In case you missed it Vol 24, No. 07 - July 2020

UN pays tribute to public servants on the frontlines of COVID-19 crisis

As many of us have been sheltering at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, others have put their lives at risk to keep our societies running. Heroic public servants around the world have put service before self to ensure an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On UN Public Service Day on 23 June, a celebratory event paid tribute to these many women and men on the frontlines. It was a special moment to convey a heartfelt ‘thank you’.

Originally scheduled to take place in Busan, Republic of Korea, this year’s celebration of UN Public Service Day went virtual due to the crisis. It was organized by UN DESA together with the Ministry of the Interior and Safety of the Republic of Korea, represented at the event by Minister Chin Young.

Providing a video address for the event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed the public servants’ remarkable acts of service to humankind and the need to “reflect on how to better protect, recognize and invest in their well-being as we build back better, together.”

The event brought together a range of high-level speakers including the President of the General Assembly Mr. Tijjani Muhammad Bande, who stressed that “if we learnt any lesson from COVID-19, it is that, in a period of emergency, the proactive and morale-boosting role of the public service remains critical”.

The President of Ethiopia, Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde, provided a keynote address, stressing that ‘the overwhelming burden of this pandemic has fallen on the shoulders of devoted public servants in the health sector’.

The Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, took the floor, sharing three key points for consideration during the ongoing crisis: ‘First, the value of resilient health systems that can withstand adversity; Second, the importance of solidarity and equity; protecting others while protecting ourselves; And third, the importance of investing in the health workforce, who care for us throughout our lives, in every corner of the world.’

The necessity of better investing in preparedness of healthcare systems and the protection of public servants in the health workforce were stressed by all panelists in an interactive discussion moderated by Ms. Odette Ramsingh of South Africa.

Ms. Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses, noting that nurses make up the majority of the healthcare work force worldwide, highlighted the need for better investment in protective equipment, working conditions, and protection against high levels of violence nurses experience globally. Ms. Rosa Pavanelli, General-Secretary of Public Services International built on this, underscoring the need for strengthening labour conditions for all public servants while Mr. Jim Campbell, Director of the Health Work Force Department of the WHO, discussed how to enhance the capacity and resiliency of health systems and workforces.

Other panelists included the Minister of Health and Justice from Kerala State, India, Ms. K.K. Shailaja Teacher, and Dr. In-jae Lee, the Assistant Minister of Planning and Coordination of Republic of Korea. Both detailed how their public services and healthcare systems worked to try to halt the spread of COVID-19 through early intervention, tracing and tracking of cases.

The event, which was broadcast live on UN Web TV, also showcased a UN DESA video dedicated to public servants. The video was made possible from the submission of videos from public servants from over 40 countries. In addition, the UNSRC Symphony Orchestra performed a piece dedicated to public servants by Georges Bizet.

For more information: UN Public Service Day 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic unravels the world economy

As nearly 90 per cent of the global economy came under some form of lockdown in the second quarter, the world faces the grim prospect of the most severe recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The world output is projected to contract sharply by 3.2 per cent in 2020 with the pandemic disrupting global supply chains, depressing consumer demand and putting millions out of work. By 2021, cumulative output losses worldwide are expected to $8.5 trillion, wiping out nearly all gains of the previous four years.

The unprecedented crisis portends significant setbacks for sustainable development. Low-skilled low-wage workers – economically marginalized and vulnerable who cannot work remotely – have been disproportionately affected by job losses, which will inevitably exacerbate poverty and income inequalities. An estimated 34.3 million people are projected to fall into extreme poverty this year, with the bulk of this increase occurring in Africa. By 2030, about 130 million more people may live in extreme poverty than previously expected, dealing a huge blow to global efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger.

Facing an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis, governments in developed economies have rolled out massive stimulus packages to minimize the fallout of the pandemic. The picture is different for most developing economies, as they are saddled with chronic fiscal deficits and already high levels of public debt, which constrain their ability to implement much-needed support measures. Notwithstanding bold fiscal measures, the depth and severity of the crisis presage a slow and painful recovery.

Stronger global cooperation is critical to contain the pandemic and extend economic support to countries hardest hit by the crisis. To protect jobs and prevent a further rise in income inequality, governments need to ensure that the monetary and fiscal support measures boost productive capacities, rather than simply driving up asset prices. At the same time, the crisis presents a window of opportunity for “recovering better”. Renewed global solidarity can help strengthen public health systems, build resilience to withstand economic shocks, improve social protection systems, and address the climate change emergency.

The full report is available at

Photo: World Bank / Sambrian Mbaabu

UN DESA kicks off new webinar series to share expertise on COVID-19 impacts and the way forward

How is COVID-19 affecting our lives, economies and societies, and what is the path towards a sustainable recovery? More than 2,000 participants from 160 countries registered for a webinar on 9 April 2020 to find out. Broadcast simultaneously on WebEx and via Facebook Live, the event is part of UN DESA’s new webinar series on the economic and social impacts of COVID-19.

