The world’s economies are crashing, and the coronavirus could double the number of people suffering from acute hunger. The pandemic is reinforcing global injustices and there is only one way forward – cooperation. Extrakt has spoken with the highest ranking Swede in the UN.

The corona pandemic could double the number of people suffering from acute hunger. This was the warning of the UN World Food Programme at the publication of the Global Report on Food Crises, a regular report on food crises around the world.

Although it is too early to say exactly how the pandemic will strike, there is no doubt about its consequences.

“When we talk to our Member States, we see economies in freefall. Some countries risk rolling back the clock in terms of their development. This is true for the entire global economy, and all countries are currently suffering from the economic crisis brought about by Covid-19. We are seeing negative GDP growth in all kinds of countries, in the poorest countries but even in countries like Nigeria, Brazil, Spain and Germany,” says Ulrika Modéer, director of the UNDP’s Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy.

Global aid, which is based on a percentage of countries’ gross national income (GNI), can thus be impacted by economic circumstances.

“There is a great risk that global aid will decline at a time when it’s needed the most. The pandemic clearly shows that we need to invest in increased international cooperation.”

Major problems of inequality

The pandemic should be viewed not only as a health and humanitarian crisis. As Modéer explains, it also exposes other shortcomings.

Ulrika Modéer from the UNDP. Photo: UNDP

“We have enormous problems of inequality. One example is the health care system, which is substandard in many countries, even in high-income countries like the United States.”

Even before the pandemic, inequality was evolving in the wrong direction both within and between countries.

“In 2019 we saw clear examples of how inequalities in society were not being accepted by the population, with protests in several countries.”

The latest Human Development Report addresses the issue of inequality. The report reveals that people do not have, or feel that they do not have, the same opportunities as previous generations and that they want to be able to do more beyond merely coping with their everyday lives.

And the current corona crisis has exacerbated inequality, Modéer says.

“We see this in a number of different areas throughout the world: the pandemic is fuelling more domestic violence and is preventing access to contraception and abortion.”

Working together for a sustainable future

She stresses that many people have shown solidarity during the crisis, citing cooperation between the public sector and civil society, but points out that there is fertile ground for disinformation and fake news.

But how do you reach out to refugee camps and other affected areas where the population is not necessarily literate?

“The availability of mobile phones has grown explosively even in many poor countries and we have new collaborative initiatives, such as with WhatsApp. These types of stakeholders have shown great interest. In China, we were early with providing translations into all minority languages, especially to groups that were already facing discrimination,” Modéer says.

“Leave no one behind” is one of the central tenets of the SDGs. Is it being complied with when many nations are closing their borders?

“No. I see huge risks for a world with widening divisions and political polarisation with signs of nationalism and populism. That’s why it’s so incredibly important for those sectors of society that see the potential of sustainable development to come together, so we can create solutions that will restore people’s faith in the future. Academia, the business community, civil society and politicians must act together for a sustainable future, where everyone’s rights are supported and where every individual can contribute based on their own abilities.”

National climate promises

What will happen to the 2020 climate issue?

“It was supposed to be the super-year for nature, but now climate negotiations and the development of a global strategic plan for biodiversity have been postponed. At UNDP, we are now working on national climate promises, our commitment to support 100 countries in achieving their nationally determined contributions. But we’re now up to 121.”

As the corona pandemic continues to claim lives, considerable resources are being put into curbing the crisis. What other areas must be top of mind during the pandemic?

“We’ve got to keep on investing and boosting the ability of countries to deal with this crisis; otherwise, we’ll be faced with this situation again. Continuing aid is of the essence.”