Five pillars for building forward better after COVID-19

September 2, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, but governments should already be planning to “build forward better” and ensure speedy recovery from the crisis. In Ukraine this work has already  started.

What does “building forward better” actually mean for a country like Ukraine, which has been grappling with serious political, environmental, economic and security challenges prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus?

Essentially, it means ensuring the recovery from the pandemic is based on solid and sustainable foundations, so that development gains are not lost by future crises and steady progress is not hampered by disruptive challenges such as climate change, migration and inequalities.  With a future climate crisis looming, the entire world needs to be prepared to meet sudden emergencies, which, although they might not be global, could strike anywhere at any time. These could include droughts, floods, crop failure, widespread forest fires and shortage of drinking water.

As each country’s development trajectory is unique, building forward better after COVID-19 will be specific to each local context. Here are the five pillars we at the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine see as important – and indeed critical – to ensuring the country is stronger, more sustainable and more resilient in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

1.      Make the recovery people-centred

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed inequalities in societies around the world. In Ukraine, the crisis has impacted people differently in terms of their gender (women, especially those in lower paid, retail sector jobs have been disproportionally affected), economic status (those in higher-paid “desk jobs” can work remotely, while those in lower-paid more manual types of employment have in many cases lost jobs or been laid off), and location (people living in urban areas tend to have much better Internet coverage, access to state services, transport, and employment prospects than those in rural areas). Restrictive public health measures, including stay-at-home orders or lockdowns, are increasing exposure to gender-based violence, particularly intimate-partner violence and other forms of domestic violence.

By making policies more people-centred, governments can give greater attention to reducing the inequalities that COVID-19 has exacerbated. The focus should not just be only on economic recovery. High priority should be put on issues such as the wage gap between men and women, disparities in digital literacy and access to technologies between age groups, and equal access for all social groups to quality health care and information, which will ensure that recovery efforts are both sustainable, and equitable.

For instance, UNDP is supporting local authorities during the pandemic to provide access to credible, evidence-based information on COVID-19. UNDP also is collaborating with the Office of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society organizations to protect the rights of those most at risk being left behind – people in care homes, former prisoners, Roma people, the elderly, people with disabilities, and women.  

Another good practice began long before the coronavirus outbreak, when UNDP in Ukraine worked to channel the innovative spirit of young people to strengthen democracy and promote human rights in local communities.  This initiative, called the Youth Innovation Challenge U-Inn, empowered young people to participate in decision-making at all levels of civic life.

2.      Further leverage the benefits of digital transformation

While the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly set back progress in many areas of development around the world, it has sparked accelerated development in others – especially in the area of digitalization, remote work and access to online services. UNDP and the Government of Ukraine were working on closing the digital divide in the country before the pandemic, with UNDP’s Accelerator Lab mapping innovative solutions to address the challenge. With the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, this work was given increased relevant and importance.

Modern technology has made it possible for many people to continue working remotely, which has lessened the economic impacts of anti-pandemic measures such as lockdown and physical distancing. Ukrainians are also now more used to obtaining goods, services and education online, which will boost the Internet-based economy in the future. Some of the solutions extensively used during the pandemic, like providing training and awareness raising online, should be continued and expanded post-pandemic to improve service provision to physically isolated groups (such as people living in rural areas) and socially isolated groups (such as the elderly, ethnic minorities, and so on.)  Meanwhile, it is crucially important to ensure the introduction of new digital services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic do not lead to increased inequalities caused by lack of a digital literacy or access to new technologies.

UNDP is investing in several streams of citizen-oriented digitalization products, under the broad categories of governance, social protection, and the sustainable or green economy. Some of the projects include the development of smartphone applications for responsive and efficient service provision, tools to provide the public with access to municipal budgetary data or tools for legal aid aimed at those affected by the ongoing armed conflict in the east of the country.

With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, UNDP in Ukraine rapidly switched gears and supported a number of innovative digitalization initiatives, in close collaboration and partnership with the Ministry for Digital Transformation.  One of these experiments, the #HackCorona Challenge, engaged IT experts, civic activists, start-ups, and journalists in developing ideas for innovative IT-projects to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, UNDP is continuing to design mobile applications that provide administrative services in the east, to develop a business platform for small and medium enterprises, and to work on many other initiatives – all with the aim of supporting the Government in its digital transformation endeavour, while seeking to ensure that no one is left behind.

