When January 2020 dawned, COVID-19 was quietly making its way through Wuhan, China.
Most of the world had no idea what was in store, or how our lives would be made unrecognizable by a microscopic parasite.
While the virus did its work, people carried on—flying in planes, shopping in busy markets, and crowding into sports arenas, restaurants and theatres.
Vibrant cities became silent and still. Entire industries ceased to function, and hundreds of millions lost their jobs.
As the world held its breath, it became clear that an equally severe social and economic crisis was running in tandem with the health crisis.
Alongside the health response, led by WHO, UNDP took the lead in the socio-economic response.
This is critical. Pandemics eventually go away. But without proper economic support, economic suffering will ripple out, escalate, and jeopardize lives, livelihoods, and societies for years to come.
The consequences, when tied with the two existential crises we face—climate change and widening inequality—are potentially catastrophic.
COVID-19 is giving us an opportunity to move towards a more sustainable economy.
Protect the vulnerable
In theory, pandemics are levelers—anybody can catch a virus. But COVID-19 has many interlocking facets, and the poorest and most vulnerable are hardest hit by almost all of them.
UNDP is advocating for a Temporary Basic Income, and Universal Health Coverage. Even before the pandemic, 100 million people were pushed into extreme poverty every year because of the cost of healthcare.
Our Temporary Basic Income simulator shows how much it would cost to lift the vulnerable out of poverty in 132 countries.
Women have lost more jobs, shouldered a greater share of unpaid work, and suffered a surge in domestic violence. With UN Women, UNDP has created a Gender Response Tracker which monitors the policies that governments are using to tackle the crisis—directly addressing women’s economic and social needs, as well as their physical security.
Know more to do more
The more we know, the more effectively we can act. Real time data are key.
The COVID-19 Socio-Economic Recovery Data Insights Platform pulls data from the UN, nonprofits, academia, development partners and countries around the world. It’s a tool for analysis, insights and potential collaboration. It’s constantly evolving, allowing us to change tack when circumstances do.
The pandemic has also shone a glaring light on the consequences of the digital divide; lockdown emphasized that the internet is necessity, not a luxury.
Closing the digital divide would reduce by two thirds the number of children deprived of learning because their schools were shut.
“Humans wield more power over the planet than ever before. In the wake of COVID-19, record-breaking temperatures and spiraling inequality, it is time to use that power to redefine what we mean by progress, where our carbon and consumption footprints are no longer hidden,”
As we build back from the pandemic UNDP’s 30th Human Development Report introduces an experimental global measurement that illustrates the challenge of tackling poverty and inequality while easing pressure on the planet.
The other health crises
“The problem was how to get to the office, how we are viewed when out in public. It is not easy; we are a forgotten population.”
In Guinea Bissau, we are combining COVID-19 messaging into other disease prevention campaigns, such as malaria.
Get the word out
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Truth has been another victim of coronavirus, and misinformation has proved deadly. UNDP is encouraging governments to lead in the fight to prevent unnecessary suffering.
We are supporting indigenous communities in Peru as they broadcast safety messages in their own languages.
The white swan
A ‘white swan’ event can be predicted. Public health experts knew it was not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the next pandemic would arrive. As some countries have shown, it’s possible to be prepared, and mount a swift and effective defense. In other places this simply wasn’t possible, because COVID-19 did so much more than make people sick.
Yet the virus has shown where we have failed to address inequalities and injustices, as well as the destruction of the natural world. And it’s illuminated a clear path of action.
With the Sustainable Development Goals as our guide, we must unite as a global community and recommit to help every country recover justly and fairly, with strong, climate-resilient economies.