With COVID-19 Casting Shadow over 2030 Agenda, Delegates in Social Development Commission Spotlight Efforts to Improve Health, Labour, Food Security
With the COVID-19 pandemic casting a pall over the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, delegates in the Commission for Social Development called for greater international cooperation today, highlighting national efforts towards resilient inclusive recovery and growth.
In a day‑long general discussion, the Commission — a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council — heard various views on the annual session’s theme, “Strengthening multilateralism to deliver well-being and dignity for all by addressing food insecurity and the eradication of poverty, including through the promotion of sustainable food systems”.
Bhutan’s delegate said that her country is working to achieve food security and food sustainability, as food supply disruptions induced by the pandemic have given the landlocked, import-driven country impetus to devise an enhanced agricultural strategy. It built irrigation channels to improve water access, provided quality seedlings to enhance production and improved farmers’ access to credit. As a result, the sector’s contribution to national gross domestic product (GDP) jumped from 15.78 per cent in 2019 to 19.23 per cent in 2020, she added.
Zambia’s representative meanwhile highlighted the extension of emergency cash transfers to small-scale marketeers, cross-border traders, those who had lost employment and households with children. It also extended cash transfers as part of its mainstream response to poverty and hunger, with beneficiaries expected to reach 1 million households in 2022, up from 632,327 in 2019.
In Namibia, the global slowdown acutely affected the tourism, hospitality and trade sectors, the country’s delegate noted, pointing out that only 5 per cent of people in least developed countries are currently vaccinated, versus more than 70 per cent in high-income nations. Despite the challenges, Namibia has made meaningful progress in fighting poverty, implementing robust drought relief and feeding programmes in rural and peri-urban areas.
The representative of Maldives said dependence on external food sources makes his country vulnerable to commodity price changes and global supply disruptions. As such, the Government has prioritized economic diversification and development of the agricultural sector. Its decentralization policy aims to spread development gains across the country, including the outer atolls, and has already led to the establishment of harbours and airports.
Romania’s representative said the COVID-19 pandemic altered the relationship between employers and employees, leading to rapid changes in the global labour market. Spotlighting the need for a “flexicurity” approach combining sufficient flexibility in contractual obligations for both employers and employees to cope with change, she advocated for more coordinated interventions, broader social dialogue on employment and better use of social protection systems.
Lebanon’s delegate said the pandemic disrupted the timeline for implementation of the 2030 Agenda, pointing out that Goal 1 on ending poverty and Goal 2 on zero hunger seem unachievable today. Against this backdrop, she called for greater international solidarity.
Along the same lines, Cuba’s representative warned that implementation of the global Goals appears impossible, as the world continues to spend billions of dollars for military purposes, diverting resources from development. For its part, Cuba continues to implement social programmes despite the economic blockade imposed by the United States against his country.
Also speaking were representatives of India, Pakistan, Ecuador, Viet Nam, Thailand, Nicaragua, Angola, Monaco, Bulgaria, Georgia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Greece, Romania, Oman, Burkina Faso, Iran, El Salvador, Belarus, Italy, Saudi Arabia, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Hungary, Guatemala, Libya and Haiti.
The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 February, to continue its sixtieth session.
The representative of Lebanon, associating herself with the “Group of 77” countries and China, commended the timely choice of the session’s theme, as COVID‑19 has shed light on inequality, not only among groups, but also between countries. Noting that the vaccination rate in high-income countries is seven times higher than that in Africa, she said it is “high time” for the United Nations to act. The General Assembly should make its voice louder. With less than 10 years towards 2030, the pandemic gripped the world and disrupted the timeline for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 1 on ending poverty and Goal 2 on zero hunger seem unachievable today, with children hardest hit, she lamented, calling for international solidarity.
The representative of India outlined measures taken by the Government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, including the strengthening of health services, agricultural reforms, targeted subsidies and the deployment of citizen‑centric technology. India also has adopted social safety measures to protect well-being and livelihoods, he said, noting that it has a public distribution system that provides food to the most needy, and has in place a national rural employment scheme. In 2021, India released a $400 billion special package as part of the “self-reliant India mission” to revive economic growth and bolster employment, extended financial support to 13 million senior citizens and provided assistance to migrant workers so they can access food rations across the country. He noted that India is now the second-largest manufacturer of personal protective equipment in the world, despite having little capacity in this regard at the start of the outbreak. India also increased its oxygen cylinder capacity 10-fold and has 4,000 new medical oxygen plants. Noting that the country has taken steps to curb vaccine hesitancy, and has administered 1.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, he said India, alongside Africa, is calling for a trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPs) waiver for vaccines, diagnostic equipment and medicines. India offered its COVID-19 vaccination open‑source software to the world as a global common good, he added.
