Pandemic leads to an ‘unequal world’: UN

Diplomatic Correspondent

17 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

The pandemic is leading to ‘an even more unequal world’ when many low-income countries are seeing their development gains reversed. 

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said this while speaking at the closing session of the Financing for Development (FfD) Forum on Thursday (15 April).

Deliberations throughout the four-day long forum highlighted the “full scope” of the COVID impact, she said.

“The worst health and economic downturn in our lifetime has laid bare and exacerbated the vulnerabilities in our economies and societies, leading some to describe COVID-19 as the inequality virus”, she added.

Developing countries have faced “ballooning debt burdens” and constrained fiscal budget, and high borrowing costs, with a limited ability to respond to the pandemic, Ms. Mohammed explained.

“The diverging world that we are hurtling towards is a catastrophe for all of us”, she spelled out. “It is both morally right and economically rational to help developing countries overcome this crisis”.

To prevent the risk of a “lost decade for development”, she upheld that extraordinary levels of public spending “continue to be critical to keep vulnerable economies afloat”, as do structural transformations for protecting the global economy against future crises.

Rapid access to vaccines for all citizens of the world is a top priority, she said, noting that the average number of people inoculated in Africa remains under one per cent.

“This is a moral blight on the international community”, she said, calling on governments, development partners and private sector actors to “finance equitable vaccination for all, as a matter of utmost urgency”.

It is also crucial to alleviate debt and liquidity pressures by continuing and expanding the Debt Suspension Initiative to include vulnerable middle-income countries and small island developing States.

“Eligibility for debt relief must be based on actual need rather than GDP, especially as the world hurdles towards a climate catastrophe”, she said, adding that governments should not be forced to service debt “at the expense of responding to their own populations”. 

Moreover, the pandemic has underscored the importance of front-loading investments in social protection measures, to protect against future shocks.

“Governments need to prioritize the wellbeing of their populations, including by heavily investing in free education, universal healthcare and strong healthcare systems”, said Ms. Mohammed, also underscoring the importance of “decoupling livelihoods from the volatility of the global economy” and securing a guaranteed income.

To achieve these objectives, the world needs to redirect finance to where it is most needed, “with a strategic eye” to preventing future shocks from mutating into a disasters on the level of COVID-19, warned the deputy UN chief.

“Governments must strengthen the planning of sustainable investment…and we must address the incentives and bottlenecks to unlock private capital to invest in sustainable development”, she added.

Getting back on track

The senior UN official acknowledged that today’s challenges go beyond COVID-19 and include the climate crisis, drought, hunger and heightened insecurity, “all of which are being exacerbated by the long-term economic effects of the inequality virus”.  

Recovery efforts must tackle all these challenges “head-on”, said Ms. Mohammed, urging all participants to take “immediate action for a timely and adequate global response that would put us back on track for a prosperous, sustainable and equal world and the implementation of Agenda 2030”. 

The sixth FfD Forum was convened between April 12 to 15 in a hybrid (virtual and in-person) format at UN Headquarters in New York.


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