3.      Continue investing in enhancing energy-efficient in public and private buildings sector,  and developing a resilient and sustainable urban infrastructure

The COVID-19 pandemic, having confined people to their homes for long periods of time, has exposed grave inequalities in Ukraine’s housing sector. Those most affected by layoffs caused by the quarantine restrictions are usually low paid workers, who are performing manual jobs that are difficult to do remotely. Usually they live in low-quality housing, with poor energy efficiency. UNDP’s “Home Owners of Ukraine for Sustainable Energy Solutions (HOUSES)” project is addressing these challenges, by mobilizing Ukrainian homeowners and motivating them to improve energy efficiency in the buildings where they live. At the local level throughout the country, the project supports the creation and develops the capacity of newly created and existing Home Owners Associations (HOAs), which are intended to manage common property. The project helps HOAs develop energy efficiency improvements projects and apply for financing to the newly established Ukrainian Energy Efficiency Fund. In some of these HOAs, residents have taken the initiative to embark on  innovative projects that make life easier for those experiencing the stress of isolation. These projects include special exercise areas for the elderly and people with disabilities, as well as community gardens.

In the wider urban environment, Ukraine has to make its cities more liveable, less polluted, more environmentally friendly, and more sustainable. UNDP’s Accelerator Lab is leading the way in looking for nature-inspired solutions to the problems of Ukraine’s cities – from tackling noise and air pollution, to reducing flooding risks and improving access to green spaces.

4.      Invest in low-carbon energy solutions

The coronavirus pandemic and the resultant steep fall in economic activity has had at least one major benefit – a dramatic reduction in air pollution (from fewer cars on city streets, closure of some production facilities, halt of air traffic, etc. ) and lower emissions of greenhouse gasses (from reduced energy production and industrial emissions.) However, unless decisions are made to accelerate the de-carbonization of the world economy, these indicators will return to their levels prior to the pandemic once lockdowns measures are eased and economies around the world rebound. To ensure that more progress is made on reducing climate-damaging emissions, governments should redouble efforts to spearhead “green” energy solutions and increase the share of renewables, such as wind, wave, and solar power, in the energy mix. In Ukraine, projects such as the Solar Town in the city of Slavutych are showing the way forward for generating greener and cleaner energy in the future. Much more can be done, however, to both produce greener energy and ensure more efficient transmission from power source to the consumer.

5.      Prepare for future crises

During the pandemic, Ukraine and other countries have had to learn a great deal, in a small amount of time, about how to quickly react to an emerging crisis. Innovative solutions based on new technology have come to the fore, and pre-existing organizational structures have been employed to help in the COVID-19 response. UNDP has set up crisis coordination units with the government in order to provide a robust response to the ongoing crisis and support national efforts towards recovering forward better and greener.

However, Ukraine must remember the lessons learned during this pandemic to tackle future crises – which are certain to arise, especially amid the global climate emergency. The country must focus on making its institutions and infrastructure more resilient to shocks, and on putting its development on a sustainable path, in line with the UN’s Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Supporting Ukraine through Six Signature Solutions

We at UNDP will continue to work with the Government and people of Ukraine in a robust, integrated manner in all five of these areas to build forward better through our Six Signature Solutions. Working together with partners across the UN system, UNDP is implementing these Solutions through leveraging our strengths and expertise to help Ukraine accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

1.      Keep people out of poverty;

2.      Improve governance to make society peaceful, just and inclusive;

3.      Work on crisis prevention and resilience;

4.      Use nature-based solutions, and solutions in harmony with nature, for development;

5.      Invest in clean, affordable energy;

6.      Ensure women’s empowerment and gender equality.

In order to create a stable, sustainable country in which everyone, everywhere enjoys peace and prosperity, we must pursue the above interrelated solutions in a holistic and integrated manner.  Through continued focus on these  areas of building forward better (making the recovery people-centred; leveraging digitalization; increasing energy-efficient in housing sector; promoting low-carbon economy; and preparing for future crises) , we at UNDP Ukraine believe that the country will be well prepared to confront future crises collectively and with confidence while continuing to create a prosperous society where no Ukrainian is left behind.