Time for the right questions: a comment by Samuel Bon, CEO of Swisscontact

It is clear that COVID-19 will change the world. It is also clear that the consequences in developing countries will be more severe and longer-lasting. The 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are far-reaching, although the current situation calls for an even higher urgency on their implementation. We must not forget the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while we travel down the road of a global recession. Only if the international community continues following the development goals, can the worst consequences of the crisis be mitigated. And that includes asking the right questions.

Many developing countries reacted quickly to the pandemic: within the shortest time, schools and businesses were closed and quarantines imposed. Governments know how much (or little) their healthcare systems can withstand, and surely this decision was not an easy one to make. We are seeing this in Latin America, just as in Asia and parts of Africa. On the other hand, this measure hits the poorest hardest. Similar images to the hundreds of thousands of day labourers in India that are now facing an economic catastrophe can be seen the world over.

Unemployment and hunger

Very fragile economic systems now run the risk of collapsing. Many people will be left without any income. They will not have any money for food, housing, or medical services. This harbours the potential for social unrest, conflict, and migration flows. To put this into clear perspective: from early January to mid-March, 100 times as many people have died of starvation than of COVID-19. Due to stagnation of the world economy, it will get much worse still. To address this problem globally is just as big a task as fighting the virus.

Strengthening crisis resilience

For us to be able to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under the current and very demanding conditions, we urgently need new and innovative approaches. For international development cooperation, this means that these approaches must now work proactively to anticipate and find solutions to prevent the worst from happening. With their decades of experience, international development cooperation actors know how systemic change in partner countries can be implemented to create better crisis resilience. 

New ways of development cooperation

A causal effect of COVID-19 is that it brings about innovation. Development projects are based on local implementation and now they are moving rapidly in new directions by taking advantage of virtual exchange. However, in many countries, the highly prized digital transformation is more difficult to achieve. Most countries lack the required infrastructure or financing. Thus, innovation is needed in those places where there is no broadband internet and where electricity is limited to just a few hours per day. Particularly in Africa, we need to find new paths. The priority in this context is to use mobile technologies, especially telephony, not only for COVID-19 sensitisation campaigns, but also to maintain local payment systems.  

We have compiled some initial approaches to overcoming this crisis from Swisscontact's projects:

More solidarity for stability

During these times all societies and governments are starting to look inward, it is all the more important not to lose sight of our global interdependence. International development cooperation needs to be able to prove that the crisis can make it even more effective, sustainable and broad-based. All state and private organisations in international development cooperation must now actively search for solutions. It is not only a question of solidarity, but also of global stability.