back to normal is the goal than we will be ushering in a new decade where extreme poverty not not only remains but grows exponentially, progress made in the last decades will disappear, and the most vulnerable will be even further from opportunity and safety.  

Again, thanks for this opportunity to interact with others on these important questions, such a good idea!

 

Henia Dakkak Moderator

@Rachel Ortiz thanks for your suggestions and lessons learned. You raised many valid points and issues in terms of education and highlighted the issue of schooling and the issue of PPE as you rightly putted as People, Policy and Equipment and how to adapt, and address the issue of how the UN and get back on track to tackle the issue SDG collectively. 

From my end, as the pandemic took hold early last year, it became increasingly clear that women were carrying a disproportionate burden of new responsibilities as support systems that had enabled women to tackle careers were drying up. Schools closed. Daycare facilities shuttered. In-home child care providers quarantined. Extended family support systems paused. On top of the 24/7 childcare responsibilities families suddenly faced, parents added the role of teachers and full-time caregivers for school-aged children to their duties, with this responsibility falling disproportionately to women.working women, particularly working moms, faced an overwhelming load of added work and responsibilities -- studies estimate an additional 5 hours of work a day caring for the house and family, as compared to men. For women of color, the impacts of the pandemic were even more pronounced, as they were more likely to have been furloughed or laid off, and the incidence of Covid was higher within this community. The question how we can keep women from leaving the workforce. 

Bani Dugal

Hello everyone, and thank you for all of these thoughtful contributions. We truly have a lot to learn about our role in promoting the SDGs in light of COVID-19. 

One thing that many of us are coming to see as a result of the pandemic is the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit, manifested by countless communities arising to respond to the needs that have emerged in their immediate realities. Among them include religious communities that are working to contribute to the goals that the UN is encouraging. 

The Multi-Faith Advisory Council to the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development (MFAC) has been learning about tapping into the potential of religion as a source of knowledge in inspiring constructive action as well as the role that religious communities can play in supporting the realization of the SDGs. The MFAC highlights that strengthening relationships at all levels, including those among people of different faiths, must be at the heart of any sustainable and successful development effort. 

There are many examples of religious communities working together, with their collaborators, contributing to unity and fellow feeling at the grassroots level during times of uncertainty. Some have worked to raise awareness about the pandemic and have partnered with other actors at the local and national level in promoting best practices or in providing humanitarian assistance, while others have offered hope and solace amidst a disordered world through the vision for a prosperous future that their teachings provide. Some examples of these efforts can be found here. Though just a few simple examples, they offer insight into how the potential of true religion has inspired communities to work for the common good. They show how efforts to break down prejudicial barriers and to instill an appreciation for humanity’s shared identity have made certain communities especially resilient in being able to adapt to new circumstances and in preparing against future risks.

Beyond the efforts of the MFAC, how can UN agencies and other stakeholders harness the potential of religious communities, who are well positioned to inspire action through their deep networks in support of the SDGs amidst the challenges associated with the pandemic? How can the role of religion in society and in sustainable development be further highlighted in UN discourse and policy in both responding to our current challenges and in achieving our goals?

Janice Cox

Janice Cox from World Federation for Animals on Question 1: The lesson we learned was that development work and development policy cannot be carried out with an anthropocentric mindset without far-reaching impacts across all dimensions of development. Holistic policy-making and systemic analysis are vital; and animal and environmental issues must be interwoven. The Human Development Report 2020 made this clear as well - "the future of the planet and its sentient beings is one of the largest ethical issues facing humanity going forward". Here is our Manifesto on Animal Issues connected to COVID-19, which need to be addressed to stop future pandemics:    bit.ly/AnimalsManifesto   Clearly, inter-agency cooperation is vital - not only in terms of technical response, but also in policy analysis and planning to prevent future pandemics. And recent reports have shown that real transformative change is needed to bend the curve and move away from future devastation. And this will have to include massive policy changes to our economic systems (moving away from endless growth to new ways of working, like Doughnut Economics), and consumption and production systems - including food and agriculture. 

Laurel Patterson Moderator

Thank you for the exchange and excellent contributions to date on this critical topic!  There are only have a few days left to add your voice.