During the session, experts from UN DESA shared the main findings of three new briefing papers on the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic, as well as public policy recommendations towards a sustainable recovery.

UN Chief Economist Elliott Harris, in his opening remarks, stated that a coordinated global response to COVID-19 is crucial since this disease knows no borders. He said that UN DESA projects that the economic impact of the virus may range from a slowdown of global output growth to 1.2 per cent this year, to an outright contraction of up to 0.9 per cent. He noted that both figures depend heavily on the duration of the restrictions on the movement of people, as well as the effectiveness of the stimulus packages propping up demand, and the minimization of bankruptcies and unemployment.

Other speakers noted that the longer the pandemic goes on, the deeper the effects on our society. When formulating response measures, countries and stakeholders must preserve some of our progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, which remain more vital than ever. COVID-19 provides an opportunity to rebuild better, with more built-in social protection systems.

Overall, the pandemic is affecting different population groups unequally. For instance, employment losses related to COVID-19 are being felt hardest in sectors related to personal service and hospitality, which hit low-wage workers and women hardest. Good social protection measures recommended by one of the speakers, include securing workers’ jobs or expanding support to laid-off workers; increasing training opportunities; expanding income support to sick workers; expanding access to unemployment benefits; supporting workers who cannot work from home; increasing targeted benefits or one-off income transfer; and increasing health spending. In order to help reduce poverty and inequality, stimulus plans must be in place quickly and be phased out slowly.

Watch the event via Facebook and access the policy briefs on UN DESA’s dedicated web portal for COVID-19

Update of SDG indicators will help boost global monitoring efforts

The world has 231 measurable indicators tracking progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will help the international community achieve a better world by 2030. As the global statistical community recently convened at the 51st session of the United Nations Statistical Commission on 3-6 March 2020, Member States adopted 36 changes to this SDG indicator framework.

“The update of the indicator framework will give support and a further boost to the SDG monitoring efforts, including by helping ensure that no one is left behind,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin, said when addressing the Commission.

Indicators related to the goals on nutrition, health, education, inequality, climate action and global partnership saw changes proposed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs). This was the result of its 2020 comprehensive review process. Many Member States congratulated and praised the IAEG-SDGs on this work, which greatly improve the quality of the framework while keeping the same number of indicators as in the original framework adopted in July 2017.

The 2020 comprehensive review aimed to improve the framework, while at the same time providing the necessary guidance to countries in implementing their national frameworks and reporting platforms. The IAEG-SDGs intended to keep changes limited in scope, and the size of the framework the same, in order to avoid imposing additional burden on national statistical work or undermine their on-going efforts based on the established list of indicators.

Following a yearlong open and transparent consultative process with countries, agencies and other stakeholders, the IAEG-SDGs proposed 36 major changes. The revised indicator framework does not include any Tier III indicators, meaning all indicators have established methodologies and have data collection in countries. In addition, the total number of unique indicators in the revised framework is now 231, approximately the same number as in the original framework.

The IAEG-SDGs emphasized that the proposals not included in the revised framework, still have a valuable role to play in the follow-up and review process of the SDGs through national, regional and thematic monitoring and can provide important additional information and complement the global indicator framework.

For more information: Revised global SDG indicator list

First-ever UN resolution on homelessness

On 19th February, the gavel fell on the 58th session of the UN Commission for Social Development, which agreed the text of the historical first United Nations resolution on homelessness. A serious violation of human dignity, homelessness has become a global problem. It is affecting people of all ages from all walks of life, in both developed and developing countries.

Globally, 1.6 billion people worldwide live in inadequate housing conditions, with about 15 million forcefully evicted every year, according to UN-Habitat, which has noted an alarming rise in homelessness in the last 10 years. Young people are the age group with the highest risk of becoming homeless.

The UN Commission’s resolution recognizes that people are often pushed into homelessness by a range of diverse social and economic drivers.

“It could happen to anyone. It’s not always drugs, alcohol. It’s not always something external. Life happens. And life can happen to a whole lot of us. It did during the great financial crisis, and it could very well happen again”, said Chris Gardner, who had described his experience of homelessness in his bestselling book, “The Pursuit of Happyness”.

“We, as a great human society, we are diminished, we lose the gift of their creativity, the gift of their curiosity, the gift of their potential when it is marooned by all downstream consequences of homelessness”, said Mary McAleese, Former President of Ireland.

