COVID-19: We Need to Fight this Crisis Together

April 16, 2020

Steliana Nedera, UNDP Resident Representative in BiH

OpEd by: Steliana Nedera

UNDP Resident Representative

Bosnia and Herzegovina

 The COVID-19 pandemic is not only an unprecedented health crisis.

Around the world, we see businesses put on hold, jobs lost, spikes in poverty, raise in domestic violence, and many other signs that this crisis is also a humanitarian and a development one, a crisis threatening to leave deep social and economic scars in the years to come, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable individuals, groups and countries.

UNDP has a long experience with response and recovery from various crises. Resilience to disasters is a prominent part of our programme in every country we work in. But COVID-19 is different in that its’ timeframe is open-ended and it has a global impact. Our first response at UNDP was to prepare ourselves to work in these new conditions and to offer our immediate support to our partners, mobilizing all our capabilities to respond to this unprecedented challenge. As of mid-March, UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina transitioned to work using digital platforms. While asking our staff to work as much as possible from home, and respect social distance and protection measures, we gave them the tools to continue work effectively. We have changed organizational policies and procedures for greater agility, increasing our flexibility to receive and manage financial resources for the response. It is a completely new way of working for us, but we adapted to it and I believe it will give us good experiences for the future.

Recognizing that COVID-19 is more than a health crisis, UNDP globally organized its response in three streams of work: The first is supporting countries to strengthen their health systems to respond to COVID-19, which includes the procurement of health products and medical supplies, rapidly supporting health infrastructure, management of health waste and other activities as needed. Second, UNDP aims to build up a whole-of-society response, by mobilizing its entire portfolio in the country to support addressing the negative impact of the crisis. Third, UNDP focuses on addressing the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and safeguarding progress towards achieving the SDGs, including addressing stigma and discrimination arising from its spread and supporting marginalized people and vulnerable populations. Collaboration with the private sector and our investment in innovation and digital development is critical for our work. Globally, UNDP launched an internal COVID-19 Rapid Response Facility, funded by existing resources and capitalized with an initial US$20 million. UNDP BiH obtained from this facility $230,000 for initial support activities, disbursed through a fast-track mechanism. It helped us launch a rapid economic impact assessment, which will help us adapt our economic project portfolio.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina UNDP works as part of the UN joint efforts, in close collaboration and under the substantive guidance of WHO. Following UNDP global response, Firstly, we support medical procurement, with funds allocated by the European Union, Government of Norway, and Government of Switzerland. We also support procurement for cantons and local self-governments. It is important to note that, because this is a global crisis, the demand for similar medical supplies and equipment has grown exponentially, and the global supply is constrained by limited capacity, and restrictions in trade and transport. Thus delivery of medical supplies procured with UNDP BiH support is going to be gradual, most of it in April and May 2020.

Second, UNDP is already working to understand the economic and social impacts of the crisis, and to find ways to mitigate them with sustainable, resilient and rights-based solutions crafted with the public and private sectors. This leverages our capacity on innovation, digital solutions, social inclusion, job creation and economic recovery and builds on our presence in 80% of cities and municipalities across Bosnia and Herzegovina. UNDP ’s Accelerator Lab intends to conduct qualitative and quantitative analysis and find ways to capture the real-time “pulse” of the economy through a series of micro assessments and data-gathering, which will be fed into a public and open data dashboard available for use by all interested stakeholders, as a business-policy interface supporting  post-crisis economic recovery.

The crisis we are facing is at the same time a window of opportunity to support governments, society and the private sector tap into innovative and technology-based solutions. Examples include scaling up digital solutions for health care, for public services, and other ideas which are being submitted right now through “covIDEJA2020” digital ideathon we launched with the BIT Alliance.

UNDP already supports selected companies that repurposed to produce personal protective equipment and materials necessary to fight COVID-19, such as “Jusri” Goražde, Kotex d.o.o. Tešanj and Prevent. We intend to engage with more companies from different sectors that are affected by COVID-19 and help them transition to e-business/e-commerce, digital economy and/or re-invent their business models towards greener and circular economy.

We rely on existing communal infrastructures and networks in assessing the impact on citizens and will use the findings for rapid response to all in need with the focus on the most vulnerable. We aim to have an uninterrupted dialogue with local authorities and partners on support to communities using available project resources and other contributions.

At this moment, everywhere around the world the highest priority is saving lives. We need to support the health workers, but we also need to be aware of the needs of workers in essential sectors, who work tirelessly to maintain uninterrupted services. We recognize the important work of communities and volunteers to help those in need. We recognize the contribution of entrepreneurs and companies who continue working in these difficult circumstances. Everyone’s contribution is important. Fighting the spread of the virus requires joining forces and working together.

“Communities will never recover, jobs are forever lost and the future is bleak” – these were thoughts of many in the first days of the 2014 floods. Together, we proved them wrong. What we jointly achieved during recovery from floods assures us that we will come out this crisis more resilient and less prone to whatever the future may bring.