Equality, sustainability should guide COVID-19 recovery, say governments at regional forum

WFP/Morelia Eróstegui Indigenous women in Bolivia speak to a WFP official about the coronavirus pandemic and healthy nutrition. 

Countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region have called for COVID-19 recovery to be guided by the principles of inclusive development, equality and sustainability. 

Gathered virtually for the thirty-eighth session of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), top officials highlighted the multifaceted impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, which have exposed deep development gaps in the region. 

Solidarity ‘our only lifeline’ 

Addressing the session’s opening on Monday, via a video message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the importance of multilateralism and cooperation, in the face of the pandemic that has spared no country or person from its effects. 

“The pandemic marks a before and after, and it is sending a clear message to the world: solidarity is, today more than ever, our only lifeline,” he said, recalling his July report on the effects of the global crisis in the region. 

“In it, we analyzed multiple inequalities and vulnerabilities and highlighted the need for a profound change in the development model,” he added.  

ECLAC is the highest UN intergovernmental platform in the region to discuss pressing economic and social development issues. The central themes under discussion over the three-day session is recovery from the pandemic with equality and sustainability. 

Replace privilege with equality 

Also speaking on Monday, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, highlighted the importance of a “virtuous combination” of social, environmental and economic policies. 

The paper, Building a New Future: Transformative Recovery with Equality and Sustainability, to be unveiled on Tuesday, outlines the reasons, she continued. 

“With this document we set forth in black and white the urgent need for growth to support equality, and for equality to support growth,” said the head of ECLAC. 

“We propose to replace the culture of privilege with a culture of equality that guarantees rights, builds citizenship, and spreads capabilities and opportunities. New forms of global governance are needed to collectively provide global public goods, such as universal health care, climate security and protection of the atmosphere, financial stability, peace and human rights,” she added. 

Alarming figures 

According to the UN regional body, the Latin American and Caribbean economy could see a economic contraction of -9.1 per cent, and regional trade by -14 per cent. Unemployment is feared to increase, affecting 44 million people, and poverty rise could hit 45 million, severely impacting women, young people, indigenous, people of African descent and migrants. 

Against this backdrop, Ms. Bárcena outlined key proposals to connect the emergency with the recovery.  

These include expanding emergency basic income to cover the entire population living in poverty for 12 months; extending maturities and grace periods for loans to micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises; introducing a basic digital basket to support digital inclusion for the millions of households not connected; and adopting expansionary fiscal and monetary policies to sustain a longer period of spending with non-conventional domestic and international instruments. 

She also called for debt relief in the Caribbean and alleviating interest payments in Central America through subregional resilience funds; designing recovery and investment plans around dynamic sectors; and closing gaps to achieve universal health and social protection regimes.