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UNA-NCA FollowOct 30 · 4 min read

By Ulrika Modeer, Assistant Secretary General and Director of Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, UNDP

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Ulrika Modeer serves as the Assistant Secretary-General and Director of Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy at the UN Development Programme. This blog is adapted from Ms. Modeer’s keynote address at the 2020 United Nations Day Virtual Celebration, hosted by the UNA-National Capital Area, marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

The ongoing pandemic has taught us many lessons. Above all, it’s laid bare vast inequities and unsustainable practices that can be solved only through concerted action from all of us. Civil society organizations such as United Nations Associations globally are playing a more vital role now than ever in raising awareness, galvanizing action, and showing what’s possible when we work together for the global good — and fight to build back better, stronger, and greener from this dark and difficult time.

On behalf of the United Nations and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), where I serve as Assistant Secretary-General and Director for External Relations and Advocacy, thank you. You are the wind in our sails, and your efforts are vital in building the future we want and need — a future that safeguards people everywhere and preserves the planet we share.

In the last 30 years, we have made great advances in development. More than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990 with major gains in health, education, and other areas that contribute to human well-being. Global maternal mortality fell 38 percent from 2000–2017. Fewer girls are forced into early marriage. More than 1 billion people have acquired electricity since 2010.

Even before the pandemic, though, and five years into our work to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world wasn’t on track to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Inequality has surged within and among countries. The number of people suffering from hunger and food insecurity has continued to rise. And we remain at a dangerous tipping point in the fight to stop global warming, despite increasingly brutal, frequent reminders of the devastation and suffering these warmer temperatures and related extreme weather events can cause.

But in every crisis, we can find opportunities.

Getting back to “normal” after the pandemic simply isn’t possible, nor is it desirable. “Normal” got us where we are today — moving too slowly toward the SDGs, plundering our natural resources, and failing — in far too many instances — to protect the most vulnerable among with even basic services such as clean water and social safety nets, let alone the opportunity to live with dignity and achieve their potential.

COVID-19 is now forcing us to revisit our values and redesign development in ways that balance economic, social, and environmental progress, as envisaged by the globally agreed SDGs. You might say the pandemic has given us permission to do what had been almost unthinkable — to revise the way we work in ways that take us farther and faster to achieve the Global Goals. COVID-19 recovery measures provide an unprecedented opportunity to restructure economies to be more equitable, resilient, and sustainable.

The Secretary-General has tasked UNDP to lead the UN system’s development response to the current crises, beyond recovery, towards 2030 — and turn the greatest reversal of human development in a generation into an historic leap forward, with the SDGs as our compass. At the country level, around the world, UNDP is leading the UN socio-economic response. We are helping countries identify and analyze their needs and working across the UN system to provide immediate aid to fragile and underfunded health systems and put in place programs to aid those most vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic.

Once politically unimaginable, we now advocate with businesses and governments to establish temporary basic income schemes to help the millions of people globally who lack social insurance, informal and low-wage workers, women and young people, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities — those who have suffered most from virus and lost income as a result of measures to contain it.

We’re supporting small businesses in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where we found half such family-owned businesses could close in the next few months. In Ecuador, we’re crowdsourcing to connect the most vulnerable with food, goods and services. In Afghanistan, we’re helping expand social protection for poor and vulnerable people. And in Nigeria, we’ve launched a COVID-19 Basket Fund, which helps deliver cash transfers and food to vulnerable groups. In scores of countries, we’re delivering essential health supplies and equipment and personal protective gear, getting educators and government workers online to sustain essential services, and leveraging artificial intelligence to keep citizens safe and secure.

In our UN Future We Want Survey — completed this year for the 75th anniversary of the United Nations — we gathered data from 186 countries and found that 95 percent of respondents wanted more cooperation among countries to tackle global issues. Climate change, pandemics, and financial crises, after all, don’t respect national boundaries. But around the world, we increasingly see even some developed, wealthy countries turning inward and limiting cooperation, just when we need it most.

And this is just one more reason we need you, United Nations Associations and citizens everywhere, to continue your work — fostering global citizenship, making the case for international engagement to build peace and preserve our planet, and reminding leaders everywhere that the vision and values of United Nations remain as relevant now as they were 75 years ago, when the world came together to save future generations from war, reaffirm the dignity and worth of every person, establish justice, and promote progress and freedom.

For your commitment to these goals and sustained work to achieve them, thank you.

Originally published in Click Here