International Solidarity Crucial First Step for Transitioning from COVID-19-Prone to Pandemic-Proof World, Speakers Stress at Doha Conference Round Table
DOHA, 8 March — International solidarity is the first line of defence for transitioning from a pandemic-prone world to a pandemic-proof one, speakers at the sixth high-level thematic round table agreed as the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries began its penultimate day.
Opening the meeting was Siaosi Sovaleni, Prime Minister of Tonga, which he described as the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate disasters. Recalling the volcanic eruptions that took place in his country in January 2022, he said they were among the most explosive eruptions of recent years. Two weeks after, the country encountered its first community case of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a substantial cost to the economy, especially the key sector of tourism, Tonga had to shut down its economy immediately. His Government’s priority in the immediate future is building national resilience, he said, adding that this is vital to tackle current and future global pandemics, as well as climate change. Calling on the international community to strengthen partnerships, he reaffirmed solidarity with all least developed countries in the shared effort to reduce vulnerability to economic and environmental shocks. Stressing the importance of full, speedy and effective implementation of the Doha Programme of Action, he said that the global community must make significant investments in its six priority areas.
Nthomeng Majara, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of Lesotho, said that least developed countries are at the forefront of so many different challenges, from the climate emergency to the debt crisis. Sustainable recovery, access to vaccines and enhanced disaster mitigation capacities are crucial to ensure the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. Noting that many States are in “double jeopardy status”, she pointed to her country’s unique structural challenge — Lesotho is located inside a bigger country, which makes it harder for it to participate in regional and international trade, a key economic driver. Noting the closure of businesses during the pandemic and the decrease in agricultural production, she pointed to the resulting food insecurity and high inflation in her country. Lesotho is harnessing its resources, including water, land, sun and wind in order to advance renewable energy, she said, also noting that the country is a source for high-quality diamonds. Further, Lesotho will champion good governance and accountability, she pledged.
Titled “Sustainable recovery from the pandemic and building the resilience of least developed countries against future shock”, the round table featured a keynote address by Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction in the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. “All of us here would like nothing better than seeing all 46 least developed countries graduate,” she said, noting that the ability to learn from mistakes and build back better is ingrained in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. While “build back better” became a popular slogan, countries seem to prefer to build back the same, she said.
How countries organize themselves to assess risk is crucial, she stressed, noting that pre-pandemic, each ministry had its own risk assessment strategy. But as the pandemic became global, many countries found this traditional approach inadequate. Temporary governance structures were established to coordinate all relevant ministries — a whole-of-government approach. This model needs to be widely replicated, she said, pointing out that while Governments work in silos, disasters do not. Many least developed countries are in a good position to adopt this approach because they are already on a path of change. Also stressing the importance of early warning systems, she highlighted the crucial role of data in informing risk reduction plans.
The panellists for the round table were Phonevanh Outhavong, Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Rabia Ferroukhi, Director of Knowledge, Policy and Finance Centre of the International Renewable Energy Agency.
Ms. Outhavong highlighted the importance of responsive national planning in moving beyond crises. Noting the severe consequences of the pandemic on her country’s economy, she said children, women and vulnerable populations were particularly affected by the learning loss and economic damage. The Government’s inability to finance social sectors was aggravated by more recent global crises that resulted in food and fuel shortages. The country is now developing a resilient framework, which emphasizes early action and recovery, as well as income-generating activities. Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s development pathway remains uneasy, she said, noting that translation of new priorities into sectoral and provincial plans is slow. Further development partners need to realign with national priorities, she stressed, pointing to the increased need for official development assistance (ODA).
Ms. Ferroukhi, noting that her organization is engaged in 167 countries, said that access to affordable and environmentally sustainable energy is key to economic growth and public services. Least developed countries face significant energy deficits and high energy costs, yet they receive an extremely small share of renewable energy investments. Citing her organization’s work in translating the socioeconomic impact of renewable energy investments in the African subcontinent, she said that cleaner energy pathways would generate higher gross domestic product (GDP) and jobs. While there has been some targeted renewable energy investing, oil-based power generation capacity has risen alarmingly in many least developed countries, she said. Eight hundred ninety million people do not have clean cooking access, she noted, adding that women and children bear the disproportionate burden of the health costs of this. Emphasizing the importance of a holistic policy framework that considers industry, education and local value chains, she also stressed the need for funding flows from the global North to global South, not as charity, but as a historic moral obligation.
