COVID-19 reversing gains on health, poverty and education – Ali tells UN Assembly

…says multilateral approach needed to stem pandemic

President Irfaan Ali has emphasised the need for a multilateral approach to stem the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has devastated countries around the world.

President Irfaan Ali

The Head of State made this plea in his inaugural address to the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
During his virtual presentation, President Ali pointed out that the UN must acknowledge the challenges facing developing countries especially, and their implications for the progress and prosperity of their citizens, given the current state of the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its multidimensional impacts.
“The pandemic has launched an attack on the health and wellbeing of our people, while the economy has become a causality of this assault. This pandemic is reversing our gains on health, poverty and education. More than ever, the resolve of the United Nations is being tested, and it is evident that no single country can overcome the debilitating effects alone. This reality must inform the trajectory of the United Nations, so that it can support the efforts of developing countries to rebuild and to become more resilient,” he posited.
The Guyanese Head of State noted that a strong multilateral system is required for collective action to stem this pandemic. As such, he acknowledged the support of UN agencies in aiding Guyana’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“We trust and support the efforts of the UN system to ensure fair, transparent and timely global access to preventive tools, equipment and materials for testing. In this regard, we recognise the important role of the World Health Organisation in coordinating the response of the UN system and in global public health preparedness and response. We look forward to increased international cooperation to contain, mitigate, and defeat the pandemic,” he stated.

Climate change
Additionally, President Ali underscored that the pandemic is competing with, and compounded by, another global scourge – Climate Change.
According to the Head of State, every year there is a new record-breaking year for extreme weather conditions and climate events. He noted that as a low-lying coastal State, Guyana is acutely aware of the high toll these extreme weather conditions can have here.
However, he lamented that climate resilience is equally costly.
“Developing countries are thus set between a rock and a hard place. The only way to ease this burden is through concerted and balanced climate action, especially via mitigation, climate financing, technical cooperation, and capacity building. We also urge all States to set ambitious targets in their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, and to work earnestly towards them,” he implored.
The Head of State noted that Guyana is doing its part, and this reflected in its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) as part of its national development agenda. This strategy, he added, will ensure that the country fulfill its Nationally Determined Contributions and be placed along a path of sustainable and climate-resilient development.

Multilateralism – the pathway to our achievements
President Ali further outlined that the future lies in reaffirming a collective commitment to multilateralism.
“The future we want and the United Nations that we need are in our hands. It is ours to fashion. History must not find us victims of inaction or succumbing to failure. Multilateralism is the pathway to achieving our ends. We must collectively work to preserve this instrument and to strengthen the United Nations as we build a better world for our generation and those to follow,” he contended.
According to the Guyanese Head of State, multilateralism is the key to unlocking solutions to humanity’s problems. He noted that the ongoing public health and climate crises have demonstrated that it is in the common interest of humanity that the ideals of multilateralism be fully embraced.
He highlighted that Guyana’s commitment to multilateralism is testimony to its assumption of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China back in January this year.
“Our statement to the world is that a state’s capacity for leadership is not constrained by its size…Every nation, no matter how large or small, has but a single vote within this Assembly. The General Assembly remains an invaluable forum where small states can make their voices heard and unite for their mutual benefit.
“Developing states in particular owe a great debt to this organisation,” he asserted.
Further, President Ali posited that developing countries account for more than half of the world’s states and population, and thus, the United Nations make-up, inclusive of the Security Council, must reflect this reality. In fact, he stressed that the Security Council in particular should be reformed to increase the number of developing countries that are permanent members.
“Developing countries continue to face constraints associated with limited access to development financing. Improved access to such financing is vital for the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations must continue to champion the need for great access to development financing for developing states,” he insisted.
The President went on to underscore that the UN has a special duty to ensure that members’ obligations under international agreements are fulfilled, and that setbacks in meeting commitments are reversed.
“Guyana applauds the ongoing work on reform of the United Nations Development System (UNDS). We believe, however, that there should be greater focus on reforms that are tailored to allow the UN to respond adequately to existing and emerging gaps in development, and to find solutions to existing threats,” President Ali asserted. (G8)