Stress test: Big reforms to strengthen the UN’s global crisis response
18 May 2021
Three years and one pandemic later, how is it doing?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are perhaps the most ambitious undertaking for global peace and prosperity since the formation of the United Nations. Achieving the goals requires that the UN system work together within and across countries like never before.
To this end, in 2018, UN Member States agreed to a vision for a stronger UN development system. At the core of this vision was a revitalized system of Resident Coordinators (RCs) and UN teams.
A new report gives details on how these reforms have produced results for people and planet. In each area or “pillar” of work, the report shows how the UN development system has advanced the SDGs, including through COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
Pillar 1: Health First
The UN system mobilized to respond to the Ebola epidemic of 2014. This experience proved to be valuable preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic, when UN support enabled countries to maintain essential health services despite the sharp spike in demand for acute COVID-related care.
For example, the UN team in Kuwait provided nearly 24,000 food baskets to vulnerable groups and workers, 50,000 face masks, 20,000 surgical masks, 40,000 gloves, and 3,100 advocacy publications for families of people with disabilities.
During the pandemic, other health needs have still had to be addressed. UN Teams supported 142 million women with maternal health services, 73 million children with vaccinations, and 48 million children with nutrition programmes.
Pillar 2: Protecting people
The pandemic is, first and foremost, a public health crisis. But it has also had devastating effects on virtually every other area of life. UN teams have mobilized in countries in every corner of the globe to support governments in their efforts to protect basic services during the pandemic, thereby minimizing the number of people falling into poverty and helping people bounce back when the crisis subsides.
In these and other areas of life, UN teams worked hard to protect people from the secondary effects of the pandemic.
Pillar 3: Economic response and recovery
The economic fallout from the pandemic has hit certain sectors the hardest: small and medium-sized enterprises, farm workers, the self-employed, daily wage earners, informal-sector workers, refugees, and migrant workers.
Some UN teams have focused on protecting workers and hard-hit sectors. In 2020, UNCTs provided support to over 1.3 million formal-sector workers and over 580,000 informal-sector workers, as well as to some 375,000 companies — mostly micro, small, or medium-size enterprises. Support was also provided to 4.7 million people working in food supply.
Examples of UN teams work include support for universal unemployment insurance in Mexico, agroindustry and skills training in Guatemala, and digital technologies for stronger social safety nets in Iran and many other countries.
Pillar 4: Macroeconomic response and multilateral collaboration
The pandemic has triggered the worst global economic recession in 90 years. A catastrophe of this scale calls for a response of the same scale. For the UN, that has meant working closely with partners and supporting a macroeconomic response that addresses the pandemic as a whole.
In such countries as Cabo Verde, Lesotho and Mongolia, UN teams developed Socioeconomic Response Plans, which supported countries in creating a COVID-19 financing response.
Around the world, many UN teams have supported COVID-19 socioeconomic impact assessments, which then informed government policy. For example, informed by such assessments, 53 countries have implemented policies on socioeconomic policy, 50 on social protection, and 47 on women’s empowerment.
This work is technical and policy-oriented, but the results are all about people: countries are better able to address the needs of some of their most vulnerable residents.
Pillar 5: Social cohesion and community resilience
The pandemic has strained societies around the globe, magnifying existing fault lines and creating new ones.
In response, UN teams, under the technical lead of the International Labour Organization (ILO), helped facilitate over 1,000 national and over 500 sub-national dialogues for employers and business organizations as well as trade unions on how to respond to the pandemic and the increase in domestic violence, racism, xenophobia, stigma, and other forms of discrimination, and how to prevent and remedy human rights abuses.
Those benefitting have included nearly 3,000 employers and business organizations, and over 300 trade unions.
In addition, UN teams have provided support to over 25,000 community and civil-society organizations, including 2,800 that focus on indigenous people; 7,200 that focus on youth, and 2,700 focusing on fragile settings.
A vision for the future
The pandemic continues on its deadly march around the world. At the same time, the UN development system is growing stronger step by step, country by country. In this way, the United Nations may do its best to realize the vision of greater peace and freedom—articulated in the UN Charter and renewed in the SDGs—come what may.