COVID-19: For the first time we’re talking about a development emergency response    

NEW YORK, 6 April 2020 – With COVID-19, the world is facing an unprecedented threat. The novel coronavirus has spread to over 200 countries and territories that are facing, in the words of the Deputy Secretary-General, “not just a health emergency or a humanitarian emergency but for the first time a development emergency”. 

As the virus continues to wreak havoc globally, the DSG was speaking on April 3 at a special coronavirus briefing with ambassadors from Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs). The economies of LLDCs are likely to be seriously affected by the crisis, with impacts through depressed trade, transport, tourism, productivity and private investment and increased health care costs. 

As a group, the 32 nations lag behind the world average in the human development index so the pandemic threatens to reverse progress achieved so far on sustainable development. 

The briefing, chaired by H.E. Kairat Umarov, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan and Chair of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries was the first in a series of high-level virtual meetings organised by the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS). The meetings are designed to update vulnerable states on the global response and specific support the UN is providing to them during this unprecedented global challenge. 

The incidence of confirmed coronavirus cases in LLDCs is so far relatively low, although it is rising., and is already high in countries that LLDCs depend on. This is being seen not only in so-called transit countries – those countries that landlocked nations depend on for access to seaports – such as China, Iran, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, and others, but also development partners such as the USA and Europe.  

During the meeting, the most common issue of concern repeated by ambassadors of LLDCs was the need to maintain access through borders even as the world shuts down. 

LLDCs are dependent on trade and efficient transport networks to connect with global markets. For some countries, up to 90% of the medical equipment and supplies needed to combat the virus are imported. Many LLDCs are also heavily dependent on food imports, a need that will not diminish because of this crisis. It is therefore important, especially at this unprecedented time, to make sure that trade remains open and that cross-border transport networks and supply chains remain open. 

Noting that the COVID-19 virus does not recognise borders, the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, called for an increased spirit of solidarity to strengthen regional cooperation and collaboration between LLDCs and transit countries. This is crucial, she said, to ensure that goods in transit can reach the LLDCs when needed, without any hinderance.   

Another major issue of concern expressed by ambassadors was how the UN plans to support the economies of LLDCs to cope with not just the crisis itself, but its aftermath. The pandemic and the lock-down measures implemented by many countries are expected to significantly slow down the global economy and global trade as the supply and demand of goods and services plunge.  

The Deputy Secretary-General confirmed that there will be funds to help LLDCs in their recovery, as part of the $2bn package announced already but also in strategic support from entities such as the World Bank. She also affirmed commitment to doing everything possible to “lean into” the COVID response, while maintaining that the ongoing work of the UN will continue. This will enable the other vital assistance that the UN provides to carry on, even as much of the world’s attention and resources go directly to tackling the crisis. 

This includes maintaining progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, a lifeline to many of the most marginalised. It was noted that the LLDCs, despite making progress, have been lagging behind in many of the SDGs. If the impact of COVID-19 is not prevented or mitigated, it could reverse the hard-won gains made by the LLDCs in the implementation of the SDGs. 

The meeting ended with a request for the LLDCs to be kept abreast of key developments and support during the ongoing crisis. OHRLLS is planning to organise briefings with the Deputy Secretary-General and the other country categories in its brief: Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.