COVID-19 – Building back greener, cleaner and fairer
UN Resident Coordinator in BiH, Ms. Ingrid Macdonald, reflects on COVID-19 response lessons, and the importance of inclusive recovery that leaves no one behind.
At the start of 2020, the United Nations and countries around the world were stepping up efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as part of the Agenda 2030 decade of action. Today, we not only face a severe public health crisis but an unprecedented socio-economic global recession which threatens to reverse decades of human development, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I was appointed as the United Nations Resident Coordinator for BiH in March, just as the pandemic was taking hold. I arrived in Sarajevo on one of the last flights, underwent two weeks of mandatory isolation and was ‘virtually’ accredited by the BiH Presidency in what may be a world first.
I have been impressed with the efforts of the health care providers, front line workers, authorities and the people of BiH for successfully mitigating the most severe impacts of COVID-19. Through strict measures and the discipline of ordinary people, BiH initially maintained a relatively low infection and fatality rate compared to many other countries in Europe.
In partnership with the authorities in BiH the United Nations rapidly assisted with expert health guidance; large-scale delivery of personal protective items, testing kits, hygiene and food packages; risk communication; support for online education; and mobile services for migrant, refugee and asylum seeker reception centers. I thank the international community for supporting our efforts.
With the ‘flattening of the curve’, BiH eased the COVID-19 restrictions last month. Given the severe social, psychological and economic impacts, the re-opening of society and the economy was critical. However, we remain in unchartered waters with COVID19 and as we now see disturbing spikes in infections. We have learned that this virus can be contained through aggressive and targeted tactics – when found, isolated, treated and traced. To do so, expanded testing, increasing capacity of healthcare facilities, supporting healthcare workers, and ensuring adequate supplies are needed. Caution, surveillance and vigilance remain essential to avoid a second wave or reversing of the gains.
Success necessitates a gradual transition based on continuous monitoring of the epidemiological curve, with clear and transparent public communication of factual and verified information. Maintaining adequate capacity for testing, tracing and treatment of COVID-19 cases, whilst simultaneously ensuring the continued provision of regular health services, is essential. Together with relevant authorities, WHO is updating the COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for BiH, which will undoubtedly contribute to this success.
The United Nations has also completed the first phase of our COVID-19 Socio-economic Response and Recovery Offer. We have, and will continue, to focus efforts to (i) protect and strengthen health care systems; (ii) deliver and strengthen social protection and basic services; (iii) protect jobs and the economy; and (iv) promote social cohesion and invest in community-led resilience and response systems. We are also releasing a series of important assessments and policy papers on the socio-economic impacts which we hope will inform the recovery process in BiH.
The pandemic has shown us that we are all capable of making dramatic changes to our lives when necessary. As such, the recovery presents a unique opportunity to redouble efforts to build back better, greener, cleaner and fairer. BiH is a beautiful country with immense untapped natural and cultural resources ripe for de-carbonised, clean and eco-friendly development. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals provides a framework which already has global endorsement and will not only deliver a more prosperous, innovative, accountable and sustainable future, but can also assist with the EU ambitions of BiH. For the UN’s 75th anniversary, we are directly asking people to tell us how this can be done. I would invite everyone in BiH to add their voice to the conversation on how we can move forward.
There is a BiH saying “novi dan donosi novu nafaku” – a new day brings a new hope, opportunity. As we move forward, we must harness this new day, with new hope for a fairer, greener, more sustainable and inclusive future for today’s and future generations in BiH.