26 June 2020

World Cannot Return to ‘Previous Normal’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Forum, Presenting New Global Framework for Nations amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed’s remarks to the Recover Better Together Action Forum, in New York today:

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Recover Better Together Action Forum.  Today, we gather virtually, in full development emergency mode, to hear from many of you who are active on the front lines of this unprecedented crisis:

Governments that are leading the response at country level; private and public donors, including those contributing to the Secretary-General’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund; civil society organizations that provide a lifeline of support to the most vulnerable; and Heads of United Nations entities and our Resident Coordinators, who are mobilizing support from across the system and beyond, to help Governments cope and recover better from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.

I thank you all for everything you are doing.  As we engage in today’s discussions, we must keep in sight the gravity of the situation.  A return to normality in some regions must not lull us into a false sense of security.

COVID-19 continues to spread at an alarming rate around the world.  For many countries, and for many people, the worst is unfortunately yet to come.  This crisis of historic magnitude has a human face.  Over 9 million people have been infected by the virus; 472,000 have died.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that working hours equivalent to more than 300 million jobs could be lost.  That’s 15 times more than during the 2008 financial crisis.  The World Bank anticipates the sharpest decline in per‑capita income since 1870.  Between 70 and 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that 265 million people could face acute food insecurity by year’s end — double the number at risk before the crisis.  And for the first time since its establishment, the global Human Development Index will fall, and dramatically so.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the promise of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] more relevant and vital than ever.  The crisis is a stark reminder that any recovery that fails to address the causes of our present vulnerabilities condemns us to more acute crises in the future.

Together, we can stem today’s crisis.  In doing so, we must pave the way for transformative change.  As we safeguard gains, look to leapfrog, strengthen foundations for sustainability and build resilience.

It is with this imperative in mind that the United Nations development system is working together to support countries at this time of great need.  We have switched gears to development emergency mode because we must act fast to recover better.  We are seeking to achieve impact at scale because the future we want requires ambition and transformation.

To do so, the United Nations Sustainable Development Group has developed a global framework that is guiding our socioeconomic response in countries.  The framework articulates the United Nations offer across five broad areas, which United Nations country teams are tailoring to each country context.

Resident Coordinators are leading our response, relying on technical leadership from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and leveraging the assets and expertise of all United Nations agencies, resident and non-resident.

Our offer is clear:  We are deploying our combined resources, expertise and technical assistance to help countries respond across five critical areas.

First, to protect health systems and essential services during the crisis, including those health priorities not directly related to COVID19, such as vaccines, maternal health and HIV/TB.

Second, to protect people in the most vulnerable countries and communities, ensuring access to social protection and basic services.  We will be there to help enable cash transfers to those most in need, ensure access to food and nutrition, water and sanitation, with women at the centre.

Third, to protect jobs and livelihoods, creating short-term jobs, especially for youth and women and identifying bridging measures that can keep companies in business and workers in jobs.  We focus on the most vulnerable — those in the informal sector, small and medium-sized enterprises, and informal sector workers.

Fourth, to help countries navigate complex macroeconomic options and guide the necessary surge in fiscal and financial stimulus.  We work to ensure that any investments made during this phase help sow the seeds for a more sustainable, inclusive, digital and green recovery.

Finally, we are mobilizing communities and local governments to identify and implement local solutions to cope with the crisis now and build resilience for tomorrow.

We are determined to do all this at once, simultaneously, not sequentially.  These actions are mutually reinforcing.  To deliver on our offer, we are also making full use of the new structures and capacities established as part of the far-reaching reforms of the United Nations development system.  The establishment of an independent, empowered United Nations coordination system has strengthened our ability to respond faster and with greater impact to the challenges of this century.

We are also better positioned to blend the policy and operational capacities across the United Nations system to offer an integrated response in each country.  We are more transparent in the use of resources entrusted to us.  COVID-19 is the first big test of our reforms.  It is also serving as an accelerator.  We all recognize that the world cannot and will not go back to the previous normal, nor will the United Nations development system.

Today’s development emergency must lead to an even deeper sense of urgency throughout the decade of action.  This is the type of rapid, concrete and impactful multilateral solidarity that the world needs today.

We are conscious that the COVID-19 fund represents a microscopic share of the resources required for countries to address the impact of the pandemic.  But, if fully capitalized, this fund could be truly transformational.  We need to mobilize $1 billion for the fund in the course of the year.

These resources will go towards the country-specific response plans that have been developed by United Nations country teams, with Governments and national partners taking the lead.  They will ensure we can fully deliver on our offer.  Most importantly, the fund can serve as a catalyser — a multiplier — around which countries can mobilize the trillions they need to fully meet their needs.

Scale, ultimately, will come from domestic resources.  These are the resources that will truly enable the massive stimulus support packages required to cope with COVID-19 and its containment measures, and guide investments in a greener, more inclusive recovery.  But, these need to be unlocked and incentivized by development assistance.  Our Fund aims to do just that.

I thank all our donors who have allowed us to initiate the operations of the Fund in record time.  I salute Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark for leading the way.  I am also grateful to all other partners that are joining this effort now.  And I encourage all other partners to also come forward as we move towards our next resource mobilization event in the coming months.

We have a steep curve to climb.  In looking at the COVID-19 Fund, or at the financing architecture globally, we see a concerning landscape.  Investments are falling well below the needs, and our expectations.  But, together, we can change the game.  We can build on the initial round of investments to inform and stimulate funding on a much larger scale.

Funding the United Nations response is a direct investment in countries’ ability to deal with the severe socioeconomic problems posed by the pandemic, prevent further erosion of development gains, and help countries recover better — with the 2030 Agenda as our compass.  I trust that the exchanges and testimonies we will hear today will help create momentum towards this goal.

With the limited resources already entrusted to us, we already see tangible Government-led action in 47 countries around the world.  In Jamaica and Georgia, these funds are helping to get medication to vulnerable people and those with chronic diseases.  In Malawi and Guatemala, programmes are establishing innovative delivery mechanisms, such as mobile care and tele-health, to ensure continuity of pre-natal and maternal care.

In Senegal, Bhutan, Mongolia and Nicaragua, the United Nations is supporting education systems so that children can access remote learning resources.  In Timor‑Leste, Armenia, Eswatini, Guinea and Guinea‑Bissau, we are supporting the rollout of cash transfers.  In Kiribati and Papua New Guinea, we are investing in food security.  In Micronesia and Ghana, the Solomon Islands and Viet Nam the funds are being used to enhance water and sanitation infrastructure.

These early investments are critical.  They can have a real impact on people’s lives.  And we are learning from these experiences; we now have a better understanding of what works, what is cost‑efficient, and what can be replicated or taken to greater scale.

That information is, in itself, a global public good.  But, these early steps do not compare with the challenges we face.  We must be much more ambitious, united and decisive in our response.

We are together in this.  No one will ever be truly safe until everyone is safe.  No country will truly move forward if we leave people behind.  And to recover better together, we must all do more.

Today, as we mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Charter, let’s remember that Global Solidarity is not just an abstract ideal.  It is our duty and our calling to come together and help each other.  Times of crisis call on us all to do more, concretely, and particularly for the most vulnerable.

Your actions today and in the weeks and months ahead can offer hope and help turn the tide.  Your engagement through the United Nations speaks to the power of unity and solidarity, the only way forward for every country and for each one of us.  A serious crisis should never be wasted.  So, today, let us commit to do all we can to recover better, together.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.