Bold new mechanisms are urgently needed to help low- and middle-income countries address crippling debt, sharply worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening vital investment to tackle poverty and climate change for years to come, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says in a new report. The report, Sovereign Debt Vulnerabilities in Developing Economies, analyses debt vulnerability across 120 low- and middle-income economies to identify which are most at risk. It classifies 72 economies as “vulnerable,” of which 19 are “severely vulnerable.” Based on measures of sustainable debt thresholds and ratios, it concludes that debt vulnerabilities for these countries will likely remain elevated for years and not return to pre-pandemic levels before 2024-2025.
It has been an immensely challenging year for governments, which have been scrambling to contain the spread of the virus while also managing the economic fallout, supporting workers, and ensuring continuity of schooling for children. At the same time, the climate crisis has not gone away, nor has the soaring gap between rich and poor. In fact, these existing challenges have been magnified by the pandemic. Despite the gloom, there’s some good news; with the right choices, governments can address all of these crises at once, by making the transition to low-carbon, green economies. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that the move to low-carbon, greener economies has the potential to create 60 million jobs by 2030.
Vulnerable people around the world affected by tuberculosis (TB) cannot wait any longer for quality testing, treatment and care. According to the Stop TB Partnership, COVID-19-related disruptions for TB services have reversed nearly 12 years of progress against the deadly infectious disease. Marginalized groups, such as refugees and mobile populations with limited access to health care, are bearing the brunt of these overlapping crises. UNDP is working to address the urgent threat of TB and remove barriers to care and prevention among Afghan refugees.
On the eve of the fifth Brussels conference for Syria, the United Nations humanitarian, refugee and development chiefs have urged international donors to step up and stand with the millions of people in Syria and the region who depend on life-saving humanitarian aid and livelihood support after a decade of war. With the added impact of COVID-19, there is no respite for civilians in Syria. They face increasing hunger and poverty, continued displacement and ongoing attacks. Today 24 million people need humanitarian or other forms of assistance in Syria and the region, four million more than in 2020.
With rampant destruction of forests, it is not bold to say that the lungs of the Earth are sick. In Guatemala, members of the Utz Che' Community Forestry Association are part of the solution. As the forest provides livelihoods for villagers, Utz Che' communities plant trees to improve their lives. Nearly 2,500 hectares of land are marked for reforestation and more than 30,000 trees have been planted. In 2020, Utz Che' was awarded UNDP’s Equator Prize for its community-led conservation work through nature-based solutions.
Around the world some 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water, 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation, and 700 million people could be displaced due to scarcity of water by 2030. A number of factors are contributing to the world’s water crisis, not least rising temperatures, shifting rainfall, and extreme weather driven by a warming planet. To address the challenges, UNDP is working with governments and communities worldwide to achieve equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
The project, Ecosystem-Based Adaptation to Climate Change in Seychelles, is working to reduce the vulnerability of the Seychelles to climate change. Supporting communities to adapt to life in a less predictable climate system, this approach to managing climate risk will secure critical water access and bolster resilience to flooding. Through pipes connected to the wetland by the Department of Agriculture, the farming community now benefits from a year-round water supply from the Bougainville wetland, building the resilience of the farming community to climate-induced drought.
Everyone is impressed by Khowla Mohamed Abdow. She’s competent, helpful and hardworking. At 25 years old, she’s the coordinator of Baidoa’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre in South West Somalia, a Ministry of Justice facility supported by UNDP, where local people can come for help solving arguments ranging from land theft to domestic abuse.
“Help bonobos and bonobos will help you” – is a saying in the Kokolopori community deep in the Congo Basin rainforest. It refers to the bonobo, a species of great apes. Bonobos share nearly 99 percent of their DNA with humans. Smart, emotional, creative, with homo sapiens-looking physical traits, the bonobo can be described as the closest relative to humankind. Yet they are endangered. The Kokolopori community, at Vie Sauvage, has a model for how to save this important species.
Twelve months, twelve lessons from the pandemic: Facts save lives; Be fast, be global; Everything is connected; We are not all treated equally, and that needs to change; Progress can be precarious; Biodiversity is keeping us alive; Women’s leadership is needed more than ever; Many hands make light work – even if some are not human; Migrants are the future; The more we know, the more effectively we can act; The SDGs are more vital than ever; A crisis is also an opportunity.
Women in Wakhan National Park supporting reforestation efforts. The forests close to the villages will decrease pressure on grazing areas in wildlife habitats. Globally, women are stepping to the fore against wildlife crime and corruption. Through positions they occupy in all walks of life – as influencers in their communities, frontline defenders and wildlife managers, government decision-makers, legislators, scientists, and business leaders - women are working to protect wildlife for the benefit of ecosystems, economies and people.
Turning the Tide
The Galapagos Islands, off the west coast of Ecuador, are among the most important bastions of nature on our planet. The diversity of life here--hammerhead sharks, Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises among them--prompted Charles Darwin 150 years ago to craft his theory on the origin and evolution of species. Today, we at another crossroads for nature, and indeed for all of humanity. Biodiversity continues to collapse at an alarming rate. But there is hope. UNDP’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative is working with the government of the archipelago and Quito’s San Francisco University on a crowdfunding campaign to support local communities. Anyone can send a donation.
In December 2019, UNDP Fiji through the Accelerator Lab Pacific embarked on an experiment to understand the interplay between traditional knowledge, cultural identity and climate resilience. The Accelerator Lab Pacific hypothesized that if communities revived their traditional practices, it would help towards strengthening cultural identity and then in turn improve climate resilience, through better relationship with their biodiversity and natural resources. Vusama village, on the south west coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, which was the traditional custodian of salt making, but had not practiced it for more than 50 years, was set up a demonstration site for salt making revival.
We step into a new decade bringing with us the shadow of the last. The COVID-19 pandemic challenged not just our everyday lives. It also drew our attention to the need to act as one to address the challenges of inequality, climate change and governance. In response, UNDP continues to work with its partners to deliver for those most in need. The pandemic tested international cooperation and the multilateral system that underpins it and showed, more starkly than ever, how we must respond collectively and in new more flexible ways to complex and unprecedented global challenges.