Janice Cox thank you for highlighting the treatment of animals and broader shift to a well being centred economic model. The shifts we need are significant but not insurmountable !  

Marina.Berbiec
  1. What key lessons have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in reaching global development and humanitarian goals through interagency collaboration and joint work?
     
  2. How do you see the role of UN agencies evolving in order to address social and economic impact of COVID-19?

    I believe the UN and humanitarian partners have made considerable efforts into developing new ways of working and adapting programming to the COVID-19 and associated movement restrictions. These efforts were initiated during the early months of the COVID pandemic and have been maintained and scaled up ever since. One of the main focuses has been to harness technology for broader outreach and service coverage at a time where freedom of movement was limited, and women and girls found themselves exposed to further risks of violence at home. We have seen amazing achievements related to setting up and running remote case management services and counseling helplines, or providing global, regional and national trainings entirely virtually / online. While technological innovations are key in achieving progress in today's world, in order to truly leave no one behind, the UN and partners should also strengthen efforts in providing guidance and ensuring women's and girls' participation and access to lifesaving quality GBV/SRH services and information in contexts where access constraints are multiple: a) literacy levels are low, b) economic and financial resources are low, c) access to technology / Internet connection inexistent or unreliable at best, and / or d) pre-existing environmental and physical barriers to accessing such information / services (e.g. hard to reach areas). It is critical to adopt a feminist intersectional analysis - recognizing that women and girls, at at all times and even more so during the COVID pandemic, might experience different structural forms of oppression, discrimination or inequality in rights and access to in-person or remote services. 
Solome Zemene

UN Agencies come with diverse mandates putting the UN Development System in a unique position to respond to the multifaceted nature of the pandemic in an integrated fashion. The UN’s wealth of experience on humanitarian and emergency preparedness, response and recovery is a strong factor to take into consideration and to be adequately explored to the COVID 19 response. The global initiatives on humanitarian, health and socio-economic response are platforms to address the vast array of issues resulting from the pandemic. The socio-economic response plans and the UN wide effort for gender integration is an aspect to build on facilitating national response. Linkages of such response to the SDGs is an aspect that should continue to be encouraged as it would allow to respond to the pandemic and work towards long-term development plans simultaneously.

While urgency of the response is recognized, streamlined approaches to setting a common situation and vulnerability analysis; relevance and quality of priorities identified; optimal use of limited resources; improved coordination of efforts especially on the UN’s approach towards donors are areas that need more work. Rapid monitoring of progress with few key agreed indicators and a very light lessons learned exercise will facilitate continuous learning and improved response. Investment on innovative approaches and private sector engagement are a priority to address funding constraints. The UN should also be open to active engagement and partnerships with other stakeholders such as Civil Society for an impactful response.  

Marianne Kjellen

Hi! Working with UNDP on water issues, I’d like to share some thoughts on Covid-19, water and health.

On Q#1 'lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic,' I would highlight here the renewed focus on people’s home environments, and the rediscovery of the importance of hand hygiene.

But first, let’s also remember the long-term development trend, where improved housing and nutrition (or generally reduced poverty) has saved most of humanity from cholera, dysentery and the frequent pandemics of the past. The formidable reduction of infectious disease greatly builds on increasingly reliable access to clean water and safe sanitation  - where improved hygiene (especially handwashing) reduces person-to-person transmission, and safe (non-polluting) sanitation reduces the environmental transmission – along with health care..

Now, the pandemic has certainly made a dent in this otherwise formidable development on many accounts. The pandemic, and the policy response to it, has confined many people to their homes, making the still inadequate housing and lack of access to basic services a more acute drama. With handwashing remaining one of the first lines of defense against the further spread of disease, it is appalling that three billion people – 40 per cent of the world’s population – do not have a place in their homes to wash their hands with water and soap (citing UNICEF).

On Q#2 the role of UN agencies and Q#3 on their contribution to transformation, should UNDP maybe team up with e.g. UNICEF, UN-Habitat and others to focus more on fundamentals expressed e.g in SDG target 1.4 (including ‘access to basic services ‘) taking a holistic, rights-based and cross-sectoral to equality and access to basic services? – (sustaining ‘…equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership, and control over land and other forms of property…’ is probably as transformational as you can get.)

