‘Leave no one behind’ mantra matters more than ever, as coronavirus threatens all humanity: Guterres

Secretary-General António Guterres issued a three-point global “Call to Action” on Thursday to cushion the colossal fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, pressing Governments to unify around a defining moment in history, as the new session of the UN’s Financing for Development Forum got underway.

Convened by webcast under the theme “Financing Sustainable Development in the Context of COVID-19”, the event brought together the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), among other high-level officials.

‘Massive and urgent support’

The epic nature of the threat demands a globally coordinated health response, led by the World Health Organization (WHO). “Developing countries need massive and urgent support,” Mr. Guterres said. “Now is the time to stand by our commitment to leave no one behind.”He called for the pooling of efforts to assist countries at risk, strengthen and expand their health systems and stop transmission through a combination of testing, contact-tracing and quarantine, associated with appropriate restrictions on movement and contact.

Global debt package

Second, a large-scale response is needed to tackle the devastating socioeconomic consequences. “We must use all the fiscal and monetary measures at our disposal”, he said, recommending the creation of a global stimulus package to safeguard people’s livelihoods.

“I have strongly advocated for a response package that is a double-digit percentage of global GDP,” he said, with resources provided directly to workers and households, targeting both formal and informal sectors. Provisions should include a scaling-up of social protections and help for businesses to avoid bankruptcies. He said the time-bound G20 initiative to suspend debt service payments for the poorest countries is a critical first step, which should be extended to all developing countries that request forbearance - including middle-income nations that lose access to financial markets.

Targeted debt relief will also be needed, followed by efforts to bolster debt sustainability and address structural issues in the international debt architecture.He described the third step as “recovering better”. COVID-19 has laid bare the way in which economies are sustained through the invisible, unpaid domestic labour of women.Indeed, existing multilateral frameworks address precisely the failures 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.“Returning to our previous path is simply not an option.”

COVID-19 leaving women more vulnerable: ECOSOC President

ECOSOC President, Mona Juul, agreed that financing for sustainable development must be at the centre of preparedness and resilience. The critical issues of resource mobilization, illicit finance, debt and women’s empowerment are more important than ever in a vastly different landscape, she said.

She drew particular attention to the different ways in which COVID-19 is affecting women and men. Women disproportionally carry the burden of unpaid care work, and are overrepresented as frontline health workers, making the integration of a gender perspective into social and economic responses all the more essential, she said.

Deepest recession in generations: DESA chief

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Liu Zhenmin, said the world is set to face the deepest recession in generations, as growth will fall significantly below the decade-low 2.3 per cent growth attained through 2019. “The shocks to demand and supply - amplified through linkages in trade and finance - are hitting the global economy hard,” he wrote ahead of the meeting.

In a DESA article, he stressed that 44 per cent of least developed and other low-income countries already face - or are at risk of - debt distress; a number that is set to rise in response to the adverse effects of the pandemic.He said the 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report of the Inter-agency Taskforce on Financing for Development, released this month, highlights both immediate and long-term actions to respond to the COVID19 crisis.

It calls for a globally coordinated stimulus package that includes increased concessional finance, actions to prevent a debt crisis, immediate actions to stabilize financial markets,partnering with the private sector, “building back better” and making good use of digital technologies for sustainable development.

“We need to advance bold financial measures at the national, and especially regional and global levels”, he said, actions that must be well aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

Greatest test of multilateralism in a generation: Muhammad-Bande

COVID-19 presents the greatest test of this generation’s commitment to multilateralism, global citizenship and solidarity, President of the General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said.“We will be defined by our action.”While no country will be spared from the economic impact, developing countries will be hit the hardest - even if they do not experience a COVID-19 outbreak – as they grapple with a slump in commodity prices and reversal of financing flows.

Efforts must be directed towards all seven action areas of the Addis Agenda to realize sustainable development. “We must move swiftly on debt and concessional finance to support the most vulnerable people we serve,” he emphasized.

Protect civilians in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, urges UN refugee agency

An upsurge in military action against armed groups in West Africa’s vast Sahel and Lake Chad regions has prompted the United Nations refugee agency to call on all warring parties to protect people caught up in the violence.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed on Thursday that since 29 March, thousands of people have fled their homes and villages each day, as security forces from Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon launched a military crackdown on armed groups in border regions that have seen numerous attacks on citizens and national military forces.

“Too many civilians in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin have already paid a high price and should not be made to suffer more’’, said Aissatou Ndiaye, Deputy Director for UNHCR’s Bureau for West and Central Africa.

Nearly 50,000 people, including thousands of women, children and the elderly, have been displaced in the region this year – including 25,000 when the Chadian army, with support from other countries, launched operation ‘Wrath of Boma’ on the shores of Lake Chad at the end of March.

Clashes in Niger

Earlier this month, more than 4,000 were displaced by clashes in Niger’s Tillaberi region, provoking hundreds to seek safety in parts of Mali – a country already wracked by insecurity.

And since January, unrest across the entire Sahel region, which runs across the breadth of the continent, has sparked another 6,000 Nigeriens to flee to Mali, joining at least 10,000 Malians displaced inside their own country.

“Attacks and counter-attacks are constantly pushing populations living in the border areas into deeper misery and risk annihilating any advances in building their resilience’’, underscored Mr. Ndiaye.

During the first three months of this year, UNHCR and its partners recorded 191 incidents in Niger that had left 549 victims within a 50 kilometre zone of the border area, which included assassinations, kidnappings and theft as well as sexual and gender-based violence.

International obligations

UNHCR reminded governments to uphold their international obligations as well as the commitments they made last year during high-level regional dialogues in Abuja and Bamako, the capitals of Nigeria and Mali respectively, where States reiterated pledges to protect civilians from becoming victims during counter-terrorism operations.

The Sahel and Lake Chad have been for many years in the throes of armed conflicts and violence that have left some 3.8 million internally displaced across both regions and triggered 270,000 to flee to neighbouring countries.

The UN refugee agency stands ready to support regional efforts to maintain the civilian and humanitarian nature of asylum and to facilitate access to the dire humanitarian situation while continuing its work with the authorities to identify secure relocation sites.

“The safety of the displaced population and their host communities must be a priority for all sides involved in this conflict”, concluded Mr. Ndiaye.