UN stands with Thailand for inclusive response
Thailand has shown resiliency in recent weeks as government and civil society comes together in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It's clear that solutions and recovery require solidarity and common purpose more than ever. All of the United Nations stands with the people of Thailand as we move forward and beyond the current situation.
"This is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War," UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently said, referring both to the pandemic and probable economic recession, which risks worsening instability, unrest and conflict worldwide. This is a clear-eyed view that we are only at the beginning of a process of resilience and recovery.
Countries across the world need to act fast to prevent worsening inequality and poverty through investment and stimulus measures. Work towards the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda must now also take into account this pandemic, not just to prevent a loss of progress but to fulfil the goal to "build back better" in the coming months and years.
An inclusive Covid-19 response must consider everyone at risk, including those without access to the internet as well as other vulnerable groups such as low-income workers who cannot afford to stop work, migrants and displaced persons, those who do not speak Thai or English, people living with disabilities and others on society's margins.
As those who can are practising physical distancing to help to contain the virus, there are also heroes on the frontlines who are continuing to go to work. Healthcare workers deserve our profound gratitude at this time, but so too do grocery store staff, delivery workers, food preparers and everyone else who must go to work under difficult conditions.
We can thank them in part by doing everything we can to contain the virus and avoid transmission risks. Commonsense precautions such as frequent hand-washing and physical distancing which have been widely publicised, but they must be amplified particularly for vulnerable communities and in multiple languages.
As part of its inclusive response to the pandemic, UN Thailand is focusing on five key messages: Take care of yourself and one another; Show compassion and refrain from stigmatisation; Leave no one behind in the crisis and beyond; Thailand's food security is resilient if people do not hoard; Be kind and donate.
It is absolutely normal to feel anxious, worried and confused. People can reduce stress by minimising consuming news that causes anxiety, particularly from untrustworthy sources, as well as by simply staying in touch with friends and loved ones. The uncertainty can also exacerbate existing social problems. Helplines in many countries are reporting a spike in reports of domestic violence and other attacks directed against women and girls -- who must be informed that they can contact authorities and support groups at this time.
We have also seen social stigma and discrimination against marginalised groups, people of certain ethnic backgrounds, and anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus. This stigma can contribute to a situation in which the virus is more likely to spread. For fundamental human decency, and to intelligently fight the pandemic, we must show empathy to all those who are affected -- every member of society deserves our support and kindness.
Many people have lost their incomes and face uncertainty in the coming weeks and months. For those who can, volunteering and donations are needed for reputable charities, as well as hospitals and civil-society groups that are doing so much to protect all of our welfare.
So where does Thailand go from here? I would suggest two important considerations. In the immediate term, policy responses must ensure that support reaches the most vulnerable, including low-wage workers, small businesses, the self-employed and the many others. Scaling up integrated and inclusive social protection measures through existing systems can help to rapidly address Covid-19 socio-economic impacts and reach the most vulnerable to work towards income and employment security, poverty prevention and economic stability. Secondly, Thailand needs to take a whole-of-society approach to roll back growing inequality and poverty. Investment measures and financial stimulus packages will certainly play a part. Equally important to longer-term recovery and building back better will be to do so more equitably and inclusively. The reason is clear. More equitable societies are also more resilient in the face of crises, whether pandemics, technological disruption or environmental damage. This will mean greater regional investments to reduce disparities, based on locally identified needs, to strengthen broader resilience in the Thai economy.
This pandemic is likely to have a profound and negative effect on sustainable development efforts in the country and around the world. A prolonged economic slowdown will adversely impact the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, but we can take measures now to mitigate those impacts.
Released at the end of March, the UN secretary-general's report "Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19" lays out a clear strategy. Working with governments and partners, all of the UN will work "to ensure first and foremost that lives are saved, livelihoods are restored, and that the global economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis".
This is simply the beginning of a conversation about resilience during the pandemic, but also for a recovery based on social justice and the welfare of all. "A stronger and more effective response", Mr Guterres said, "is only possible in solidarity if everybody comes together and if we forget political games and understand that it is humankind that is at stake".
Gita Sabharwal is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Thailand.