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COVID-19 pandemic: Humanity needs leadership and solidarity to defeat the coronavirus

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two. Since its emergence in Asia in 2019, the virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica.

We have now reached the tragic milestone of more than two million deaths, and the human family is suffering under an almost intolerable burden of loss.

“The climbing death toll is staggering, and we must work together to slow the spread of this virus.” – UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.

  • But the pandemic is much more than a health crisis, it’s also an unprecedented socio-economic crisis. Stressing every one of the countries it touches, it has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political effects that will leave deep and longstanding scars. UNDP is the technical lead in the UN’s socio-economic recovery, alongside the health response, led by WHO, and the Global Humanitarian Response Plan, and working under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinators.

Every day, people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return. Small island nations, heavily dependent on tourism, have empty hotels and deserted beaches. The International Labour Organization estimates that 400 million jobs could be lost.

The World Bank projects a US$110 billion decline in remittances this year, which could mean 800 million people will not be able to meet their basic needs.

UNDP response

Every country needs to act immediately to prepare, respond, and recover. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has launched a US$2 billion global humanitarian response plan in the most vulnerable. Developing countries could lose at least US$220 billion in income, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has called for US$2.5 trillion to support them.

Drawing on our experience with other outbreaks such as Ebola, HIV, SARS, TB and malaria, as well as our long history of working with the private and public sector, UNDP will help countries to urgently and effectively respond to COVID-19 as part of its mission to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and build resilience to crises and shocks.

The next phase of UNDP’s COVID-19 crisis response is designed to help decision-makers look beyond recovery, towards 2030, making choices and managing complexity and uncertainty in four main areas: governance, social protection, green economy, and digital disruption. It encompasses our role in technically leading the UN’s socio-economic response.

“We are already hard at work, together with our UN family and other partners, on three immediate priorities: supporting the health response including the procurement and supply of essential health products, under WHO’s leadership, strengthening crisis management and response, and addressing critical social and economic impacts.”

UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner

We have been supporting countries since the very early stages of this crisis, donating essential protective medical equipment. As the response evolves, and after assessing the immediate, medium and long term needs, we are moving into the socio-economic response.

We are supporting small businesses in Bosnia and Herzegovina, after an assessment report estimates half could close in the next few months.

In Ecuador our Accelerator Lab is using crowdsourcing to connect the most vulnerable with food, goods and services.

Afghanistan’s fragile economy and peace process are both threatened by the pandemic and UNDP is supporting expanded social protection for poor and vulnerable Afghans, such as pensions for the elderly and public works.

UNDP recognizes the vital importance of small, family owned businesses, and those who depend on them, so we are working with policymakers to establish business continuity insurance for hard times.

In the Asia Pacific region, which enjoys a high population of young people, we are harnessing the creativity and vision of young startups so that the can both weather these hard times and come up with creative ways to solve the new problems we face.

A member of the Karbala volunteer network delivers food to a vulnerable family. The volunteer network was formed through a joint UNV Programme and UNDP project, inspiring a strengthened sense of volunteerism through small community projects, April 2020. Photo: UNDP Iraq/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-deen
A community worker promotes COVID-19 awareness and distributes soap to a low-income family in Bangladesh. UNDP, with support from DFID and the Bangladesh government, is rolling out $1.5 million in emergency support for 50,000 poor urban families, April 2020. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaizer
UNDP, the WFP, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, launched a cash transfer initiative to support 7,000 vulnerable familys in Brazzaville, DRC. This initiative aims to mitigate the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 lockdown measures, May 2020. Photo: UNDP DRC/Mariam Ouedraogo
Hind Al Garbely works in a Covid19 response program, which created 400 jobs for Gaza City youth, thanks to the Representative Office of Japan to Palestine, June 2020. Photo: Shareef Sarhan\UNDP PAPP
In Buenos Aires volunteer cooks in a low-income community hold up UNDP Accelerator Labs posters. The poster instructs the community, typically uncomfortable with the banking system, on how to bank and to do it with social distancing measures during the pandemic, May 2020. UNDP Argentina/Magdalena Diehl
A highly-instagrammed street in Istanbul stands shuttered and empty. Photo: UNDP Eurasia/Karen CirilloNext

And we continue to lobby business and political leaders to establish a universal basic income and to encourage and extend the flow of remittances , so vital to the global economy and GDPs of many lower income countries.

In Nigeria, the UN has launched the COVID-19 Basket Fund to boost efforts to support the country’s national pandemic response, which includes cash transfers and food distribution to vulnerable groups.

A vendor sells decorations for Vesak festival, a typically huge tourist attraction, on 3 May in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of many countries heavily reliant on tourism and is severely affected by the halt of tourist travel. Economic diversification for socioeconomic and strategic reasons is a must, going forward. Photo: Ruwan Walpola/

In the Arab states we are working with governments and citizens to deliver essential services, and fight misinformation.

It will require all of society to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to cushion the potentially devastating impact it may have on vulnerable people and economies.

We must rebuild trust and cooperation, within and among nations, and between people and their governments.

UNDP’s support will also help ensure that the responses of individual countries are comprehensive as well as equitable and inclusive, so that no one is left out and countries can continue to make progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

While we do this, we must also consider ways to prevent a similar pandemic recurring. In the longer term, UNDP will look at ways to help countries to better prevent and manage such crises and ensure that the world makes full use of what we will learn from this one.

An integrated global response is an investment in our future.


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