Coronavirus recovery must deliver universal health insurance, safety nets: UNDP

Kathmandu, April 30

Governments must dramatically overhaul policies and invest in public health, economic stimulus, and social safety nets to help countries recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The economic report warns that a patchwork of pre-existing solutions won’t work and has pointed out that governments must coordinate with each other to hasten the recovery. This is a global crisis and working in silos is not an option, it says.

The report ‘Position Note on the Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Asia-Pacific’ has called on countries in the region to avoid returning to the pre-pandemic environmentally unsustainable development path, and to capitalise on the opportunity to build a better future.

It argues for a new human rights-based, just and fair social contract between governments and people, and advocates for social safety nets with a broader reach, universal health insurance, and affordable access to digital connectivity, as the new normal.

“While we must focus on the immediate needs of a health crisis, the accompanying economic and social crises also need urgent attention.

These feed on pre-pandemic vulnerabilities that will be a fire hard to contain, if not addressed together,” Kanni Wignaraja, UN assistant secretary-general and UNDP director of the regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific, has been quoted as saying in a media release.

“Bold proposals in this report address the multiple shocks together, by proposing a different set of choices today to build a different tomorrow.”

While both crises are exacting a huge human toll, with a heavy burden and crisis of care falling disproportionately on the shoulders of women, the report has called on governments and businesses to invest in building more sustainable and resilient supply chains and to foster circular and sharing economies, which will allow us to tread lighter on the environment and ecosystems.

The report has called for policies and actions that immediately strengthen health systems, to save lives and prevent the spread of the virus and advocates for the rapid expansion of social protection measures, to sustain incomes, especially for the most affected and vulnerable. Regular public communication of measures taken is a must to strengthen trust of people in government, the report adds.

Governments will need huge resources to bolster public health, for the economic stimulus, and for social safety nets, which will place an enormous strain on budgets.

To meet that challenge, the report has asked governments to revise priorities reflected in budget revenue, spending and financing.

“Budget revisions may be painful but are necessary, to meet this emergency and to contain fiscal deficits and surges in public debt, at manageable levels.”

Given the deeply interconnected nature of the world, the report has stressed that the twin global emergencies, the pandemic and the economic crisis, require a global response.

Global coordination and solidarity are needed to chart a shared sustainable and resilient development path, as no country will be able to pull this off on its own.

A key step is to collaboratively resolve the longstanding issue of so called ‘fiscal termites’ that undermine national budgets: Tax competition, tax evasion via transfer pricing and tax havens, large fossil fuel subsidies, and finding ways to tax the digital economy.

Further steps include restarting trade in goods, even as borders are closed for people — starting from essential goods such as medical supplies and food; and effectively coordinating the movement of stranded migrants and refugees.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on May 1, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.