UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Thursday said tackling inequality, bridging the digital divide, greening the economy, and upholding human rights and good governance will be critical for Southeast Asia to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Secretary-General has released his latest policy brief on the crisis, which examines impacts on the 11 countries in the sub-region and recommendations for the way forward that put gender equality at the centre of response efforts.
“Thanks to swift and decisive action, Southeast Asia has been spared some of the suffering and upheaval seen elsewhere due to COVID-19. As in other parts of the world, the health, economic and political impact of COVID-19 has been significant across Southeast Asia – hitting the most vulnerable the hardest,” Guterres said in a video accompanying the launch.
Southeast Asia comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam.
Prior to the pandemic, countries were lagging behind in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline.
Despite strong economic growth, the policy brief reveals that the sub-region was beset by numerous challenges including high inequality, low social protection, a large informal sector, and a regression in peace, justice and robust institutions.
Furthermore, ecosystem damage, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions and air quality were at “worrying” levels.
“The pandemic has highlighted deep inequalities, shortfalls in governance and the imperative for a sustainable development pathway. And it has revealed new challenges, including to peace and security,” the Secretary-General said.
The current situation is leading to recession and social tensions, while several long-running conflicts have stagnated due to stalled political processes.
“All governments in the sub-region have supported my appeal for a global ceasefire – and I count on all countries in Southeast Asia to translate that commitment into meaningful change on the ground,” he added.
The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, and the pandemic was declared in March. Globally, there have been more than 16.5 million cases, with nearly 657,000 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Wednesday.
While the disease arrived in Southeast Asia earlier than in the rest of the globe, the UN chief commended governments for acting swiftly to battle the pandemic.
On average, they took 17 days to declare a state of emergency or lockdown after 50 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, according to the policy brief.
“Containment measures have spared Southeast Asia the degree of suffering and upheaval seen elsewhere,” said Mr. Guterres, who also praised cooperation among the countries.
The Secretary-General underlined four areas that will be critical to ensuring recovery from the pandemic leads to a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive future for Southeast Asia.
The first – tackling inequality in income, health care and social protection – will require short-term stimulus measures as well as long-term policy changes, he said.
Mr. Guterres also advised countries to bridge the digital divide so that no one is left behind in an ever-more-connected world.
Due to the over dependence on coal and other industries of the past, he encouraged “greening” the economy, including creating future jobs.
Upholding human rights, protecting civic space and promoting transparency are all intrinsic to an effective response, he concluded. (Source: UN News)