21 April 2020

Deputy Secretary-General Hails Agile COVID-19 Responses in Organization’s Health, Humanitarian, Development Work, Addressing UN Agency Boards

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at a meeting with the Executive Boards of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) and the World Food Programme (WFP), in New York today:

Thank you for the invitation to take part in this virtual joint meeting of the Executive Boards.  I commend respective Chairs for the important steps they are taking to ensure coherence across the work of the Boards.  This meeting is yet another example.

I also welcome the presence of my colleagues — the Principals of UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN-Women, UNOPS, WFP and the World Health Organization (WHO).  These agencies represent a large footprint of our operational activities on the ground.  Working together, the support they offer to countries and communities can make a real difference in the battle against COVID-19. 

As Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, I am grateful for their leadership in ensuring a strong and agile United Nations response to the unprecedent challenges ushered in by COVID-19.  From the onset of the pandemic, these entities have worked hand in hand with the Secretary-General to define the elements of a United Nations response that cuts across health, humanitarian and development dimensions.

They have released critical guidance on all aspects of the pandemic and managed to maintain a robust footprint on the ground, with as little disruption as possible.   They contributed to the development of a global socioeconomic response framework, in record time, which will provide a strategy and a menu of options for United Nations country teams everywhere.  The United Nations development system has worked closely with our Resident Coordinators to ensure a coordinated response on the ground.

I am deeply grateful to:

  • Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], Director-General of WHO, for his leadership against the pandemic and for briefing all Resident Coordinators last week;
  • [Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator] Mark Lowcock, for working closely with the Development Coordination Office to ensure synergies in addressing the humanitarian and development dimensions of COVID-19;
  • Achim Steiner [Administrator of UNDP] for rapidly reorienting the Programme’s integrator platform role to support Resident Coordinators and United Nations country teams in their collective efforts to address the socioeconomic impacts of COVID; 
  • David Beasley [Executive Director of WFP] and Grete Faremo [Executive Director of UNOPS] for ensuring those organizations provide essential support to countries as part of the coordinated United Nations supply chain pipeline;
  • And Henrietta Fore [Executive Director of UNICEF], Natalia Kanem [Executive Director of UNFPA] and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka [Executive Director of UN-Women] for leading the effort to protect and empower children, youth and women as part of the COVID-19 recovery and response effort.

Our common objective is clear:  Responding to the various effects of COVID-19 while helping Governments recover better, with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as our guiding light.

We are facing a development emergency.  COVID-19 may have put a pause on life as we know it, but not on climate change or poverty.  Inequalities and vulnerabilities are being exacerbated.  Acting fast on all fronts will ensure we do not ask humanity to face choiceless choices between health and socioeconomic development.  We must tackle both dimensions, simultaneously, if we are to win the battle against COVID-19.

While the world prepared to accelerate action towards the 2030 Agenda, COVID-19 has placed the bar even higher.  We must be respond with determination to ensure countries remain on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals.  Our development programmes across the world must proceed in spite of COVID-19.  Livelihoods depend on this imperative.

This will entail different responses, by making adjustments in our portfolio and repurposing funds at times, to respond to the immediate threats posed by COVID-19.   Such efforts have already started in close collaboration with programme countries, donors and partners.  Executive Boards have a critical role in ensuring agencies have the ability to adapt and recalibrate their action as rapidly as possible.

I had the opportunity brief you on our response to COVID-19 over the last few weeks in plenary meetings and smaller group settings.  My colleagues will elaborate further today.  We have listened carefully to your comments, questions and concerns, which have helped enrich our response.  Your strong engagement is a confirmation that we need to keep our communication channels fully open and respond to your pressing issues.

Allow me to address some of the main questions you raised during our last interactions.

First, several Member States are calling for support in the procurement of emergency medical equipment and to avoid disruptions to the supply chains.  I want to assure you that this is an integral part of our efforts.  The United Nations development system is providing direct procurement support to countries and helping facilitate the distribution of core essential health service supplies.

WHO is convening an interagency task-force dedicated to supply chains, working closely with the Department of Operational Support, to leverage existing United Nations supply chain networks.

Second, several delegations pointed to the need to recognize the impact of COVID-19 of the economies of developing and middle-income countries.   This is indeed at the heart of our response, from the Secretary-General’s advocacy to world leaders and international financial institutions — including for an ambitious debt relief initiative — a message amplified by Achim Steiner in the spring meetings, to the socioeconomic framework for action developed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, to the work on the ground by our United Nations country teams.

Third, many countries have stressed the need to place gender equality at the centre of the United Nations response.  We share the same vision.  COVID-19 challenges the world’s promise to leave no one behind.  In response, we must redouble our commitment.  UN-Women and UNFPA are playing a key role in helping us address the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on women — at home, in the health sector and the economy at large.

Our country teams are also working with national and local social services to ensure continuity of the first line of response for children, women and families at risk of violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect and family separation.

Fourth, we agree with the point raised by several delegations on the importance to ensure that the COVID-19 response is anchored in the 2030 Agenda and climate commitments.  Staying focused on these transformative frameworks is the best way to reduce human suffering now and tomorrow. 

Finally, we heard calls for further information on the Secretary-General’s United Nations Response and Recovery Fund.  You have now received the terms of reference for the Fund and we have explained how the Fund complements other critical instruments.  The Fund has already launched a first call and we want the first set of projects to commence on 1 May.  

In this first phase, a limited number of countries were targeted.  Others will be included as resources increase.  We are grateful to the Member States who already committed funds to catalyse our socioeconomic response — Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland.  This week we will be launching an appeal to ensure others also step up to support.

The Secretary-General and I are acutely aware of the already high demands on public funds.  But funding the COVID-19 response is a critical investment needed to suppress the transmission of the virus and ensure we can emerge out of this crisis, better.  We are not asking you to prioritize between Funds — our health response, humanitarian appeal and socioeconomic action are mutually reinforcing. We need to charge ahead on all these fronts.

Finally, we echo your call to uphold the spirit of reform and ensure strong coordination at the country level, under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator.

The COVID-19 pandemic represents, indeed, a true test for our reform agenda.  The time has come to fully leverage on the transformation we sought through resolution 72/279.  And results speak for themselves.

Resident Coordinators have been at the centre of the COVID-19 response, relying on and supporting the technical lead of WHO for the health response, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the humanitarian emergency and looking to UNDP for the socioeconomic response and recovery.  All these actors have embraced the full expertise of their United Nations country teams through integrated responses.

Leadership by Member States has been critical to take us this far.  Your call for coordination and transparency in these very Boards and in your bilateral relation with each entity has helped send the signals for transformative change.  As we face COVID-19, your voice will be more important than ever.  We count on you to continue to hold us accountable as we respond together to the pandemic.

Even more than before, the entire system must work together at country level, with discipline and rallying behind the convening power of Resident Coordinators to help countries respond to COVID-19.  We simply cannot afford duplication or inefficiencies in this existential battle. 

You can count on our full determination to leverage our reformed footprint to help you defeat this virus and mitigate the various impacts of this crisis.  The entire United Nations development system is mobilized to ensure the promise of a more prosperous future for all gets realized.  Together, we will prevail.

For information media. Not an official record.