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Combating COVID-19 And Ensuring No One Is Left Behind


By

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Kanni Wignaraja,
and Bambang Susantono

If the world wants to beat
back the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure no one is left behind
in the recovery, two issues thrown into sharp relief by the
pandemic need attention: digitalization and regional
cooperation.

Ensuring the digital transformation
reaches all in Asia Pacific is one of the greatest
challenges we face

Even before COVID-19, the
digital revolution was transforming how people and
businesses work. As the pandemic unfolded, the accelerated
adoption of digital technologies helped governments,
education, private enterprise and people keep activities
going amid social distancing, lockdowns and other
containment measures. High-speed internet connectivity and
financial technology hold immense promise for deepening
financial inclusion, and keeping local economies alive, even
in times of crisis. Yet many poor households, women and
vulnerable groups have been unable to afford or access the
benefits of digitalization.

Digital divides within and
between countries in the region threaten to exacerbate
existing gaps in economic and social development. We need
more equitable access to digital technologies to drive
innovation and create new business
models.

Regional cooperation must refocus on the
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Regional
cooperation plays a critical role in managing the transition
out of the current crisis, and a renewed focus on
environmental and social dimensions of cooperation is
essential. Working together can also help countries achieve
digital transformation for all, including through joint
efforts to develop and expand digital infrastructure, and
legal and regulatory reforms that make these services more
accessible.

The pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of
the region’s health, education and social protection
systems, making life even more difficult for the poorest and
socially excluded, and deepening inequalities within
communities and countries, particularly for women. The
crisis has shown the value of building universal social
protection systems for all members of society — from
infancy to old age — which can be bolstered to provide
additional relief in times of crisis. There have also been
huge disparities in the ability of countries to insulate
themselves from the pandemic and roll out vaccines. This is
widening development gaps. A renewed focus on people, their
well-being and capabilities is needed through regional
cooperation.

In recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic,
environmental sustainability needs to become much more
central to economic, social and global value chain
integration efforts. By building low-carbon economies,
including through a new focus on industry and tourism
sectors to generate green jobs, we can help create a more
resilient region. While governments recognize the potential
to pursue more environmentally sustainable development as
part of recovery, much more needs to be done if we are to
achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change
and protect our planet’s natural capital and
biodiversity.

Meeting the needs of people and
planet

These issues, highlighted in a recent
joint report by our three organizations, warrant greater
emphasis as countries meet this week to review
implementation of the SDGs at the United Nations High-level
Political Forum. Policymakers have necessarily focused on
containing the pandemic and meeting peoples’ immediate
needs. Tangible action on the multiple interconnected
dimensions of the SDGs poses difficult policy and fiscal
choices. Regional collaboration around financing can help
countries raise and expand resources to meet the SDGs. Key
priorities include cooperation on tax, through common
standards, and efforts to address tax havens and avoidance.
In addition, countries in the region can work together to
design incentives to align private investment with the SDGs
and expand the use of sustainability-focused instruments
that tap regional and global capital markets.

Another
form of international cooperation is worth noting.
Governments, multilateral organizations, development banks,
philanthropic organizations and the private sector have
joined forces in unprecedented efforts to fight the
pandemic, such as through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global
Access (COVAX) initiative. Science, technology and
innovation enabled by such partnerships will continue to
drive countries’ efforts to recover and build
resilience.

Today, what begins as highly local can
soon become a global phenomenon. A reinvigorated
multilateralism can and must respond faster to take on new
challenges and expand provision of public goods. Together,
our organizations will seek to nurture such cooperation to
achieve the SDGs.

—————–

Armida
Salsiah Alisjahbana is the Executive Secretary, Economic and
Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

Kanni
Wignaraja is the Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations
Development Programme

Bambang Susantono is the
Vice-President, Asian Development
Bank

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