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UNDP Global

In Yemen, UNDP is equipping COVID-19 isolation centers with solar energy panels, allowing the healthcare facilities to function even with the chronic lack of electricity in the country. Every corner of the world has been affected by the virus, underlining our interdependency and the need for a universal development agenda. Photo: UNDP Yemen


If anyone wasn’t convinced that human action, nature and economies are intimately connected – the COVID-19 pandemic has made that very clear.

In the past months, every corner of the world, from Peru to Pakistan, has been affected by the virus, underlining our interdependency and the need for a universal development agenda, as spelled out by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I’m one of the fortunate New Yorkers who have been able to work from home, while countless people have continued to operate at the frontlines of the pandemic as essential workers. At UNDP we’re supporting countries to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable so that we leave no one behind in tackling the ravages of COVID-19 and navigate uncertainties so that decisions made today contribute to a future that is green, resilient and inclusive.

We have witnessed unprecedented upheaval this year. In addition to seeing the biggest health crisis in modern times, the pandemic risks pushing half a billion people into poverty. About 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy, most of whom living in developing countries, stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed. Intimate partner violence is increasing. Plastic bags are making a comeback, and poaching and deforestation are surging because people lack other ways to make a living.

Our socio-economic impact assessments, based on findings from more than 60 countries and five regional reports, show that the poorest and most vulnerable are the least able to cope with the impacts, because the world was already on an unsustainable trajectory, with rampant inequalities.

The silver lining is that these challenges lay bare our unsustainable way of living, pushing countries and development organizations to re-design the contract between people and planet once and for all.

Good examples are emerging. In Ukraine, young people are innovative agents of change for sustainable development, helping to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. In Paraguay, private finance is connecting with the public COVID response through crowdsourcing campaigns and the region’s first SDG Bonds. And in Libya, public institutions and civil society are boosting capacities to deal with health, jobs and human rights impacts – on top of the pre-existing crises.

It’s clear that the unstainable world of 2019 is not one we want to go back to. At UNDP, we are aiming beyond recovery, towards 2030, to help create the sustainable future set out by the SDGs. Here are some of the issues we are focusing on:

1.      Any response to tackle the pandemic must be integrated, addressing the whole web of root causes and effects. Deforestation, wildlife trade, air pollution, quality of health systems, clean water, social protection, waste management, resilience of economies, and institutions’ capacity to deal with crises, are interconnected issues that played a role in the outbreak, or as effects, of COVID-19.

2.      Traditional development approaches are limited. Trying to contain issues in neat boxes and tackle them one by one doesn’t work. The traditional approach might be easier to plan and evaluate, but it has little to do with messy realities. We must learn as we go and go as we learn, creating solutions through iterative processes. Systemic design principles can help us here. My colleagues and I recently made some interesting findings as we applied this thinking in Serbia to reframe the challenge of depopulation, and in Uruguay to shift the economic base from extractives to knowledge.

3.      Some positives are emerging as the world has gone into lockdown. This is an opportunity for reflection and reconsideration of choices. Bike lanes are replacing traffic in Bogotá and Mexico City. Delhi and Bangkok are seeing blue skies again. And a recent Ipsos survey shows that there is ample public support for climate action in the aftermath of COVID-19, with two-thirds of adults in 14 countries supporting governments to prioritize climate change during the recovery.  

We would like you to join us: through UNDP’s newly launched engagement platform, SparkBlue, we will convene voices from around the world to find solutions for COVID recovery and beyond. And we just kicked off a campaign on Integrated SDG Solutions to share best practices and engage with you around COVID response and other complex challenges – watch this space #SDGintegration.




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