The representative of Cuba said achieving the Sustainable Development Goals appears impossible, as the world continues to spend billions of dollars for military purposes, diverting resources from development. Calling for international cooperation, technology transfer and economic inclusion, he said that, despite having enough food to feed the world’s people, tons of food are wasted. North-South and South-South cooperation are crucial, and the Commission for Social Development should play an irreplaceable role in implementing the Copenhagen Programme of Action, adopted at the 1995 World Summit for Social Development. Noting that the economic blockade imposed by the United States costs Cuba $2.5 billion a year, he said his country nonetheless continues to implement social programmes. Cuba is the only Latin American country that produces COVID-19 vaccines and was the first to administer a massive vaccination programme for children under the age of two.
The representative of Pakistan highlighted the Government’s flagship welfare programme, through which a $8 billion stimulus package — constituting 3 per cent of GDP — was launched to support 12 million poor and vulnerable households with direct payments. In addition, “smart lockdown” policies saved lives and livelihoods by delivering immediate relief to 12 million households. Other elements of Pakistan’s development strategy involve providing shelter homes, free health coverage for the poor, youth empowerment programmes and targeted subsidies to farmers. He expressed concern that 20 years after the World Summit for Social Development, progress has been slow and uneven. Developing countries need sufficient financial resources and liquidity to deliver anti-poverty and social protection programmes. While $17 trillion have been mobilized for financial surplus in rich countries, developing nations are struggling to mobilize even a fraction of $4.3 trillion they need to recover from COVID-19. He called for mobilizing resources from all possible sources, notably debt restructuring, fulfilment of the 0.7 per cent official development assistance (ODA) target, redistribution of the $650 billion in new special drawing rights and larger concessional finance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The representative of Bhutan, reaffirming her country’s commitment to implement the Copenhagen Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals, underscored the link between social development and the maintenance of international peace and security. Bhutan is taking steps towards an inclusive recovery from COVID-19 and achieving food security and food sustainability, despite challenges such as rural-urban migration and a lack of modern facilities in rural areas. Noting that the small landlocked country has 78,000 acres of fallow arable land, she pointed to the construction of shelters for people living across the borders, financial relief packages and repatriating Bhutanese abroad wishing to return home. Further, a National Resilient Fund of 3 billion ngultrum was put in place in April 2020, while the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu has benefited 48,751 vulnerable individuals as of December 2021. Pointing out that Bhutan was hit harder by the disruption in food supplies, as an import-driven nation, she said this gave the country impetus to devise a strengthened agricultural strategy, through which it constructed irrigation channels to improve water access, provided quality seedlings to enhance production, promoted commercial farming and improved access to credit for farmers. As a result, the sector’s contribution to national gross domestic product (GDP) increased from 15.78 per cent in 2019 to 19.23 per cent in 2020, she added.
The representative of Thailand highlighted the Government’s support to millions of citizens whose annual income is less than 100,000 baht, through a State welfare card, and allocation of land to the poor in the form of collective plots, which will benefit 86,000 people. Thailand also launched the “Thai People Map and Analytical Platform” in December 2021 to collect disaggregated data on conditions and environments of 2.68 million poor households. She also called for scaled‑up investment in governance and social protection, aggressively enhancing safety nets and targeted social protection strategies. Thailand amended related laws and regulations, and rolled out other measures to help those most affected by COVID-19, including three-month 5,000 baht grants to independent workers and farmers to compensate the lack of income. She went on to call for a people‑centred development approach, noting that the provision of universal health coverage has enabled Thailand to provide more inclusive services for 99.8 per cent of the population.
The representative of Zambia, endorsing statements by the Group of 77 and China, and the African Group, said the impact of COVID-19 in his country led to employment losses, increased gender-based violence and social stigma against COVID-19 victims. Noting that the social dimension of Zambia’s response plan needs attention, she said the Government extended COVID-19 emergency cash transfers to small‑scale marketeers, cross‑border traders, those who had lost employment and households with children, with 123,139 vulnerable households benefitting from these cash transfers between July 2020 and December 2021 in 25 of the most affected districts. Explaining that Zambia also extends cash transfers as part of its mainstream response to poverty and hunger, she said its caseload has jumped from 632,327 beneficiary households in 2019 to 880,539 in 2021, covering all 116 districts. This year, the number is expected to reach 1 million households, or more than 5.3 million people benefiting from cash transfers. In addition, 1,500 persons with disabilities were empowered with grants in 2021, she added.