Would it be more powerful to team up to more holistically address local vulnerability and poverty? I’d vote for SDG target 1.4 as our guiding star.

At the same time, if we want to engage in more focused inputs with potentially quicker – yet important – results, we could consider joining WHO and UNICEF in assuring WASH in health care facilities. According to WASH in health care facilities: Global baseline report 2019, over a quarter of health care facilities lack basic water supplies. UNDP’s important Solar for Health initiative ‘supports governments to increase access to quality health services through the installation of solar energy photovoltaic systems.’ Expanding such initiatives towards improving health care by sustaining energy, water, sanitation and waste management in health centers might produce a very tangible impact!

On another note, an interesting research question would be what underlies the relatively lower toll of Covid-19 in many African societies? (very much hoping for this ‘escape’ to be sustained)

Best,

Marianne

Thomas Bannister

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on an interesting topic. The comments above highlight many of the ways that COVID-19 pandemic has, will and could impact the SDGs. Many negatives, but also a few 'positives'. One of the brighter spots, as Bani Dugal  Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and others have pointed out, is the highly visible volunteering that took place everywhere in communities in 2020 to meet urgent needs across SDGs; such as providing mental health support, delivering essential supplies to vulnerable people and supporting overstretched healthcare systems. Across contexts, many people volunteered last year who wouldn’t have done normally. E.g. if you look at Red Cross and Red Crescent figures, they have record volunteer registrations in 2021.

As with all aspects and impacts of the pandemic, it shouldn’t be underestimated how much this is being experienced and witnessed on a truly global scale. Today’s hyper-connectivity means that the consequences of the pandemic have probably touched, in some way, a greater % of the global population than any other previous ‘global’ event (from wars + other crises, to things like Olympics and football world cups). Of course, the way the pandemic has impacted individuals and groups varies greatly depending on many factors, but in terms of bearing witness and being part of a shared, human experience, you could certainly argue that it is unprecedented.

Building on the two points above; an important question for me is how does the UN build on the mass social action and engagement we have seen as part of this global experience, to not only meet immediate challenges and make up ground that has been lost, but also to transform and rethink long-held norms and approaches to delivering the global goals?

In July last year the SG called for in July - a ‘’new social contract for a new era”. In building back better post-COVID-19, the UN system should work to ensure that some of the unprecedented resources being mobilized as part of the post-pandemic recovery, are allocated towards creating better, wider and more equitable support and spaces for citizen engagement in the SDGs. UN agencies, funds and programmes can start by engaging more with volunteering, volunteers and volunteer groups in their planning and programming, including by creating new spaces for volunteering within organizations, such as UNFPA's inter-divisional working group on volunteerism. In thinking about how to scale the volunteering seen during COVID-19, UN actors can think less about the creation of new top-down schemes or programmes, but rather find ways to activate, amplify, and scale the volunteering that is already there, to help Member States sustain the widespread civic engagement, mutual assistance and self-organization seen during the pandemic (here we can also include the exciting waves of social activism that we were seeing pre-pandemic, such as Fridays for Future). The UN can help MSs and partners build on the lessons of COVID-19, and continue to promote participatory policy implementation and collaborative design approaches to transform how civic action, government and other public good infrastructures fit together in a complementary, fair and equitable way to deliver better services to those who need them the most. And the UN can also look at integrating informal volunteering into resilience-building efforts, and promoting new models that revitalize mutual assistance and community-based informal volunteering in societies where state welfare and formal civil society has largely replaced it.

At UNV, the pandemic coincided with the culmination of the plan of action to integrate volunteering into the 2030 Agenda (A/RES/73/140). UNV and other POA partners have been taking stock of where volunteering is in 2020 and what options there are to 'reimagine' it for the decade of action. If you are interested in some of the things UNV and POA partners have been working on, you can visit some of the below:

Call to Action: https://www.unv.org/News/GTM2020-closes-clarion-call-supercharge-ideas-solutions-volunteering-Decade-Action

Global synthesis report: http://knowledge.unv.org/evidence-library/global-synthesis-report-plan-of-action-to-integrate-volunteering-into-the-2030-agenda

POA resources: https://unitednationsvolunteers.swoogo.com/gtm2020/620825 

 

thanks again for the opportunity to comment!


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