COVID-19 Will Impair LDCs’ Ability to Rebuild their Societies, Says ILO’s Investment Expert

FILE PHOTO: The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. January 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via REUTERS.

There are growing fears that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will not be able to rebuild their societies even after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who know better say the emerging economic downturn triggered by the pandemic may continue long after infections have diminished, and could significantly impair LDCs’ ability to rebuild their societies.

The economies of LDCs, vastly impoverished nations were at a low level even before the coronavirus struck. 

There are also fears that the pandemic could potentially ignite or exacerbate grievances and mistrust, between or within societies, about access to the key building-blocks of social rebuilding, such as health services, decent jobs and livelihoods. 

These fears are springing out as COVID-19 positive cases in Nigeria are heading to 5,000 by next week. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has reported 386 new cases with the total figure now 3912 as of Friday.

NCDC says with no new state reporting any confirmed case, the country witnessed 10 deaths in the last 24 hours, and that 679 patients have so far recovered and discharged from the isolation centres and accredited hospitals.

Sadly, 117 infected persons have lost their lives to the virus across 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja since March when the first index case was reported in Nigeria.

Of the 386 fresh cases from 20 states, NCDC credits Lagos with 176 cases, Kano 65 Katsina 31, Abuja 20, Borno 17, Bauchi 15, Nasarawa 14, Ogun 13, Plateau 10, Oyo, Sokoto and Rivers four each, Kaduna three, Edo, Ebonyi and Ondo two each, Enugu, Imo, Gombe and Osun, one new case each.

However, Mito Tsukamoto, of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Development and Investment branch, says this could undermine development, peace and social cohesion. 

‘’For example, during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in Africa, unrest and conflict emerged in some affected countries, creating a vicious circle that led to even greater fragility. COVID-19 is now spreading rapidly through LDCs. 

‘’Places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen were already fragile from armed conflict and political insecurity, as well as coping with large populations of working poor, vulnerable people, the unemployed and informal sector workers. 

‘’They also had millions of others, refugees or migrants, living in cramped camps or detention centres while trying to cope with tragedy and trauma.

‘’The arrival of COVID-19 into these already precarious humanitarian situations threatens to become a final straw – turning millions into double casualties’’, says Tsukamoto.

Generally, LDCs have the weakest health and social protection systems, feeble or non-existent national and local institutions, and the most restricted fiscal ’space’ to deal with emergency calls on their resources.

According to the ILO development and investment top official, ‘’there is an urgent need for immediate and coherent measures to protect these double casualties and the societies in which they are concentrated.

‘’In the short term, people need employment guarantees and income support. But we must not ignore the need for a longer-term strategic vision so that countries develop their own resilience and can build back better. 

‘’This is a call to action that must focus on people, ensuring their livelihoods are restored quickly. We already have some of the analysis and architecture needed for this. 

‘’In March the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, launched a report, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity that looks at how international action can be co-ordinated to counter the blow dealt by the virus. 

‘’The report is very much in line with the thinking behind the ILO’s Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, agreed on last summer. Both focus on people, particularly the most vulnerable, and the importance of restoring livelihoods.’’

Interestingly, ILO has valuable, on-the-ground experience with delivering the complex and delicate socio-economic responses needed to help the working poor in LDCs, through the flagship programme for Jobs for Peace and Resilience (JPR), which is already operational in more than 30 countries.

JPR, which is based on ILO Recommendation No. 205, takes a modular approach to work in crisis settings. 

This includes using employment-intensive approaches to create jobs; improving links between labour supply and demand; enhancing skills for employability; and, promoting local economic development and the private sector with support for self-employment, cooperatives and businesses.

The JPR also places a strong focus on institution building, social dialogue and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, because weak governance, a lack of dialogue and rights violations have been shown to slow down crisis recovery and social cohesion.

‘’Only if we really understand the way these complex factors interlink can we create responses that work, and so the sustainable resilience that the people of LDCs need’’, Tsukamoto insists.

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