The representative of Georgia said strengthening multilateralism and joint efforts are the key to a resilient recovery that builds on equal and inclusive societies and leaves no one behind. The COVID-19 recovery also provides an opportunity to develop long-term policy frameworks to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and reduce existing gaps. Outlining national progress, he said Georgia adopted an Anti-Crisis Plan that aims to protect the most vulnerable and mitigate the pandemic’s impact. It provides compensation to socially vulnerable families and families who have three or more children, as well as those with disabilities. Regrettably, the illegal occupation of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions by the Russian Federation remains an obstacle for the Government in delivering its services on the whole territory of Georgia, he said.
The representative of Sri Lanka, aligning himself the Group of 77 and China, pointed to the twin problems of vaccine access and a reversal of development gains after COVID-19 that have jeopardized implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Noting that the tourism industry on which Sri Lanka depends was severely affected by the pandemic, he highlighted the importance of tackling the “triple issues” of vaccine inequity, climate change and an overhaul of international financial system to succeed in “the new normal”. Stressing that vaccine equity plays a pivotal role in all recovery efforts, he said that by January, Sri Lanka had fully vaccinated over 90 per cent of its population and intends to establish a Regional Knowledge Hub on COVID-19, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). To reduce poverty and hunger, Sri Lanka has expanded social protection programmes and provided cash and grants to people in need during the pandemic, he added, underlining the key role of sustainability in the national policy framework, and the need for a holistic policy approach, with near to long-term strategies, to ensure food security and eradicate poverty.
The representative of Greece, associating herself with the European Union, described the COVID-19 crisis as a “wake-up call” to urgently fulfil commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and shift to a new development paradigm. Calling for a move from emergency response to more sustainable global, regional and national pandemic financing, she said it is imperative to vaccinate Africa while also supporting the pharmaceutical system in building the capacity to meet local and regional demands. Noting that Greece donated more than 6.5 million vaccine doses to countries in South-East Europe, as well as Asia and Africa, she underlined the need to strengthen health systems, social protection and data- and evidence‑collection, emphasizing that the lack of preparedness for the pandemic was partly due to underinvestment in global public goods.
The representative of Romania, associating herself with the European Union, said the COVID-19 pandemic altered the relationship between employers and employees, leading to rapid changes in the global labour market. Citing strong and coordinated measures taken to limit the spread of the virus at local and national levels, she spotlighted the need for a “flexicurity” approach combining sufficient flexibility in contractual obligations — which allows employers and employees to cope with change — while also providing security for workers. Urging all countries to step up their efforts to ensure the proper functioning of labour markets — as well as quality education and training systems, modern and efficient social security systems and the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship — she also advocated for more coordinated interventions, broader social dialogue on employment, and better use of social protection systems.
The representative of Oman, associating himself with the Group of 77, outlined several national measures over the past two years to bring about a resilient recovery from the pandemic, notably those that ensure access to vaccines and basic services, including education, and to alleviate the negative impact on the economy. Oman also strove to empower its citizens, including women, children, people with disabilities and older people, allowing them to be independent and play an active role in recovery efforts. Oman also implemented measures to maintain food security, he said, calling for greater assistance to developing and low-income countries through international solidarity.
The representative of El Salvador said that, even before the pandemic struck, her country had put pre-emptive measures in place, in consultation with WHO and the Pan‑American Health Organization (PAHO) and is now focused on containment, response and transition. It has issued 76 legislative and executive decrees on issues ranging from the closure of airports, teleworking and on moratoria on basic tax and loan payments. She outlined measures taken to bolster public health and the economy, including the distribution of cash aid and food baskets to households in need, and creation of a $700 million trust fund for small and medium-sized enterprises. To address the health emergency, El Salvador built a large hospital with 2,000 intensive care unit beds. On education, she said the country has introduced new educational models and distributed 1.2 million laptops to students. El Salvador has the highest vaccinated population in Central America, she said, noting that 5 million Salvadorans have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 4.2 million received a second. El Salvador is tirelessly working to rebuild, she said, pointing to its “unprecedented” economic growth of 13.4 per cent in 2021. It plans to invest more in social areas, including in its “growing together” policy, pertaining to primary health care and maternal health, and is devising plans for poverty reduction, malnutrition, health, education and irregular migration, she added.
