The UN socio-economic response framework to face COVID-19

May 11, 2021

Written by: Javier Surasky

To understand the value of the five pillars of the UN socio-economic response framework to face COVID-19, it becomes necessary to talk about the way they arose.

COVID-19 is a unique global crisis. It is perhaps the first one that has had other impacts outside of economics and reached every corner of the world simultaneously.

It also revealed to every household the issues of an integrated world and showed the “butterfly effect” is not an abstraction in this case, but a danger. The need to seek a coordinated response to face the pandemic was necessary due to the way global communication and mobility of goods and people are integrated nowadays and the way they contributed to the rapid spread of the virus.

As a result, abrupt changes were identified in the trajectories of sustainable development at all levels – local and global- and in all areas: Financing for Sustainable Development, operation of value chains, production and consumption, access to justice, among others.

Furthermore, people involved in social struggles for the recognition of their work and who often fought for decent wages before the pandemic happened “were, suddenly and remarkably, considered to belong to ‘vital professions’ in healthcare, elderly care, public transport, education, food provisioning and the service sector” (Planning for a world beyond COVID-19: Five pillars for post-neoliberal development.)

This has also been the first home-tailored global crisis, where everyone had to embrace the virtual world.

The situation worsened due to the weakness of international institutions and governance, which were facing – a now quiet- attack against multilateralism. Notwithstanding this, the United Nations Organization assumed its role in facing the new reality with the limited tools, financing and capacities it has.

Two strategic frameworks directly related to Sustainable Development stood out among the first responses that came from the UN: the call to Build Back Better and identifying Five Pillars of the United Nations Development System’s response to face COVID-19. We will devote our attention to the latter.

The Five Pillars: Building an Integrated Response to COVID-19

COVID-19 was officially classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres immediately asked Member States to adopt a comprehensive approach to face it, with a focus of containment at the center of the responses.
A month later, the A UN framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19 document was published, with the five pillars on which the action of the UNDS response against COVID-19 would be based.

Source: Own elaboration based on UN Moldova, 2021

These pillars were established based in the previously mentioned reports while also considering the need for operations based in the areas identified as critical by the Secretary General in the report Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, which was published in March 2020, just after the declaration of the pandemic.

We highlight the following elements that shape each one of the pillars:

  • Pillar 1. Health first: supporting countries to maintain essential health services and the systems supporting them becomes a priority of the UN System by providing the following:
    • Analytical support during the technical guidance process for policy decision making.
    • Logistical and supply support, including direct acquisition and distribution of basic supplies for health services.
    • Identification and access to vulnerable populations.
  • Pillar 2. Protecting People: The UN System will support governments in a series of services during the process of adaptation, extension of content and extension of scope
    • Protection systems with social resilience and favoring those with most needs. 
    • Essential food and nutrition services.
    • Continuity and quality of water supply and sanitation services.
    • Continuity of learning for children and adolescents, preferably in schools.
    • Attention to the continuity of social services and access to shelters for people at risk, especially women, children and adolescents.
    • Support for victims of gender violence.
  • Pillar 3. Economic Response and Recovery: focused on small and medium-sized enterprises and the social care and decent work they provide: economic recovery requires employment to be protected, decent work to be promoted and coverage to be provided to assets, units and existing production networks.
    • Regulatory advice and assistance to country programs.
    • Expansion of the intensive employment program.
    • Support to young people and diverse social partners in the development of entrepreneurships and social innovation to face COVID-19.
    • Promotion of the “green variable” in fiscal stimulus packages.
    • Conducting rapid and gender-sensitive socio-economic evaluations, aimed at having evidence-based diagnoses of the labor market and business environment.
    • Provide advice on nature-based solutions for development.
    • Investments to improve productivity and working conditions in small and micro-enterprises.
    • Technical assistance to women’s micro and small businesses.
    • Assistance for the establishment and operation of digital payment systems.
    • Aid for commercial businesses
  • Pillar 4. Macroeconomic Response and Multilateral Collaboration: it follows a three-step approach: 1) rapid assessment of possible effects of the crisis to quantify containment costs; 2) evaluation of the fiscal space available to increase spending; 3) analysis of policy priorities and available policy measures, taking into account funding and implementation constraints faced by governments.
    • Provide analysis, advisory and technical assistance services for the design of immediate responses to the crisis in the economic and financial sphere, and to promote a sustainable recovery.
    • Technical assistance to States to improve the evidence required for policy development, and a reinforcement of statistics and data analysis.
    • Advice on the control of social spending and budget allocation, based on social development priorities and fiscal balance.
    • Carrying out assessments of the domestic effects and analysis of the socio-economic effects of the crisis in specific contexts.
  • Pillar 5. Social Cohesion and Community Resilience: people will directly suffer the impacts of COVID-19, and are also the essential actor for its containment and overcoming.
    • Promoting social dialogue and consensus in key decision-making related to the socio-economic response to COVID-19.
    • Create resilience, strengthen a real participation of the different actors in society and pursue an equal provision of social services within each society.
    • Support the strengthening of governance, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

The actions carried out under each one of these five pillars must respect four fundamental principles:

  • Transaction costs should be minimized as much as possible, making use of existing governance resources, capacities, and systems.
  • Actions must be flexible and make use of the programming and operational modalities that under normal conditions, are reserved for responses to high-risk situations.
  • The risks associated with the actions must be considered, assumed and managed using the corresponding tools and accelerating the exchange of information on successful and unsuccessful measures and practices among all levels involved in the response to the pandemic.
  • The coherence of policies and actions between them must be always present, even when promoting shared work between actors and institutional sectors, under common frameworks of action.

The five pillars are interdependent and overlap, but putting them into action will require reallocation of financial and human resources, ongoing monitoring and evaluation, and full use of data. All this requires a strong political commitment  in which action must be taken from those who lead each of the levels, from the sub-national to the global.

Further development of the five pillars

The publication of the UN socio-economic response framework to face COVID-19 was the beginning of a process of seeking efficient ways to contain the pandemic, tackle its impacts, and lay the foundations to pro-construct in the post -COVID-19 era. Among the subsequent developments related to the five pillars, we can highlight  two areas of transversal management: green growth and gender equity, which were identified by UNDP.

Source: Own elaboration, 2021

In addition, the Secretary-General of the United Nations produced a series of thematic regional analysis, including the report United Nations Comprehensive Response to COVID-19: Saving Lives, Protecting Societies, Recovering Better, published in June 2020, and updated in September 2020.

This work presents a holistic view of the response to COVID-19, its effects on the UN system and possible routes allowing for a better reaction to future crises. At the same time, a call to action, based on three key points is made.

  • The health response: control the virus, support vaccine development, diagnosis and treatment, while strengthening preparedness
  • Safeguarding lives and livelihoods: addressing the devastating socio-economic, humanitarian and human rights aspects of the crisis
  • A better world during post-COVID-19: a recovery process integrating recovery plans with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We are all in this together” is the motto of the efforts, and is at the seed of the remarks made by the Secretary General for a global ceasefire, the respect for Human Rights of the measures to respond to the pandemic, and the launch of the Verified initiative to respond to the “infoxication” generated in the midst of the pandemic.

Different spaces have been opened to generate quality data in order to properly respond to COVID, build the recovery plans adopted by the States, and raise and allocate funding to face the pandemic.

We highlight the funds established by the United Nations Multilateral Response and Recovery Trust Fund (MPTF), the support of Tableau and the accompaniment of multiple global allies, which helped to create Cepei’s COVID-19 Data and Innovation Centre.

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