Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks in a virtual meeting with the African Group, in New York today:
I would like to start by expressing my full solidarity with the people of Africa and with your Governments in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has wide-ranging implications, and the United Nations and African countries are working together across many challenges and concerns at this time.
I want to thank you for your continued generosity towards refugees and migrants, as well as for the hospitality you extend to United Nations staff throughout the continent. I am also grateful for the positive responses to my appeal for a global ceasefire, including from Chairperson Moussa Faki and a large number of African Heads of State. My special envoys and representatives are working hard to translate the appeal into effective ceasefires.
All efforts must be aimed at the common enemy, as we brace for the expected spread of the pandemic in Africa. This is in no way of Africa’s making. But, as with the climate crisis, the African continent could end up suffering the greatest impacts.
In these trying times, I would like to commend you for the early leadership and action taken by your Governments to do just this: to suppress transmission and control the spread of COVID-19; and to prepare your people and the economy against its impacts. The examples are many: Uganda is supporting businesses by rescheduling social security contributions; Namibia is offering emergency income grants to workers who have lost jobs; Cabo Verde is offering cash transfers and food assistance; Egypt has reduced taxation for industries and postponed taxation on agricultural land, and has expanded its social safety net programme. It is clear that those efforts have drawn on the painful yet useful lessons from the outbreak of Ebola.
I welcome the African Union’s initiatives to support the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, establish a special anti-COVID-19 Response Fund and appoint Special Envoys to mobilize international economic support. The development of a coordinated comprehensive continental COVID-19 strategy is a clear demonstration of Africa’s continued commitment to steady its course and define its own path to sustainable and inclusive development for the people of the continent. It also illustrates the value Africa places on regional cooperation and multilateralism.
The United Nations system is doing its utmost to provide support in building and complementing the capacities needed to address the spread. Since the start of the outbreak, our peacekeeping and political missions have been developing awareness and mass community sensitization campaigns, trainings for civil servants and social workers, joint radio programmes, and helping with the development and implementation of local COVID-19 response plans. The United Nations development system and Resident Coordinators are also fully mobilized.
A few examples: in Nigeria, the United Nations country team has contributed $2 million to procure essential medical supplies, including 50 ventilators that will double the national reserves, personal protective equipment, 30,000 test kits and five ambulances with surveillance equipment; in Kenya, the United Nations team has joined the National Business Compact to support the Government’s efforts against the spread of COVID-19; in Zimbabwe, the United Nations team is supporting the most immediate preparedness needs such as training of health-care workers and working on the school system’s preparation; in South Africa, the United Nations is partnering with local organizations to use technology to disseminate [World Health Organization] WHO-cleared messages on COVID-19 to communities and to create a platform to support children’s learning during the period when schools are closed due to the lockdown.
Throughout the continent, our Resident Coordinators and United Nations country teams are working with bilateral donors, international finance institutions and the private sector to leverage in-country funding to fight the pandemic. WHO has been supporting Governments with early detection. While at the start of the outbreak, only two countries could test for COVID-19, 47 African countries can now do so. WHO is also providing remote support to national health authorities on the use of data, and helping local authorities ensure that the public is fully informed.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is also working closely with your countries in key areas, from briefing the African Union’s Peace and Security Council on the coronavirus’ impacts and helping develop food readiness plans, to calling on the international community, together with African finance ministers, for a debt relief package.
We can only defeat COVID-19 in a holistic manner, taking into account not only the health system challenges, but also the broader development dimensions. To help address the devastating economic and social consequences, I launched last month a report calling for a comprehensive multilateral response amounting to a double-digit percentage of global gross domestic product. For Africa, that means over $200 billion to address the immediate impacts and to recover better.
For this, we must mobilize all partners. We need greater resources from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including through the issuance of special drawing rights, and the enhanced support of other international financial institutions and bilateral mechanisms, as well as a comprehensive package to alleviate debt.
Debt relief must be an important part of the response. The United Nations will continue to advocate for debt relief for Africa, including non-IDA [World Bank International Development Association] countries who cannot service their debt. Debt relief from non-Paris Club official creditors and London Club commercial creditors should also be part of the consideration.
As said at the G20, I fully support a coordinated mechanism for resource development to assist Africa in countering the pandemic, and I will join President [Cyril] Ramaphosa, as African Union Chairperson, in a meeting with the World Bank and IMF later this week, where I intend to express the United Nations solidarity with African countries and reiterate my calls for international support.
The pandemic is having a devastating impact on the most vulnerable. The current socioeconomic situation could reverse the limited progress made on gender equality and women’s rights. That is why we have also launched a report that recommends ways to put women’s leadership and contributions at the centre of every country’s efforts to fight and recover from COVID-19. Tomorrow, I will launch a report on the impact of the virus on children, from health and hunger to education and basic safety.
We also remain fully committed to our humanitarian efforts on the ground. As you know, we have launched a Global Humanitarian Response Plan, which has so far received around 20 per cent of the $2 billion required. Refugees, displaced persons and others caught up in conflict face special vulnerabilities. I welcome African commitment to ensure coordination between the different bodies and agencies on the ground; access for humanitarian personnel remains crucial.
I am pleased to note that the United Nations network of supply chains is contributing to the African response. Just yesterday, the first “Solidarity Flight” with the combined efforts of the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization left Addis Ababa to distribute vital medical supplies. With the help and coordination of the African Union’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, medical aprons, masks, thermometers, face shields, gloves, goggles, gowns and ventilators will reach many places in need across the continent.
I am glad we have been able to bring the supply networks of the United Nations at the service of countries in Africa and work together in this way, and look forward to more such flights and collaboration. This mobilization, and the capacity of the United Nations to remain operational and support our Member States better in these challenging times, was also made possible by the implementation of our reforms, which allowed us to adjust and pursue our mission, in Headquarters and in the field.
A safe and effective vaccine may be the only tool that can return the world to a sense of “normalcy”, saving millions of lives and countless trillions of dollars. This requires the accelerated development, production and equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine at a speed, scale, and coverage never seen before in human history. Such a vaccine must have a universal global benefit and allow us to control the pandemic – a clear global public good. We need an ambitious effort to ensure that international stakeholders operate through a harmonized, integrated and leveraged approach to maximize the speed and scale needed for the universal deployment of such a vaccine by the end of 2020.
These exceptional circumstances call for exceptional solidarity at the international, regional, national and community levels. Now, more than ever, we need to join hands and resources to overcome this global threat that affects us all, while leaving no one behind. I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations to its partnership with Africa as a crucial element in meeting this challenge. Thank you.