Opening Remarks at the Virtual Meeting of the National Focal Points of African LDCs on Response to COVID 19 and Way Forward

Opening Remarks by Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

11 June 2020 
New York, USA

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you ALL for joining this virtual meeting of the National Focal Points for Implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA).

As someone once said “the show must go on.”  Not that this is a show, but I appreciate your effort to be together virtually.

I especially thank the UN Resident Coordinators for your participation.

We are here truly as one United Nations.  We do our best when we do it together.  So, this is a good first step in the right direction to forge synergy between all of us for one goal we all want to achieve:  promote implementation of the programme of action of LDCs.

Yes, we all experience an unprecedented situation with the global COVID 19 pandemic.

A virus not visible to the naked eye has put the world on pause. It has put into question how and where to go from here.

Everybody, every continent grapples with the immediate needs of this public health crisis.

We probably only just have seen the tip of the iceberg of the many shifts this pandemic will trigger in terms of the socio-economic fallouts and so much more.  

We know already that the least developed countries particularly African LDCs will feel disproportionately the impacts of the pandemic.  

COVID-19 has compounded existing development challenges. For all to see, it has laid bare the lags and utter fragility of sustainable development of African LDCs on so many fronts.

Chronically underfunded health systems are ravaged.  There were and are few ventilators and insufficient medical workers.  

Inequalities are driven even deeper.

Confinement measures have aggravated the already desolate situations of women, children, refugees and migrant workers.  

The often very important informal sector is severely affected by the lockdowns.

The expected drops in exports, the plummeting oil price, and the halt of tourism have further exacerbated the economic vulnerability of African LDCs.  

Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to experience its first recession in 25 years.

If this were not enough, in the Horn of Africa, LDCs are battling a locust infestation, which is estimated to leave 25 million people in East Africa in food insecurity in 2020.

The limited fiscal space and a mounting debt crisis mean limited LDCs ability to roll out stimulus packages to protect people and the economy and boost health system to save lives.

Yet, the COVID-19 reality is not just that in African LDCs.  

With swift actions and global collaboration, African LDCs did not suffer explosive transmission rates and even outperformed in some aspects.

We could see some good practices and successful policy initiatives adopted by African LDCs giving all of us much needed optimism and hope for a recovery.

Take Senegal’s trials to develop a $1 COVID testing kit that produces results in less than 10 minutes. This is inspiring.

Take Uganda, Ethiopia and other LDCs responding to their first cases with aggressive contact tracing and isolation and putting considerable resources into checking. Ethiopia completed a door-to-door survey in Addis Ababa in just three weeks.

Several African countries applied the lessons learned from their experiences in Ebola preparedness. They deployed rapid-response teams, trained contact tracers, had logistics routes and public health protocols ready to contain community spread.

In Zambia, the drought resistant cassava has become a cash crop. Cassava ethanol is turned into ethanol for hand sanitizers sold locally and exported to neighboring countries.

In the middle of the pandemic, Rwanda tapped into an online trading platform to sell 1.5 tonnes of Rwandan coffee beans internationally and this saw the profits of farmers almost double.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Yes, we have a picture of both tremendous challenges but also one of hopeful signs.

The COVID-19 virus knows no boundaries nor race, nor religion.

It teaches us that only a global solution underpinned by solidarity and swift action can counter its force.

We have a choice now: let inequalities run even deeper with all the risks we know this triggers for all of us or we act in solidarity to leave no one behind.

At the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, once more the great vision of the Charter and the declaration of Universal Human Rights take on great meaning that should inspire us all to act!

Let me now turn to what OHRLLS has done so far.

Since the outbreak, we intensified our advocacy efforts to amplify the voices of LDCs for global solidarity and support.

We reached out to LDCs to listen to their pressing needs and facilitate coordination of UN system wide support and mobilize resources.

Regular briefings included a briefing session by the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, and meetings with the Global Coordination Bureau of LDCs in New York.

We regularly exchange with the Friends of LDCs and UN inter-agency consultative groups and will continue to do so.

We worked with the LDC Bureau with Malawi as the Chair to issue a statement on a global stimulus package for LDCs. This has been shared across the UN development system.

Last week, I presented the 2020 report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the Programme of Action for the LDCs to UN ECOSOC.

The report highlights major setbacks of LDCs in achieving sustainable development further aggravated by the pandemic, and appeals for immediate actions to help LDCs mitigate the pandemic’s impacts. 

It is encouraging that across the UN system and development partners, we have  broad consensus on the urgency to help LDCs with targeted support and enhanced financial assistance.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the preparatory process for the Fifth UN Conference on LDCs. 

Major meetings and consultations have been postponed.  They include the African regional review meeting on the implementation of the IPoA in Malawi. 

What is important though is that the momentum to promote the cause of LDCs and our efforts to map out an ambitious and robust new programme of action has never stopped. 

I take this opportunity to urge those who have not yet submitted your national reports to ensure your unique challenges are addressed in the next programme of action.  

I would also once more like to thank the UN Resident Coordinators for providing the necessary support for preparation of national reports. 

Unprecedented crises also present opportunities for transformation. 

We must turn COVID-19 into a unique opportunity for African LDCs to recalibrate their development goals and design national development frameworks that can fast-track sustainable development in the next 10 years of programme of action.

OHRLLS, the UN system we are with you in every step of your recovery towards inclusive, resilient and sustainable development.

I look forward to hearing your discussions and learning from your insights.

Thank you.