Shared Response to COVID-19 Crisis

AS lockdowns ease across Asia and the Pacific as nations try to recover economically during the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing is clear — a return to business as usual is unimaginable in a region that was already off track to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The virtual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development recently convened governments and stakeholders to focus on the imperative to build back better, while keeping an eye on global goals. Asia was the first to be hit by Covid-19 and feel its devastating impact.

Efforts to respond to the pandemic revealed how people in our societies live precariously close to poverty and hunger, without access to essential services.

Between 90 million and 400 million people in Asia and the Pacific may be pushed back into poverty, living on less than US$3.20 a day.

Many countries are taking bold actions to minimise the loss of life and economic costs, estimated in May by Asian Development Bank (ADB) to be from US$1.7 trillion to US$2.5 trillion in the region alone. As attention shifts from the immediate health and human effects of the pandemic to addressing its social and economic effects, governments and societies face unprecedented policy, regulatory and fiscal choices.

The SDGs — a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development globally by 2030 — can serve as a beacon in these turbulent times.

Our new joint report Fast-tracking the SDGs: Driving Asia Pacific Transformations highlights six entry points for achieving the SDGs in the face of the pandemic.

They include strengthening human wellbeing and capabilities, shifting towards sustainable and just economies, building sustainable food systems, achieving energy decarbonisation and universal access to energy, promoting sustainable urban and peri-urban development, and securing global environmental commons.

Each of these entry points has been disrupted. Yet, the disruptions may create opportunities for new approaches to deliver on SDG targets that reflect the ambitions of the 2030 agenda.

The pandemic has exposed fragility and systemic gaps in many key systems. However, there are many workable strategies that countries have used to accelerate progress related to development goals and strengthening resilience. Countries have extended universal healthcare and strengthened social protection systems, including cash transfer and food distribution, for vulnerable households.

Accurate and regular data have been key to such efforts. Innovating to help the most disadvantaged access financing and small- and medium-sized enterprise credits have also been vital.

Several countries have taken comprehensive approaches to various forms of discrimination, particularly related to gender and gender-based violence.

Partnerships, including with the private sector and financing institutions, have played a critical role in fostering creative solutions. These experiences provide grounds for optimism.

Responses to the Covid-19 crisis must be centred on the wellbeing of people, empowering them and advancing equality. Driving change in the people-environment nexus to protect the health of people and natural resources is key to a future that does not repeat the crisis we are in today.

We need a revolution in policy mind set and practice. Inclusive and accountable governance systems, adaptive institutions with resilience to future shocks, universal social protection and health insurance, and stronger digital infrastructure are part of the transformations needed.

All are driven by a low carbon and environmentally-sustainable infrastructure and energy transition. Several Asia-Pacific countries are developing new strategies for green recovery and inclusive approaches to development.

South Korea recently announced a New Deal based on two central pillars: digitisation and decarbonisation.

Many countries in the Pacific, already proponents of ambitious clean energy targets and climate action, are focusing on “blue recovery” — seizing the opportunity to promote sustainable fishery management.

India recently announced operating the largest solar power plant in the region. China is creating more jobs in the renewable energy sector than in fossil fuel industries.

Many countries are expanding social protection systems as part of Covid-19 recovery to go beyond a temporary patch, and include the marginalised, such as informal workers.

Institutions such as the UN and ADB have mobilised to support a shared response to the crisis. Now it is vital that we enable countries to secure the support they need to go beyond, to achieve the SDGs.

Source: https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/07/611824/shared-response-covid-19-crisis

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