The representative of Belarus said ensuring food security and increasing food production is a pressing task, noting that her country was able to end extreme poverty ahead of schedule and is seeking to reduce the poverty rate from 5 per cent to 3 per cent by 2030. Thanks to implementation of its national food security doctrine, Belarus moved up to the twenty-third place in the relevant international ranking. Belarus also contributes to global food security, exporting agricultural products to more than 100 countries. The international community can facilitate global equity and help eliminate “handmade” impediments to development, she said, referring to unilateral coercive measures adopted by Western States. Sanctions undermine recovery and sustainable development, she said, stressing that mutually beneficial regional and international cooperation is the only path towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of the Maldives said the halt of tourism in 2020 due to COVID-19 had profound effects across the national economy. The Government spent 2.1 per cent of GDP on health care, and another 4.7 per cent on broader assistance, including special financing facilities for businesses and freelance workers, income support allowances and utility bill subsidies. Noting that 81.78 per cent of the population has been vaccinated, he pointed to a “bitter reality” in terms of debt sustainability, as the Group of 20 (G20) Debt Service Suspension Initiative and Common Framework for Debt Treatments Initiative, while important, are insufficient for addressing rising debt risks. He called for credit guarantee schemes to reduce borrowing costs, simplified access to finance for small countries and more flexibility in traditional lending instruments. As dependence on external food sources makes Maldives vulnerable to commodity price changes and global supply disruptions, the Government has prioritized economic diversification and development of the agricultural sector. To address structural issues affecting rural populations — or those in the outer atolls — the decentralization policy aims to spread development gains across the country, and has already led to the establishment of harbours, airports and other infrastructure.
The representative of Namibia, associating himself with the Group of 77, declared: “While our target for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is ambitious, we did not anticipate the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.” In Namibia, the global slowdown acutely affected the tourism, hospitality and trade sectors. Meanwhile, the pace and reach of COVID-19 vaccines has been uneven, unfair and unbalanced, with only 5 per cent of people in least developed countries currently vaccinated versus more than 70 per cent in high‑income countries. “If vaccines continue to remain elusive to the vast majority of the global population, the pandemic could continue on for several years as the virus mutates and widens transmission,” he warned, calling for the eradication of “vaccine nationalism”. Outlining national efforts, he said Namibia has made meaningful progress in fighting poverty and has implemented robust drought relief and feeding programmes in rural and peri-urban areas.
The representative of Saudi Arabia, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the pandemic has killed 6 million people. The unprecedented crisis demonstrated the vulnerability of the international order and has rung the alarm bell, calling for collective efforts and cooperation to overcome divisions that impede a cohesive international response. Saudi Arabia undertook comprehensive response measures, including through a 47 billion rial programme launched by its Ministry of Health. Further, he noted that its mitigation efforts and economic incentives put its pandemic response second among the biggest 53 economies as of January, which demonstrated the effectiveness of its plans. Further, Saudi Arabia has contributed substantively to international efforts to combat the virus, including through the provisioning of $2 million to support Palestinians in the West Bank. Saudi Arabia is committed to supporting efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals locally and internationally, for which it is among the biggest donors in the world, he said, pointing to the support lent by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said the Government is working to establish a social security system that provides tailored assistance for specific social groups. To achieve the full social participation of persons with disabilities in society, the Republic of Korea is cooperating with civil society to guarantee access to quality education, even under pandemic circumstances. Vocational training allowances were temporarily raised, and job security was enhanced through paid leave at work for this group. Also highlighting the importance of young people to the recovery from COVID-19, particularly through digitalization and provision of tailored and special training programmes, he said his country changed the voting age from 19 to 18 to promote young people’s political representation and participation. Stressing that the rights of women and girls must be at the centre of a renewed social contract, he said gender perspectives and gender-responsive approaches must be applied to national and international COVID-19 recovery efforts.
The representative of Ethiopia, aligning herself with the African Group and Group of 77 and China, said COVID-19 has resulted in 22 million more aid‑dependent people in urban areas in her country. Noting that Africa needs $154 billion to address the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, she called for enhanced support for liquidity and debt cancellation for African countries. The capability of developing countries to acquire, transport and administer COVID-19 vaccines must grow exponentially, while preventing an undue shift of resources from other basic services to the pandemic. She went on to point out that 50 million people in the Horn of Africa face climate-induced food shortage, while farmers and pastoralists in southern, eastern and north-eastern Ethiopia are also vulnerable. Conflict, political instability and terrorist acts have also posed a great danger. She described Ethiopia’s inclusive policy to eradicate poverty, informed by the Copenhagen Declaration, and social protection policy, which is underpinned by a rural and urban productive safety net programme, to help the most vulnerable.
The representative of Peru said vaccines represent the greatest hope for overcoming the crisis induced by the pandemic, underscoring the need to achieve universal vaccination so all people can be protected, and to avoid the appearance of new variants. Vaccines must be considered a global public good, and should be distributed fairly, without exclusion. He set out social assistance programmes by Peru, including social protection bonds in urban and rural regions, a “zero hunger” programme, child development support and provisional measures in specific territories. He expressed concern about the “pernicious” risk of developing countries entering a new cycle of indebtedness amid the pandemic, limiting their ability to extend social protections to their citizens, and called for the exploration of a new mechanism for viable financing to help less affluent countries with pandemic recovery. He went on to call for urgent steps to be taken to address climate change, without which “the world will see greater poverty, hunger, gaps, inequality and worsening social development”.