An integrated global response is an investment in our future


The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two.

The virus has infected more than 230 million people and continues to evolve and spread. We are now approaching the tragic milestone of 5 million deaths, and the human family is suffering under an almost intolerable burden of loss.

The climbing death toll is staggering, and we must work together to slow the spread of this virus.

- UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner

The pandemic is also a devastating socio-economic crisis. Stressing every one of the countries it touches, it is laying the groundwork for social, economic and political ramifications that could leave deep and long-lasting scars.

The World Bank says 97 million people were pushed into poverty in 2020, an unprecedented increase.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 205 million people will be unemployed in 2022, up from 187 million on 2019.

UNDP response


Drawing on our experience with Ebola, HIV, SARS, TB and malaria, as well as our long history of working with the private and public sectors, UNDP is leading the UN’s socio-economic response to COVID-19 as part of its mission to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and build resilience to crises and shocks.

Although the pandemic has shown stories of great ingenuity and logistical expertise – vaccines were developed and are being distributed in record time, and more than 6 billion doses have been administered—it has exacerbated existing inequalities and exposed deep divisions that will take an enormous toll on societies and economies.

The Global Dashboard for COVID-19 Vaccine Equity, a joint initiative of UNDP, WHO and the University of Oxford, has found that inequality is a risk to full economic recovery and that low-income countries would add US$38 billion to their 2021 GDP forecast if they had the same vaccination rates as rich countries.

We are leading calls for a Temporary Basic Income to help the world’s poorest women cope with the on-going economic effects of the pandemic and prevent rising female inequality.

Together we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19.

- UN Secretary-General António Guterres

COVID-19 has also created a ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence, which has risen in what UN Secretary-General António Gutteres has described as a “horrifying global surge”.

UNDP’s gender dashboard looks at the many interconnected ways the pandemic has made life harder for women – from disproportionate economic, health and social risks to a greater burden of unpaid care and housework. It aims to provide information not only to rectify long-standing inequalities but also to build a more gender equal world.

UNDP has also revealed what the world stands to gain from more female leadership. Our joint report with the University of Pittsburgh shows that the blocks to women’s paths to power are undermining the pandemic response. The first in-depth research into the issue – which surveyed 170 countries – finds that despite demonstrated competence by women leaders, they continue to be blocked from positions at the highest levels of power and influence.

The pandemic has exposed just how deeply the digital divide hurts those who don’t have reliable internet and how much work is needed to ensure that opportunities for work, education and public services reach everybody.

Our response is designed to help decision-makers look beyond recovery, towards 2030, making choices and managing complexity and uncertainty in four main areas: governance, social protection, the green economy and digital disruption.

UNDP is working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health piloting smart robots as part of the COVID-19 response.

The pandemic has put young people in Bangladesh under great strain as they struggle with job losses and lack of opportunities due to the digital divide. UNDP is working on projects to promote online learning and create jobs, particularly for women and girls and those in lower income communities.

The Government of China and UNDP are working with the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund in Lebanon to promote socio-economic recovery for women and young people promoting sustainable livelihoods and business opportunities.

Women’s cooperatives in Turkey are getting wide-ranging technical support as they take their businesses online.

And UNDP has made an investment in the futures of Jamaican school children with new virtual learning spaces and equipment.

A vendor sells decorations for Vesak festival, a typically huge tourist attraction, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of many countries heavily reliant on tourism and is severely affected by the halt of tourist travel. Economic diversification for socioeconomic and strategic reasons is a must, going forward.

Photo: Ruwan Walpola/Shutterstock

We must rebuild trust and cooperation, within and among nations, and between people and their governments.

UNDP’s support will also help ensure that the responses of individual countries are comprehensive as well as equitable and inclusive, so that no one is left out and countries can continue to make progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

While we do this, we must also consider ways to prevent a similar pandemic recurring. UNDP will look at ways to help countries to better prevent and manage such crises in the future and ensure that the world makes full use of what we are learning from this one.