Improving social protection systems through policies that empower the vulnerable and reduce inequality is paramount for sustainable development in a post-COVID-19 world. This sentiment was the focus of the second e-Conference of a 5-part June series hosted by the UN and UNDP on June 4, 2020. The e-series, Consultation for Action, encourages open dialogue on some of the critical challenges facing the Caribbean in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and fosters a collaborative approach to problem-solving throughout the region.
Chaired by Mr. Magdy Martinez Soliman, UNDP Resident Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, the session, “Social Protection as Part of the COVID-19 Response in the Eastern Caribbean” delved into the need for enhanced social protection at this time. second session, Mr. Martinez Soliman, stated that “no one can afford an across-the board impoverishment of Caribbean societies. Thus, the need to cast the social protection net as wide as necessary.”
Keynote speaker, The Hon. Andrew A. Fahie, Premier of the British Virgin Islands, noted, “We prevented the loss of life through the lockdown. That was the right decision. Now social protection is part of each decision we make, with a special priority for our senior citizens. Our social response has guaranteed that no one has gone hungry under my watch during this crisis.” Drawing on his previous experience as both Minister of Health and Minister of Education, the Premier set the stage for the four panelists.
Hon. Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning, Sustainable Development and Technology of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, stated “First came the health response. Then minimizing the social and economic impact. Now we need to stimulate the recovery. There is a linkage of vulnerability between informality, insecurity and inequality. Our first challenge is money to fund the response.” Ms. Marie Legault, High Commissioner of Canada to Barbados, further maintained: “Probably 30% of Canada’s economy relies on workers with low levels of social protection. This is in a country for which it is extremely important, a social state that prides itself with leaving no one behind.” Ms. Tahseen Sayed, the World Bank Director for Caribbean countries and Latin America, informed the dialogue stating: “We predict a 5% drop of global GDP and 20% losses in remittances. The uniqueness of this crisis is that it is happening in a digital world. To respond, the Caribbean needs to become a digital leader”.
UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean, Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye, provided a global perspective on the critical nature of social protection systems citing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on societies, especially on children. “Child poverty has increased by 18% in the region, which in turn has exacerbated the social protection needs,”he maintained.
Representatives of the online community added to the discussion highlighting the role that the diaspora could play in the socio economic response of their countries, and the need to find ways in which workers i in informal sectors ,who currently are without access to Social Security schemes and remain unprotected, can become eligible in the future.
The series is gaining popularity and is contributing a wealth of knowledge and expertise to support the work being done to build long-term resilience in the Eastern Caribbean region.
The next session slated to be held on June 9, at 11a.m., addresses economic diversification and food security, an area that is critical to the tourism-dependent Caribbean region. Interested persons can visit UNDP’s website for more information on Consultation in Action.