The coronavirus pandemic is a wake-up call. It has exposed our weaknesses, shown us the vulnerabilities of globalization and the world as we know it. But it also highlights the opportunities for improvement. The current trajectory is unviable because it damages the planet, our very home. As we have gone into lock down or pause mode, we have seen pollution levels plummet to lowest levels in recent times and wildlife re-emerge.
COVID-19 underscores the importance of adopting a holistic approach to tackle a crisis with a broader developmental impact. It will be critical to understand the interconnectedness of development challenges and seek solutions through systemic change. In this regard, innovation has an important role to play, by seeking new ways of doing development and putting people at the centre to ensure that solutions are working, affordable and long-lasting.
The lockdown and working from home have taught us that digital technology can play a pivotal role to both enable business continuity and running of government matters, as well as reducing our carbon consumption. By adopting digital platforms we can get better results without incurring higher environmental penalties. Acknowledging that developing countries have a long way to go in this respect, this digital transformation coupled with innovation will provide tremendous opportunities for retraining, new jobs, social entrepreneurs, public-private partnerships, and expansion of accessibility of internet connectivity to ensure that vulnerable people are not left behind.
With 70 percent of the population younger than 29, Pakistan’s vibrant youth are eager to engage with a dynamic, open mind to resolve problems and harness creativity to contribute to the shaping of a more equitable and prosperous society, while also addressing climate change. UNDP’s National Human Development Report on Youth demonstrates the untapped capital of Pakistani youth and its tremendous potential. The Prime Minister’s Youth Programme, ‘Kamyab Jawan’, launched to capitalize on this, is an excellent start.
We also now have an opportunity to fully embrace the digital era for administering government institutions and improving public services. Pakistan is well positioned to do this from a technological perspective. What is required is the will to make this transformation happen. While there is no lack of capacity within the country, development partners can certainly help.
UNDP can support the transformation of state institutions and processes into an effective governance system with optimized political-institutional interaction among the executive branch, other powers of the state and civil society. As complex as governance can be, it is often shaped by bureaucratic inertia that is a drag on the certainty of the implementation of public policies and makes it impossible to reach the necessary agreements with speed and focus. This is typical in many overburdened and under-resourced public institutions and this is where UNDP’s global experience can help synchronize political vision, policy design, management action, institutional mechanisms, public engagement and tech-based systems.
UNDP’s network of Accelerator Labs exists to bring forth innovative solutions to recurrent development challenges in many ways; putting the users at the core of problem identification and solution design, as well as investing in locally developed and low-cost solutions that can be replicated for maximum coverage and impact. In Pakistan, UNDP supported Rehmatullah Kundi, an engineer in Gilgit-Baltistan, to develop a water pump which uses the water-hammer effects to lift water from lower elevations without electricity. The test was so successful that we supported its scale-up. There are now 400 households in 19 villages of Gilgit-Baltistan that have running water and which are irrigating 88.4 acres of land.
UNDP’s global presence allows us to learn from each other and connect problems to solutions through South-South cooperation. Rural villagers in Egypt have access to energy using animal manure to produce biogas. Egyptian entrepreneurs are manufacturing biogas burners and specially-trained masons are building biogas units thanks to a technology transfer facilitated by UNDP from India.
While COVID-19 is first and foremost a health crisis, it has a cascading effect on the economy and society. To address this in Pakistan, UNDP is coordinating a socio-economic impact assessment on behalf of the UN system. For this to yield its intended outcome, it is essential that the UN agencies see ourselves as elements of a single unit. Not only is this effective in pulling together the collective expertise of the UN, but it is also most helpful for the government to hear one UN voice. In doing so, it is equally important that we speak on behalf of the most vulnerable, who are likely to suffer most from this crisis, to advocate with the government and use our knowledge and evidence to influence decisions supportive of the marginalized. Meanwhile, our top objective will be to identify the situation of the youth in the socio-economic assessment, reflect their needs in the response to the COVID-19 crisis and then ensure of the youth’s engagement in its implementation.
The pandemic gives us permission to change. We can achieve this by advising governments and development partners to set up new frameworks that are more inclusive, people-centred and grounded on sustainable economic models.