Photo: Nino Zedginidze/UNDP

Warning that COVID-19 is as much a development crisis as a health crisis, the United Nations system has issued a roadmap aimed at helping countries protect people from the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic while enacting recovery plans that remedy the inequalities it has revealed.

The new UN Framework echoes the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals by calling on countries to ensure that the economic downturn and the interruption of social services caused by lockdown measures designed to halt the pandemic “leave no one behind,” especially the poor and other vulnerable groups.

Crucially, the new framework urges countries to “build back better” in the wake of the crisis. The pandemic has shown that the world’s traditional economic models are exhausted and unsustainable; the imperative now is to adjust development paths to embrace greener, fairer approaches that ensure that everyone enjoys full social protection and that environmental boundaries are respected to preserve the planet.

“We simply cannot return to where we were before COVID-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis,” explained UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “We need to build a better world.”

“It’s a kind of a fork in the road for every country,” noted Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “You have an opportunity either to invest in returning to yesterday’s economy or to invest into tomorrow’s economy.” Steiner emphasized the need to “insert the DNA of a low-carbon transition” into country recovery strategies to address the threat of climate change.

As the Georgian Government begins to ease restrictions on economic activities, attention has turned to the country’s post-crisis development agenda. “The primary goal for Georgia today is to save the lives of our citizens and to bring our economy back to life,” stated Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia. “We stand ready to look at lessons learned and refine our policies to ensure that as a society we emerge from this crisis more resilient than before.”

“Georgia’s response to the pandemic undoubtedly saved lives, and my prediction is that it will be studied in the future as a best practice,” said Louisa Vinton, UNDP Head in Georgia. “But, here as everywhere in the world, COVID-19 has also exposed social vulnerabilities and economic imbalances. UNDP therefore welcomes the resolve of Georgia’s leaders to go beyond ‘business as usual’ to design a recovery plan that builds on the positives and neutralizes the negatives to map out a path to a green, fair and inclusive future.”

The new framework defines five core areas of UN support for socio-economic recovery:

  • protecting health services and systems;
  • expanding social protection and basic services to enable people to cope with adversity;
  • protecting jobs and businesses, including the informal sector;
  • securing funding and adapting macroeconomic policies and trade to ensure recovery for all; and
  • promoting social cohesion and investing in community resilience.

To ensure focused support to countries, the new UN framework designates clear responsibilities. Worldwide, UNDP has been tasked to serve as the technical lead agency for socio-economic recovery efforts, under the overall leadership of the UN Resident Coordinators, with the UN teams working as one across all aspects of the response. This socio-economic work will be conducted in parallel to the UN response to the health emergency, where the World Health Organization is the technical lead.

UN work on socio-economic recovery will be supported by a new USD 1 billion trust fund, the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. Georgia was one of the first 46 countries named eligible for this funding, and the UN team in Georgia is set to receive USD 1 million to protect vulnerable groups from COVID-19 shocks.

Working closely with Government and donor partners, UNDP has already repurposed much of its annual USD 20 million programme in Georgia to assist in the pandemic response. Support has been provided in informing vulnerable groups and remote communities about COVID-19 risks and prevention; supplying Abkhazia and IDP communities with protective gear, medical supplies and other support; moving vital public services, training and business mediation support online; and issuing grants to protect rural livelihoods.

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