At the high-level event on financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Age of COVID-19 and beyond – as delivered
New York, September 29, 2020
Zeinab, thank you.
Excellencies, it has been a year of unpleasant surprises.
The virus itself, of course, took us by surprise.
Many were surprised by the severity of the global recession it brought about.
But we were not surprised that this recession hit hardest the fifty or so countries where some 100 million people already survive only thanks to the help they receive from humanitarian agencies like the ones I coordinate.
Some, however, were surprised at how quickly the damage was done.
As David Malpass has just said, for the first time since the 1990s, extreme poverty will increase. Life expectancy will drop. The annual number of deaths from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria is expected to double. The number of people at risk of starvation could also double.
The carnage is concentrated in the most vulnerable countries.
As the new report from goaltenders Bill and Melinda Gates indicates, the past 25 weeks threaten to destroy 25 years of developmental progress.
It is worth remembering what many poor countries looked like 25 years ago. I was working in a country where a quarter of children never saw their fifth birthday, most never went to school, and one in 18 women died in childbirth. Do we really want to get it all back?
All the more surprising, then, that while richer countries have rightly rejected the rules for injecting liquidity and budget support into their own economies to protect their own citizens, they have done so little to protect countries. the poorest – who don’t have the capacity, resources or access to markets to do the same.
It’s surprising at first since everyone knows what to do. Many of the actions needed, especially to mobilize international financial institutions to help the most vulnerable countries, were taken as recently as the 2008-09 financial crisis.
This is surprising in the second place because much of what needs to happen would cost the better-off countries very little in budgetary terms, especially in the short term.
And third, it’s surprising that the richer countries don’t take action now is not just a failure of generosity or empathy. It is an act of self-harm. Like the virus, the problems that will be created by the huge economic contraction we are witnessing will come back to bite everyone. All around the world.
All the poverty, hunger, disease and suffering will fuel grievances and despair. And in their wake will come conflict, instability, migration and refugee flows, all providing relief to extremist and terrorist groups.
The consequences will be far away and will last a long time.
And no one will be able to say that he was surprised by it.
So let’s surprise ourselves in a positive sense.
Let’s take the obvious, inexpensive, self-interested and generous steps to mitigate all of this now.
Protect aid budgets, expand and expand debt relief as Kristalina said, beyond the debt service suspension initiative, issue SDRs and devote them to the poorest countries, and use the balance sheets of shared financial institutions more aggressively to protect the most vulnerable.
Thank you very much.