The round table then turned to its lead discussant, Yero Baldeh, Director of the Transition States Coordination Department of the African Development Bank.
Mr. Baldeh said his Bank has always prioritized least developed countries, adapting its financial instruments accordingly. The African Development Fund was established one year after the least developed country category was created. A transitional support facility was launched for countries that are lagging behind because many of them face conflict situations and structural weaknesses. The Bank’s engagement is focused on catalysing private investment while building resilience, he said, adding that it is working to leverage entrepreneurship and technological innovation. Emergency interventions and long-term approaches to development are equally crucial in this context, he said, adding that the Bank has always stood by least developed countries in the direst situations. Noting its work to ensure food security in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, he said that regional integration and cooperation is key. Expressing support for the African Continental Free Trade Area, he added that it will not only stimulate trade but will also help stabilize the continent politically.
When the floor opened, many Heads of State, ministers and delegates stressed the need to build resilience into the multilateral health architecture. Amidst calls for universal health coverage as a foundational element of social welfare, speakers also pointed to the need for robust food systems that can guarantee equitable access to safe and healthy food for all.
Support also emerged for the establishment of a technology bank for least developed countries to ensure a transition away from fossil-fuel-based economies to renewable energy.
Lee Do-hoon, Second Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, noting lessons learned from the global response to the pandemic, said that depending on national capacity, countries responded very differently. Therefore, it is crucial to invest in capacity-building and social protection. Crises always impact the most marginalized, he said, also recalling inspiring examples of international collaboration, including the development of vaccines in record time.
Andeberhan Tesfazion, Director-General of Public Health of Eritrea, said his Government adopted a whole-of-society approach in the wake of the pandemic. All expenses were covered so that everyone was able to avail themselves of treatment. International fundraising campaigns were vital to this initiative, he said, adding that the United Nations must help build country-owned pandemic response plans that are appropriately budgeted.
Heidi Rombouts, Director-General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid of Belgium, stressing that health was a global common good, said that future crisis interventions must be co-governed by all impacted countries, including least developed ones. Underscoring the need to restructure the health markets, she called for an ambitious international framework to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics.
Mustafa Boutoura, representative of Algeria, said that heavy debt burdens prevent many least developed countries from adequately responding to their development needs, including pandemic recovery. Also pointing to the imbalances in financial markets and the flight of capital from developing countries, he called for diversification of sources of funding and the reconstruction of food supply chains.
The round table was also an opportunity for civil society speakers from least developed countries to report on their work on the ground.
Adulai Barry from InnovaLab pointed to the “active and connected” youth population of Guinea-Bissau, 90 per cent of which is online, despite difficulties with connectivity and electricity. Young entrepreneurs in least developed countries need a supportive environment that provides them with the tools to diversify the economy and create jobs. Highlighting his organization’s work in digital microfinancing, he called for the creation of a fund to support its replication in other local contexts.
The speaker from the Arab NGO Network for Development, highlighted the instability and insecurity in Yemen, noting that the health sector has been deeply affected. Official numbers on pandemic-related infections and deaths do not reflect reality on the ground because reporting is not enough, she said, stressing the need to build data systems and train health workers.
Responding, Ms. Outhavong reaffirmed her country’s commitment to implementing the Doha Programme of Action and wished everyone a Happy International Women’s Day.
Ms. Ferroukhi said that after decades of development discussions, the current conversation about reforming the international financial architecture feels very hopeful. The growth models adopted over the past century have shown their limits for sustainability and development, she said, adding that the world needs a new economic order that ensures that today’s winners are not the only winners.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Outhavong stressed the importance of more accessible financial instruments and a policy framework for a just and inclusive transition. All partners should come forward and scale up their support, she said.
Mr. Sovaleni thanked all participants and, pointing to many recent natural disasters, cautioned that the climate crisis will undermine all efforts to recover from the pandemic. He said climate adaptation measures must be embedded into national plans.
Also speaking were ministers and delegates of Tuvalu, United Republic of Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Canada, Indonesia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Burundi and Côte d’Ivoire.
A representative of the International Organization for Migration also spoke.