23 April 2020

Poor Countries Need Massive, Urgent Support, Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council Financing Forum, Citing ‘Deep and Uncharted Territory’

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the virtual meeting of the 2020 Economic and Social Council forum on “Financing sustainable development in the context of COVID-19”, in New York today:

COVID-19 is an unprecedented and devastating crisis that is affecting everyone, everywhere. No region or country is spared.  This is a defining moment in human history, and we will only succeed through unity and leadership.

We must target all our efforts towards beating this pandemic, which could spread like wildfire, with the deadliest consequences for the most vulnerable.  I reiterate my appeal for an immediate global ceasefire so that we can focus our efforts on our common enemy: the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is not only a health crisis but a human crisis, a jobs crisis, a humanitarian crisis and a development crisis.  And it is not just about the most vulnerable.  This pandemic shows that we are all at risk because we are only as strong as the weakest health system.  Its unprecedented scale demands an unprecedented response.

I have issued a global three-point call to action in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic.  First, we must take decisive action to suppress the virus and alleviate suffering.  That demands a globally coordinated health response, led by the World Health Organization.  This response urgently requires support, solidarity and resources.  We must pool our efforts to assist countries at risk, strengthen and expand their health systems, and stop transmission through the combination of testing, contact-tracing and quarantine, associated with appropriate restrictions on movement and contact.

Second, we must adopt a large-scale and comprehensive response to tackle the devastating socioeconomic consequences, with a focus on the most vulnerable countries and people.  We must use all the fiscal and monetary measures at our disposal.  We need greater resources for the International Monetary Fund, including through the issuance of new special drawing rights and enhanced support for the World Bank Group and other international financial institutions and bilateral mechanisms.

A global stimulus package of unprecedented proportions will also be needed to restore sustainable growth and safeguard people’s livelihoods.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have strongly advocated for a response package that is a double-digit percentage of global [gross domestic product] GDP.  That means fiscal and monetary measures including providing resources directly to workers and households, targeting both formal and informal sectors; scaling up social protection and access to health care; and helping businesses prevent bankruptcies and massive job losses.

Most developed countries can do this with their own resources and, indeed, several are doing it.  But, developing countries need massive and urgent support. Now is the time to stand by our commitment to leave no one behind.  COVID-19 is significantly amplifying existing debt risks.  The timebound G20 (Group of 20) initiative to suspend debt service payments for the poorest countries is a critical first step.  The moratorium must be extended to all developing countries that request forbearance, including middle-income countries that lose access to financial markets.

Beyond an initial debt moratorium, targeted debt relief will be needed.  This should be followed by efforts to strengthen debt sustainability, including debt swaps, and a mechanism to address sovereign debt restructuring in a coordinated and comprehensive manner that takes account of the need for countries to step up their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

We must also address structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults leading to prolonged financial and economic crises.  We must ensure that all support measures target the poor and the most vulnerable.  Refugees and others displaced by violent conflict are especially at risk, and I urge your strong and continued support for our global humanitarian response plan.  Economic instability will have particularly devastating impacts on women and girls.  We will need women’s leadership and contributions at all levels if we are to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of this pandemic.

The third step is recovering better.  COVID-19 has highlighted global inequalities and injustices that cannot continue, including gender inequality.  It has laid bare the way in which economies are sustained through the invisible, unpaid domestic labour of women.  Returning to our previous path is simply not an option.  All our efforts must go towards building sustainable and resilient pathways that enable us not only to beat COVID-19, but to tackle the climate crisis and address the root causes of poverty, inequality and hunger.

We are deep into uncharted territory, but we have a compass.  The principles of peace, solidarity and human dignity remain as relevant and important as ever.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda embody these values and the commitments must be respected.  Our great multilateral frameworks address precisely the failures that are being exposed and exploited by the pandemic: stark inequalities in income and access to finance; high indebtedness; a highly leveraged financial system; and a dysfunctional multilateral trading system.

The entire United Nations family is mobilized to address this global emergency, including by supporting Member States in implementing these agreements.  Together, we will beat this pandemic and build a better future of peace, prosperity, human rights and dignity for all, on a healthy planet.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.