Bridgetown, (18 May 2020) - Every country in the world has been touched by COVID-19. This unprecedented health-related crisis “has exposed the fragility of our societies to global shocks such as diseases or the climate crisis,” according to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres. Countries of the Eastern Caribbean, like many other Small Island Developing States, are especially vulnerable to the social and economic impacts of the crisis that is affecting all segments of the population.
Many people are now facing unemployment, job freezes and lower income; reduced access to healthcare and education; and increasingly expensive and scarce essentials goods. During this period of restricted mobility, these stressors can result in conflict in the home increasing incidences of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect. Addressing these issues will require increased support by governments, through social programmes, as part of a coordinated response.
To this end, five United Nations agencies in the Eastern Caribbean are working together under the guidance of the UN Resident Coordinator, Didier Trebucq, on a joint programme entitled “Universal Adaptive Social Protection to Enhance Resilience and Acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals in the Eastern Caribbean”. This initiative supports the governments of Barbados and Saint Lucia as well as the OECS Commission to ensure access to social protection programmes for people in need during times of crisis, including tropical storms and hurricanes.
Given the unprecedented social and economic impacts of COVID-19, the programme is being repurposed to strengthen the governments’ COVID-19 response. The global “Joint SDG Fund” is providing USD 3 million for this effort, with an additional USD 1.75 million contributions from all partner agencies - the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women.
This UN intervention is supporting governments’ COVID-19 response through: scaling up existing public assistance to increase both the reach and level of support offered to those who need it most; conducting assessments to assist in determining the indirect impacts of COVID-19; identifying those in need and respective response activities; and strengthening the National Insurance Scheme of Barbados to gauge the impacts on its financial sustainability, enhance its information management and monitoring capacity and facilitate public access and improve communication.
In the long term, this two-year Joint Programme aims to: progressively increase access to social protection services towards universal coverage; ensure that social protection programmes are equipped for crisis preparation and response; and help people to be more resilient to economic, climate and health-related crises in the future.
This is the first Joint SDG Fund-supported UN initiative to be implemented in the region. This global fund supports countries’ progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while also strengthening collaboration amongst UN agencies. It’s focus during a first round of projects is social protection, considered one of the most effective instruments in tackling poverty and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’.
In partnership with national authorities and regional institutions, the UN Barbados and the OECS is also supporting the broader COVID-19 response through the recent launch of a COVID-19 Multi-sectoral Response Plan (MRP) and USD 29.7 million Funding Appeal. The joint initiative was virtually launched on May 6, by the UN Resident Coordinator, the UN’s highest-ranking representative at country level, who leads the UN Sub-regional Team of Heads of UN Agencies for Barbados and Eastern Caribbean States.
It was co-hosted by UN Under-Secretary-General and UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, with interventions from the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chairman of the OECS the Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, the Hon. Allen Chastanet and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados, Senator Dr. Jerome Walcott.
The Plan aims to support actions to further contain the spread of the pandemic in the region, minimize its socio-economic impacts and ensure resilient recovery, while promoting the protection and well-being of the most vulnerable.
In launching the initiative, Mr. Trebucq asserted: “We believe it cannot be business as usual, I therefore make this urgent appeal for international solidarity for the needs of Eastern Caribbean SIDS to be given the highest priority.”