Cooperation and Interdependence in the COVID-19 Crisis: UNDP's Role

August 18, 2020

Image: Nizami Ganjavi International Center

This article was first published in the June-July issue of the Global Policy Analysis of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center.

Three weeks ago, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner delivered a keynote speech at a global forum on the response of governments to COVID-19 organised by the Government of Azerbaijan (ASAN).

One of Mr. Steiner's key messages was that the way we manage these next few weeks and months could determine a very different set of futures.

One of the first tests of our wisdom and capacity to get through this pandemic, he stressed, is whether we can prove our-selves able to overcome our differences and prioritise cooperation above all else. It has never been so clear, in all the 75 years of the UN's history, that acting together is the strongest foundation for securing a better future — as it is for escaping this pandemic.

History has shown that global crises can strengthen global cooperation. The birth of the League of Nations after the First World War is one example; the birth of the United Nations after World War Two is another.

COVID-19 has highlighted how inter-dependent we are, how nation-states, in spite of efforts to react alone, found that an effective response was dependent on information, expertise or equipment that came from outside of their borders.

Other global challenges such as climate change, geopolitical considerations or cybercrime require the same global response. And we depend one another on multiple dimensions.

And yet it is not only a matter of con-fronting shared threats: it is also about seizing common opportunities.

We now have the opportunity to build back better than in the past, prioritising the development of more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies.

Take the opportunities offered by the un-precedented development of digital technologies, for instance, and the acceleration we have seen in the adoption of those technologies during the lockdowns. Digital technology allows us to stay connected in spite of physical distancing. Each of our computers or phones has components from different countries. And we can make this connection thanks to the existence of global markets and global trade agreements.

It is also an opportunity for international development financing. Look at the unprecedented volume of financing that countries have pledged in their domestic stimulus and recovery plans.

The world has seen many crises over the past 30 years (including the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09). Each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year.

COVID-19 - with its triple hit to health, education, and income - may change this trend.

The combined impact of these shocks could signify the largest reversal in human development on record.

For example, with school closures, UNDP estimates of the "effective out-of-school rate—the percentage of primary school-age children — indicate that 60 per cent of children are not getting an education, leading to global levels not seen since the 1980s.

Developing countries could lose at least US $220 billion in income, which translates into 195 million jobs lost worldwide according to ILO, closed factories, and stretched governments in some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries.

And countries already in crisis because of conflicts, natural disasters, and climate change are most at risk.

In this crisis, it has become clearer than ever that lives will be lost or saved depending on the support of international organisations and how well we cooperate across borders.

UNDP's role during the pandemic

Working in close coordination with the UN family in over 170 countries and territories, UNDP has been helping countries to pre-pare for, respond to and recover from the pandemic, focusing particularly on the most vulnerable.

We are pooling resources to spearhead smart solutions for improving public services and ensuring equal access to these services.

We are advocating for post-coronavirus stimulus packages to shift economics away from oil dependence to a greener future.

Good governance is prioritised to make societies more open, inclusive and efficient, with higher levels of resilience at individual and institutional levels.

As the UN's lead agency on socio-economic recovery, UNDP is now conducting socio-economic assessments in over 120 countries to ensure that all plans in response to the pandemic take into account the needs of the most vulnerable.

UNDP Azerbaijan has been working closely with the Government and the global United Nations family to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since moving to teleworking from mid-March, we have con-tinued operating at full capactly and have rapidly repurposed our operations and projects to support national efforts to combat the virus and mitigate the impacts, especially in the areas of healthcare, education and sup-port for the most vulnerable in society.

Since the outbreak began, we have been helping procure medical equipment to protect frontline healthcare workers. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, we have also developed and deployed a range of innovative digital solutions to tackle the pandemic, including e-healthcare improvements such as a coronavirus self-checker bot, telehealth Innovations, and an app to support doctors and nurses with the latest treatment protocols. These solutions are not only helping prevent infection but are setting a model for public healthcare in the future.

To support efforts to combat misinformation about the virus, we launched a WhatsApp bot to answer questions from the public about coronavirus, providing up-to-date and reliable information 24 hours a day. The bot can cover up to 1 million users at the same time and answers any user request in less than a second.

In the area of education, UNDP helped introduce e-education for people with disabilities, women in rural areas, students and farmers, with courses available through TV broadcasts, the Internet and WhatsApp.

In the area of e-business, in partnership with the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies, UNDP has launched the country's first digital platform, mapping all of the e-services in the country - an innovation that is now being replicated by the Government of the Maldives.

We also launched Azerbaijan's first global hackathon to crowdsource innovative ideas to support local economies, attracting six hundred people from 40 countries. Amongst the winning ideas was a COVID-19 test based on zebrafish - a test that may help hospitals in Brazil to relieve the burden on their country's healthcare system. This is just one small success that shows how much can be achieved when we realise that all of us are not only interconnected but interdependent.

Cooperation is what will define our ability to succeed or fail in tackling the set of common challenges we face in the 21st century.

UNDP is committed to continue helping the people of Azerbaijan throughout this pandemic and beyond, supporting efforts to cope in times of crisis and building resilience for a safer future.

Read the full issue of the Global Policy Analysis here.