“I will never forget my first experience with homelessness. I, unfortunately, was born into a family plagued by a chain of events which included domestic violence”, added Chris Gardner. “My one regret about being here today is that the two most important people in the world to me couldn’t be here today‐‐‐I’m referring to my granddaughter and my goddaughter.  One of them says that she wants to become the President of the United States and the other one says that she wants to become an astronaut and go to the moon.  And you know what I say to both of them every day? Let’s go!!!  THAT’S THE POWER of ONE!”

In its resolution of the UN Commission for Social Development calls for a response by all sectors within Governments and societies. The Commission recommended the resolution for adoption by the UN Economic and Social Council later this year.

The Commission also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the World Summit for Social Development and its Copenhagen Declaration. Stakeholders and experts from all over the world expressed strong support for the work of the Commission, noting that the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit remains relevant today and continues to guide social development in their countries.

For more information: Commission for Social Development, 58th session.

State of our world

Climate-induced fires, rising inequalities, political unrest and a bleak economic forecast; last year was a very turbulent one. How can we make sense of it? UN DESA recently released two major reports on the global economy and the state of global inequality, which offer solutions that could get us out of our predicament and back on the sustainable track.

The climate crisis, as well as persistently high inequalities, and rising levels of food insecurity and undernourishment, is affecting the quality of life in many societies and fuelling discontent, warns the 2020 World Economic Situation Report (WESP).

The UN DESA experts behind the report are unequivocal in their call for “massive adjustments” to the energy sector, which is currently responsible for around three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions.

If the world continues to rely on fossil fuels over the next few years, and emissions in developing countries rise to the level of those in richer nations, global carbon emissions would increase by more than 250 per cent, with potentially catastrophic results.

The report’s authors insist that the world’s energy needs must be met by renewable or low-carbon energy sources, which will lead to environmental and health benefits, such as lower air pollution, and new economic opportunities for many countries.

However, the 2020 WESP finds that the urgent need to switch to clean energy continues to be underestimated, noting that countries are continuing to invest in oil and gas exploration, and coal-fired power generation.

This report describes the reliance on fossil fuels as “short-sighted”, leaving investors and governments exposed to sudden losses, as the price of oil and gas fluctuates, as well as contributing to deteriorating climatic conditions, such as global warming.

“Risk associated with the climate crisis are becoming an ever-greater challenge”, concludes the report, and “climate action must be an integral part of any policy mix”.

Strategies and technology for a transition to a clean economy that delivers accessible to reliable and decarbonized energy already exist, continues the report, but will require political will and public support. Failure to act will significantly increase the ultimate costs.

For its part, UN DESA’s World Social Report 2020 shows that inequality is growing for more than 70 per cent of the global population, exacerbating the risks of divisions and hampering economic and social development. But the rise is far from inevitable and can be tackled at a national and international level, the report concludes.

Income inequality has increased in most developed countries, and some middle-income countries – including China, which has the world’s fastest growing economy.

The challenges are underscored by UN chief António Guterres in the foreword, in which he states that the world is confronting “the harsh realities of a deeply unequal global landscape”, in which economic woes, inequalities and job insecurity have led to mass protests in both developed and developing countries.

“Income disparities and a lack of opportunities”, he writes, “are creating a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration and discontent across generations.”

For more information:

2020 World Economic Situation Report (WESP) 

World Social Report 2020

February Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects

When persons with disabilities lead and participate, the whole world benefits

Every year on 3rd December, the world marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, promoting the participation and inclusion of over 1.5 billion people who live with some kind of disability today.

This year, the International Day celebrated the leadership of persons with disabilities in making the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development a reality.

“When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we move closer to achieving the central promise of the 2030 Agenda – to leave no one behind,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his message for the day.

He stressed that the UN is determined to lead by example on disability inclusion. The most tangible proof of that is the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy launched in June last year to raise the UN’s standards and performance on disability inclusion across all areas of work around the world.

Speaking at the International Day celebrations at the UN New York Headquarters, Assistant Secretary-General at UN DESA Elliot Harris said that the 2030 Agenda cannot be implemented unless persons with disabilities can participate meaningfully as agents of change. “When persons with disabilities lead and participate, the whole world benefits,” he stressed.

Activists for the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities also spoke at the event, sharing their vision for a more inclusive, tolerant world that they would like to see in the year 2030.

“From the perspective of persons with disabilities, I envision a world where a lot of my accomplishments, what I am talking about, what’s [considered] so ‘exceptional’ — I want to see that being the norm,” said Thomas Iland, author, motivational speaker and certified public accountant who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 13.

“I want people to really tap into their own potential so that they can become their best selves and live the life that they want,” he added.

Annika Emmert, a 14-year-old sport and disabilities advocate shared her inspiring story of finding strength and resilience through playing soccer: “It’s one of the things I’ve never wanted to give up, no matter what people said to me. Throughout my life, other players have always thought of me as an easy mark and always seen my differences as a weakness. But I’ve always proven them wrong.”

For more information: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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