By Matthew Simonds and Meg Yarcia, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness
In developing and developed countries alike, the COVID-19 pandemic has been battering health systems and economies, leaving in its wake nearly half a million dead as well as millions of unemployed and hungry populations.
In the countries where we work, we can see the suffering among millions of ordinary people: the daily wage earners whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the pandemic, the women trapped in abusive environments, the underpaid and unprotected health workers in overburdened hospitals, the penniless who cannot access health services.
At a stroke, it has exposed the many failures of today’s society to promote decent work, and to invest in universal social protection, health, education, and other public services. It has raised the structural barriers responsible for social inequalities, leaving the poor and vulnerable as the main victims. We expect COVID-19 to continue to widen the gaps within and between countries, highlighting the injustices and inequalities borne disproportionately by the marginalised segments of populations everywhere.
Today, medical and social protection systems in developing countries are under immense pressure to cope with this disaster. Income losses in these countries are projected to exceed $220 billion, and the impact is set to reverberate across the globe, with more than half of the world’s population lacking social safety nets. As they try to manage the health crisis, their debt levels are likely to increase. Meanwhile, there is a real risk that official development assistance (ODA) will fall as economies contract in donor countries. Some governments have also been exploiting the crisis to impose heavy-handed rules in the guise of a public health response, posing a serious threat to fundamental freedoms that will be hard to reverse once the crisis has subsided. All of these are the result of systemic choices which have for decades favoured private profit over public good; the pandemic has aggravated the situation and increased the divide.
In a survey among our members, composed of civil society and people’s organisations from various sectors and regions around the world, lockdowns, the common response by state authorities, have meant massive loss of livelihood and lack of access to public services, from healthcare and education, to transport, housing, and sanitation. We are saddened by stories of poor conditions in the refugee camps of Palestine and Bangladesh, of the famished street-dwellers in the crowded metropolises of India and Brazil, of laborers who walk for hours to get to their workplaces in Manila, of the elderly in Congo where many hospitals have no ventilators, and for whom COVID-19 is almost a death sentence.
We believe that this crisis presents an opportunity to fix what is clearly broken. The international community can respond to the tragedy by addressing these injustices, and making sure that no person is left behind and deprived of their human rights.
It is important for donors not to cut down but instead expand their support, particularly to civil society, which has played an indispensable role in helping communities face COVID-19 and in monitoring government action. Within our membership, many CSOs have in fact shifted priorities to addressing the urgent needs of their constituents, conducting relief, awareness-raising, advocacy, and coordination. Their work has yielded petitions, position papers, and policy proposals, monitoring systems, mapping of affected communities, alliances with health experts, campaigns on violence against women, and direct support to people on the ground.
But the work ahead is still daunting. Our platform urges the international donor community to extend all its available resources to address the health crisis and limit the long-term impact on the global economy. Donor countries must meet or even exceed their 0.7% commitment. Additional funds, not simply a reallocation of existing ones, are urgently needed to fight this global pandemic by providing support to developing countries as they manage its health and economic impacts.
We must also decry any surveillance measures or restrictions implemented undemocratically as a so-called response to this public health crisis. From Latin America and Africa, to the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific, our members report militarisation, repression, and restrictions that infringe people’s rights and undermine civic participation. While there is an obvious need to implement measures that curb the spread of COVID-19, we assert that these cannot violate international human rights standards or be exploited to consolidate authoritarian power.
The absence of a conducive political, legal, and financial environment greatly affects the capacity, and even the survival, of CSOs as effective independent development actors. Through the Belgrade Call to Action, these groups have articulated positive measures that can be undertaken by all actors to promote civil society participation in development and reverse the growing trend of shrinking civic space around the world.
Civil society is ready to do its part as development watchdogs, as advocates of policies and programmes that have lasting impact on people’s welfare, and as frontliners responding to the crisis. States and other development stakeholders can help realise this by reversing the global pattern of shrinking civic space and heightened political repression, and by fulfilling their commitments to foster an enabling environment for civil society.
We strongly emphasise the need for effective development cooperation in aiding efforts to eradicate poverty and inequality, and with a special urgency in light of the pandemic. We reiterate a call for development efforts that advance the countries’ interests, focus on results, uphold transparency and accountability, encourage inclusive partnerships, and put primacy on human rights. These principles are the foundation of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC), the unique international partnership that puts all development actors on equal footing in the interest of improving the effectiveness and lasting impact of development cooperation.
Since its establishment in 2011, the GPEDC has worked to ensure that development cooperation is effective and demonstrates impact at the country level. As we emerge from the pandemic, ODA budgets are likely to be under intense public scrutiny with every penny under pressure to demonstrate impact and effectiveness. The role of the GPEDC amid this crisis could not be more important than at any time since its inception.
COVID-19 is a crisis that presents us with the challenge of rebuilding our societies with the furthest behind at the forefront. In this trying time, we need to realise that looking after each other must be a collective endeavour and that whatever goals we set for our society and economy must be for the greater good.
Matthew Simonds, Policy and Liaison Officer, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness
Meg Yarcia, Communication Officer, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness